The On-Line Community
The sense of an on-line community began to emerge on PLATO in
1973-74, as Notes, Talkomatic, "term-talk", and Personal Notes
were introduced in quick succession. People met and got
acquainted in Talkomatic, and carried on romances via "term-talk"
and Personal Notes. The release of Group Notes in 1976 gave the
community fertile new ground for growth, but by that time it was
already well established. The community had been building its
own additions to the software infrastructure in the form of
multiplayer games and alternative on-line communications. One
such program was Pad, an on-line bulletin board where people
could post graffiti or random musings. Another was Newsreport, a
lighthearted on-line newspaper published periodically by Bruce
Parello, aka The Red Sweater.
With the abundance of special interest notesfiles made possible
by Group Notes, many on-line personalities developed. One of the
best known was Dr. Graper (actually a student at the University
of Delaware named David J. Graper). He began posting wild,
surrealistic stories in a public notesfile where they were not
exactly appropriate, but they were so hilariously entertaining
that people clamored for more, and eventually someone created a
notesfile called Grapenotes as a platform for his ravings.
The early PLATO community was concentrated in Illinois and
consisted mostly of people in academia: educators turned
instructional designers, and students hired as programmers.
Later it grew to include more people from business, government,
and the military as Control Data marketed PLATO as a general-purpose
tool for training. It also grew geographically,
spreading across the United States and around the world. The
building that housed CERL became something of a Mecca to the far-flung
PLATO community. Many people traveled to Urbana to see the
lab and meet those of us who worked there. It was odd to meet
people face to face after getting to know them on-line. My
images of people based on their postings in Notes sometimes
turned out to diverge wildly from reality.
The growing PLATO community also developed all of the problems
that are now well known in on-line communities, such as flaming,
men impersonating women as a prank, etc. Free speech was the
general rule, but there were a few much-discussed incidents in
which political postings in notesfiles were officially quashed
for fear of jeopardizing PLATO's funding. Nobody on PLATO had
ever experienced an on-line community before, so there was a lot
of fumbling in the dark as social norms were established.
Over the years, PLATO has affected many lives in profound ways.
So many real-life marriages have resulted from on-line encounters
that such stories no longer seem remarkable.
Copyright © 1994 by David R. Woolley
Copyright (c) 1996 - 2006 Elizabeth Mattijsen
I appreciate comments, suggestions and bug-reports.
Please send these to firstname.lastname@example.org.