PLATO Impacts

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PLATO was the beginning of all computerized learning and teaching, including the myriad of online courses available today.

The ability of PLATO users to communicate with each other led to it being used socially. In many ways, the social computing seen with PLATO was a precursor to today’s Internet.

Among the user-created programs that allowed PLATO users to interact were some of the first networked multiplayer games. Nowadays, online gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry.

PLATO’s Impact Today

PLATO was a pioneer system for online forums, message boards, email, chat rooms, instant messaging, blogging, multiplayer games, and even social networking. PLATO was the world’s first online community. By 1985 the Control Data Corporation (CDC) had established PLATO systems in over 100 campuses around the world. But by the late 1980s, PLATO’s mainframe-based system was losing popularity as microcomputers were becoming more popular. Today, PLATO is not as widely used, but it remains important as a precursor to many of today’s social networking and online communications innovations.

Some features of PLATO led to aspects that are still used today:

  • PLATO Notes, 1972 – a precursor to online forums and message boards
    • Originally developed by David R. Wooley as a two-way medium for system staff to communicate with users in three original discussion categories: System Announcements, Help Notes, and Public Notes. Public notes became the most popular of the three forums where users discussed anything from books to politics. From 1978 to 1985 PLATO Notes accounted for 30% of PLATO usage.
  • Talkomatic, 1973 – a precursor to chat rooms
    • Plato Notes forums were used to start group conversations. This was created by Doug Brown.
  • Term-talk, 1973 – a precursor to instant messaging
    • Term-talk could be used to start private conversations.
  • Personal Notes, 1974 – a precursor to email
    • Personal Notes was developed by Kim Mast as a way for users to send private messages to other users even when the recipient was not online.
  • News Report – a precursor to online news and blogging
    • Users could post news stories for other users to read.
  • Multiplayer Games – an early exploration of social-based online gaming
    • Gaming accounted for 20% of PLATO usage from 1978-1985. Unpaid programmers wrote most of the games on PLATO. Airfight, a flight simulator, was the first highly interactive game on PLATO and became exceptionally popular, followed by Empire, a multiplayer game based on Star Trek. Gaming on PLATO was enhanced by the social interactions between users. Rick Blomme wrote the first two-player game. Alumni remember playing a networked Star Trek game late at night with other students at UCLA and Brigham Young.

– Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science. PLATO Computer Learning System display located in the central hallway on the first floor.
– Mechanical Engineering Laboratory. Historical Marker on the northeast corner of the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory.


Adults using PLATO terminals at Parkland College. (1969). Photographic Subject File. Record Series 39/2/20, Box COL 13, Folder COL 13-13. University of Illinois Archives.

Woman Using PLATO Terminal. (1974-75). Photographic Subject File. Record Series 39/2/20, Box COL 13, Folder COL 13-13 Computer Ed. Research Lab / PLATO 1952-74. University of Illinois Archives.

Contributors: Tom Ackerman