Peter Zelchenko

Portfolio > Screen and Interface

Nobody came out of the PLATO project indifferent. A book is coming out this summer about our small but influential community. In a little office building in Urbana, on UIUC's engineering campus, some innovative minds were developing. A little side hall on the second floor of that building was called the "PEG Corridor," which was a special place for the small group of programmers who were privileged enough to have called it home.

At the PLATO Education Group, we developed cutting-edge computer-based instruction on a dreamlike programming platform that can only be described as "space age." And after work we'd play or develop the best interterminal games of their time. PLATO and PEG spawned not only little old me, but also my deskmate Bruce Maggs (Mr. Akamai, and yes, he was a weird, wonderful genius even when we were teenagers); Dave Woolley, who developed the first online community in 1973, called Notes; Tim Halvorsen, Len Kawell, and Microsoft's Ray Ozzie, who made Lotus Notes, based on Woolley's classic; Mike Kulas (remember Descent?); Silas Warner (Castle Wolfenstein); and dozens of others. We all came out of the same little lab, and every one of the people I've listed regularly acknowledges how much our unusually innovative careers were influenced by the magical experiences we had there.

We came out of PLATO with the same kind of interface chops that you see in alumni of Xerox PARC and MIT's Media Lab. I was one of PLATO's most prolific programmers, and some of the things I wrote over 30 years ago are still generating (very modest) royalties to this day. I also had a good semantic eye for the systemwide interface planning, was recognized for a couple of important changes to the system, and was considered one of the top two or three at writing clean, tight, self-documenting code.

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