How I Invented Online Conferencing
In 1973 I designed and wrote PLATO Notes. It's possible that it was the first permanent, general-purpose online conferencing system. PLATO billed itself as a Computer Based Education system, not a conferencing system. But it turns out that it has been used as much for communication as for education.
PLATO Notes is the progenitor of:
- Lotus Notes
- DEC Notes (aka VAX Notes)
- Notesfiles (used on PeaceNet and the other IGC/APC networks)
- tin and tass (Usenet newsreaders)
In the early 1970's PLATO also pioneered early implementations of email, chat rooms, instant messaging, remote screen sharing, co-browsing, live online technical support, and multiplayer games.
PLATO itself is still around in various forms, having evolved down a number of evolutionary branches. The original 1970's era PLATO has been revived and can be seen at Cyber1.org.
"Okay," I hear you saying, "but isn't it a bit of hyperbole to say you invented computer conferencing?"
Well, yeah. Several people invented it, working independently.
Or you could say nobody did. It was just in the air, you know.
Here are some other first-generation conferencing systems that emerged in the early to mid-1970's:
- EMISARI (1971, Murray Turoff, U.S. Office of Emergency Preparedness.) This was a special-purpose system used for 90 days to coordinate the Nixon administration's wage-price freeze. It is generally recognized as the first computer conferencing system.
- PLANET (Jacques Vallee, Robert Johansen, and others at the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, California.)
- Confer (1975, Robert Parnes, University of Michigan.) Confer is the parent of Caucus, PicoSpan, and YAPP.
- EIES (1976, Murray Turoff, New Jersey Institute of Technology.)
In 1983 I wrote a short article describing the PLATO phenomenon in its heyday: Between PLATO and the Social Media Revolution.
For the full story, see PLATO: The Emergence of On-Line Community.
A briefer version of the same story appears in the History of Lotus Notes at the Iris/Lotus/IBM site.
Brian Dear is writing a book about PLATO called The Friendly Orange Glow and maintains the PLATO History web site. Wired News has done a couple of related articles (here and here.)
David R. Woolley currently maintains a well-known Guide to Web Conferencing Software & Services