On August 7, 1973, the first incarnation of Notes was released to the PLATO community. I was 17 years old at the time, and had been developing the Notes software for the past two or three months. It was what we would now call a “message board” or “forum” where people could publicly post messages and others could read and respond – in other words, a many-to-many communications medium.
Since I had never seen an online message board (although a couple of other people were independently tinkering with similar ideas in other places) I had no model to work from, and only a vague notion of what might develop out of it. The concept of an online community did not yet exist.
It was one thing to write a bunch of program code and debug it by writing test messages and responses to myself. It was another thing entirely to experience the social interaction that program enabled as large numbers of people began using it in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
By the end of 1974, PLATO also had real-time group chat (“Talkomatic”), one-to-one chat (“Term-Talk”), email (“Personal Notes” or “P-Notes”) and many multiplayer games, all of the infrastructure to support the world’s first online community. It was arguably the beginning of what we now think of as “social media”.
Mark Zuckerberg would be born ten years later.
Brian Dear has published an excellent 40-year anniversary piece about PLATO Notes at Medium.com.