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Notes Categories

The success of Notes led to overcrowding. There were only two notesfiles which users could write in, and they were used for practically everything. It became a chore to wade through the volume of notes written every day, and people began to ask for a way to filter out notes they weren't interested in.

My solution was this: the system staff would define a list of categories, such as "bug reports", "suggestions", "events", "jokes", etc. Anyone writing a note would assign it to one of these categories. Users could select which categories they wanted to see when reading notes, and their selections would be stored permanently as part of their user records.

In early 1975 I created a version of Notes that supported categories, and released it to a limited group of users for testing and comments.

Suggestions from users were vital to PLATO's evolution, and Notes was no exception. Since I had written Notes originally, it was my turf, and I made most of the decisions about what features were implemented. But I had the benefit of lots of ideas from users as well as from the rest of the system staff. Often a suggestion would strike me immediately as great idea, and if it was not too difficult, it might be implemented and released within a day or two. Not all ideas were implemented, by any means. But sometimes I would argue against a proposed change, only to be convinced of its merit by cogent arguments or by the sheer number of people voicing support for it. Thus, Notes was shaped largely by a consensus of the entire PLATO community.

The notes categories concept was well received at first, but it got bogged down in controversy over features and never made it to general release. A particularly contentious issue was how notes should be presented. One faction wanted to see all notes in chronological order, with the categories serving only as a filter to skip unwanted notes. Others wanted categories to serve an organizing function, as well: all the notes from one category would be shown, then all the notes from the next category, and so on.

Strange as it seems now, I held out against organizing notes by category. I was used to reading notes about many different subjects all jumbled together, and just wanted to be able to see all the new notes listed together in one place. But support for more organization grew, and I began to see that I was in a losing battle.

In the meantime, though, other problems became apparent. First, I realized that as the volume of notes increased, there would be technical problems with keeping everything in one large file. Second, it wasn't clear how many categories would be needed. I had designed in a limit of 60, which seemed like a vast increase over the 3 we had been living with. But if we ever needed more it would be very difficult to increase the limit. After months of wrangling, my concept of notes categories seemed fatally flawed. I really didn't know where to go with it.

About this time, a few people began to ask for private notesfiles. We had all seen how useful Notes was for discussing development of PLATO itself. Couldn't the concept be extended to allow any small group of people working on a project to communicate among themselves? In fact, a group in Chicago that was using PLATO to develop medical courseware wrote a clone of Notes for their own use.

Suddenly the future clicked into focus. I abandoned the categories project and began to implement Group Notes.

Copyright © 1994 by David R. Woolley

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Copyright (c) 1996 - 2006 Elizabeth Mattijsen
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