Ray Ozzie: Why?

by Volker Weber

Many years ago, in the mid 70's at University of Illinois, I was fortunate enough to have been touched by something called PLATO - an acronym for Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations. At the time, PLATO was a mainframe-based time sharing system with about a thousand custom multimedia terminals - that is, 512x512 graphics, touch screen pointing device, synchronized microfiche and audio, and "always on" connectivity - quite an achievement for the time, particularly given that I was still using coding sheets and Hollerith cards to do classwork.

Although primarily intended as a computer-assisted teaching system, PLATO evolved into the first large scale "online community", with eMail, online discussions, instant messaging, chat rooms, remote screen sharing, and massive multiplayer gaming. We established long-distance relationships for work and for love; we balanced the duality of our real and virtual lives. In short, the tens or hundreds of thousands of us who had a chance to experience PLATO in those days were afforded a preview of what was to come in the Internet era - an era of global ubiquitous communications and interaction.

As many of us who had spent years immersed in the PLATO environment left and entered the "real world", we were shocked and dismayed to find a world lacking electronic connection. And as I entered the business world, it simply made no sense to me that computers were being used solely for computing and "data processing"; the collaborative online work environment that I'd taken for granted, that I'd used day in and day out, was simply missing in action. Our work lives are all about interpersonal connections, our businesses processes are structured into connections amongst people and systems that must be coordinated. What better use of technology than to help people to connect?

And so, for most of my life since that time, it has been my goal to explore what lies at the intersection between people, organizations, and technology.

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