The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture
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“. . . Brian Dear tells the fascinating story of PLATO. . . Thanks to his meticulous research and conversational writing style, 'The Friendly Orange Glow' is an enjoyable and authoritative treatment of an important piece of our social and technological heritage. ”

Wall Street Journal

“It would be easy to reach the end of this book and see the story as a bittersweet ode to missed opportunities. After all, commercialization did not work out well for PLATO, one cause of its obscurity today. Nevertheless, the prevalence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), online degree programs, and learning management systems all speak to the influence of PLATO on online learning systems. With The Friendly Orange Glow, Dear does not try to rewrite the history of networked computers and the Internet; he is simply ensuring that PLATO's inventive and passionate community members are among those whose stories are told. Perhaps more important, Dear offers archives professionals an insight into how best to preserve the context and the history surrounding the development of networked computer systems: not only collecting the records of those who designed and built them, but also gathering the stories of the ordinary people who gave them content, created communities, and found meaning through them.”

American Archivist

“Absorbing and eye-opening history. . . . Entertaining, anecdote-laden account waxes more than a little nostalgic about the little-remembered program . . . behind cyberculture's flourishing global impact.”


“Brian Dear has made an important and fascinating contribution to the history of the digital age. This insightful book tells the story of the pioneering system of networked computing known as PLATO. Much of what we enjoy today sprang from PLATO and the colorful community that created and embraced it.”

—Walter Isaacson, author of The Innovators and Steve Jobs

“A full decade before the history most people believe, PLATO was the original system that inspired modern computing—and even the cloud. Designed and built by Midwestern pioneers starting in 1960, PLATO was still operational when I attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the early 1990s. In fact, I took math classes on it before building Mosaic. This story is a testament to the importance of both innovation and timing!”

—Marc Andreessen, co-founder, Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz

“I loved this deep unknown history. An incredible tale of a rag-tag team of students inventing key technologies—flat screens, instant messaging, networked games, blogging—decades before Silicon Valley, and then they were totally forgotten. Your mind will be blown.”

—Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick for Wired magazine; author, The Inevitable

“Packed with delightful details, The Friendly Orange Glow offers a fascinating account of how the first initial forays by passionate geeks snowballed to establish digital culture. This book is an essential read for anyone who takes the internet for granted.”

—danah boyd, Founder, Data & Society and Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research

“This exuberant history . . . offers a lively portrait of the energy and creativity that a networked world can unleash. . . . Dear's sprawling re-creation conveys the excitement of technological innovation and the freewheeling eccentricity of this vibrant scene.”

Publishers Weekly

“Promoted as an educational experiment, PLATO became home to the first interactive games, electronic communities, student hacking escapades and online romances. Could Nixon's staff censor online impeachment discussions? Is online gaming a form of education? Should systems sell advertising? Here's the astonishing story of that first network—how students and programmers twisted a thousand clunky, connected computers to change the course of computing.”

—Clifford Stoll, author of High-Tech Heretic

“The word that comes to mind about this book is comprehensive! It is truly a historical tour de force telling the story of the PLATO system, its origins and the people who made it happen. I had a glancing exposure to the program and Don Bitzer in the late 1960s as I embarked on work at UCLA on the ARPANET. The team was wrestling with the neon plasma panel display and I came away very impressed by Bitzer’s palpable can-do enthusiasm. He may have been Felix Unger to Daniel Albert’s Oscar Madison, but I have never met a more determined engineer in my fifty-year career. This book is a timely reminder of what PLATO people astonishingly accomplished long before the rest of the world caught on.”

—Vint Cerf, vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google

“Finally! Here is the secret history of the Internet's elder sibling, the one no one talks about after a mysterious disappearance.”

—Jaron Lanier, author of numerous books including I Am Not a Gadget

“Long before 'UI' signified User Interface, 'UI' signified University of Illinois, where, fifty years ago, much of what we take for granted as a User Interface for personal and collaborative computing first took form. To an Internet user, The Friendly Orange Glow is like finding a trunk in your attic full of detailed notes kept by your parents chronicling all the adventures they had before you were born. This is history of the best kind: authoritative, intimate, and painstakingly assembled, firsthand. A landmark work.”

—George Dyson, author of Turing's Cathedral

Last updated: 29 October 2017. Copyright © 2017 Brian Dear