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1. An overview from the biography section of Karl Zinn's papers at UM's Bentley Historical Library

posted Nov 19, 2010, 7:47 PM by Jeff Ogden
From http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/f/findaid/findaid-idx?c=bhlead;idno=umich-bhl-0476;view=reslist;didno=umich-bhl-0476;subview=standard;focusrgn=bioghist;cc=bhlead;byte=142633388:

Zinn is also credited for . . . and setting up the first computer-based conferencing system, CONFER, on campus.[3]

CONFER was developed in the mid-1970s when experimental psychology graduate student Bob Parnes attended a seminar which Professor Merrill Flood discussed aspects of electronic mail and conferencing on group decision making. Professor Flood had a prototype of such a program and approached Parnes to modify the application for MTS but, Parnes was interested in developing a program from the ground up.[4] With the support of the University, particularly the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, CONFER was developed.

Parnes' vision of the system was one where the individual group participant would alternate between being a producer and being a consumer of information. The unique CONFER feature in this regard was initially the functionality of the "vote." This feature allowed the consumer to voice their "feelings" or opinion on a statement by voting. Initially, responses were limited in size.

The first major "test" for the CONFER system was the October 1976 International Society for Technology Assessment (ISTA) Conference held in Ann Arbor. Zinn was interested in testing the technology to facilitate the coordination of tasks among the conference staff as well as using the system to allow conference participants to extend discussions on conference topics. CONFER provided a new opportunity for group discussion and is credited for playing a "tremendous role in enlarging the electronic community" at the University of Michigan.[5]

CONFER continued to gain in popularity with faculty, students, administrators and staff through the 1980s. By 1991, a group of students established the first computer conference for exclusively for students called MEET: STUDENTS. This very popular conference marked, in a sense, the acceptance of online communications as a culturally accepted mode for student communication and exchange.

For many on campus, the benefits of CONFER included meeting new people with similar interests, engaging in group discussion, and communicating outside the normal parameters defined by time and space. The CONFER system continued to be a widely used communication tool until 1999. By this time, the university had moved from the Michigan Terminal System to a distributed computing environment and several newer digital technologies replaced the functionality provided by CONFER. [6]



4) MTS Fostered Creation of Computing Community, Information Technology Digest, May 13, 1996 (vol. 5, no. 5).

5) Susan E. Topol, Students Met Students on Confer U, InfoTech Digital, September 8, 1997.

6) ibid.