WELL party video, 1989: proto-online social network meetup

Howard Rheingold's vlog today features a rare gem of cyberculture history...

Nearly twenty years ago, people who had met online began to meet in person at the WELL office in Sausalito. These interviews from a WELL party, circa 1989, include me, Stewart Brand, Flash Gordon, M.D., Hank Roberts, Janey Fritsche, the late Tina Loney (the woman with the bird) and the late Bob Bickford. Party material courtesy of and copyright by InCA productions.
Link. The video is lacking only one thing: IDs for the people on the screen, as they talk. Anyone want to take a stab at that in the comments here?


  1. I’ve been on The WELL since 1985 and was a conference host there from 1986-1996. Here are a few IDs of those in the video:

    at 3:14-3:30, Cliff Figallo (fig)a very early WELL general manager. Cliff knew John Coate (tex) because both had been together on The Farm, Stephen Gaskin’s intentional community. Cliff brought John on board as a loosely defined marketing manager. (John’s prior experience was as a Peugeot diesel mechanic).

    at 5:00 the man walking behind Howard is, I believe, David Morgenstern, a mordant wit whom I later worked with at MacWeek. I still recall (and tell) his joke about the thrice-married virgin.

    at 5:30 and again at about 8:15 the young man with the cap is J. Matisse Enzer (matisse).

    at 5:40 the woman speaking is Elaine Richards (booter) an early Unix sysadmin.

    at 9:20 the bearded gent is Flash Gordon, M.D. (flash).

    Of these I’ve mentioned, (matisee), (flash) and (booter) are still on The WELL. Howard, I believe, maintains an account but appears rarely.

  2. sure!

    @ 3:15 – Cliff Figarello
    @ 8:55 – Matisse Enzer
    @ 9:18 – Flash Gordon, M.D.

    those were the days…

  3. Here you go – the sequence of speakers by well login id, with real names at the end:

    onezie, hank, rab/ onezie, hank, fig, stewart, [hlr at whiteboard], hlr at mac, hlr, matisse, booter, don’t know man, don’t remember woman, stewart, hlr, janey, matisse, janey, matisse, flash, [hlr at whiteboard]

    onezie = Tina Loney
    rab = Bob Bickford
    hank = Hank Roberts
    fig = Clif Figallo
    stewart = Stewart Brand
    hlr = Howard Rheingold
    matisse = Matisse Enzer
    booter = Elaine Richards
    janey = Janey Frtische
    flash = Flash Gordon

    Me: bobert = Bob Murphy, met my wife (debbym = Deborah Mitchell) on the WELL, and neither of us are in the video.

    I quit the WELL around the time of this video and lost track of most of these folks. I knew rab had dided, but until seeing this post, I didn’t know about onezie.

    There is nothing really going on with Web 2.0 (aka user-generated content) that wasn’t happening on the WELL during 1985-1990. The technology is now better, but by and large the information content is usually not as good. Back then, it took either tech know-how or real passion to participate, and there was (almost) no anonymity. We used to say on the WELL that your coin was your words: your reputation was who you were, and it was based on what you said. Anyone who spouted the drivel found in many blogs and most comments usually went somewhere else pretty quickly.

    Hey, I see Roger Karraker got a post in before I did! :-)

  4. When i started my Arizona based ISP in late ’92 (and early ’93) quite a few of my first customers were people using my service as a local dial-up to telnet into the WELL. It was sort of funny when David Crosby received his liver transplant in ’95, the WELL put pressure on me to give him a dedicated dial-in port so he could get in to post before and after his surgery.

    Of course, these were the Bruce Katz days so this was well after the heyday you guys are reminiscing about. Good times nonetheless…

  5. The people’s responses from 4:50 onwards are pure gold. This is seriously at the core of why geeks and the internet get along so well together.

  6. Favorite comments:

    “It’s a great place for dead heads to meet”

    “Information is the sugar of the late 20th Century”

  7. I miss those days. Of all the services from back then (GEnie, Compuserve, Etc.), I wish I would of hung on to my Well account.

  8. What is up with blip.tv videos. They skip like crazy and are unwatchable on older machines that can play YouTube movies perfectly fine. On newer machines, plays OK but I can see that it’s CPU intensive. Are people only with newer computers supposed to watch blip.tv vids?

    : (

  9. 6:04 is Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld AKA Dr. Hip-pocrates, (the original doctor who gave advice via the media – the Berkeley Barb in the 60s.)

    6:41 is Anna Couey from Art Com (she and her colleagues were hugely important and generally underrated contributors to WELL culture).

    Others in the background include me (blowing up a balloon), Bob Ulias, David Gault, Andy Beals, Alan Chamberlain and Elliot Fabric.

    This tape was dubbed from a VHS tape I got from the late Blair Newman who had arranged the shoot (for a BBC thing that never happened). I kept it in a box for 19 years until I digitized it last month.

    There is more on it – maybe Howard will put other bits out there at some point.

    Yo bobert!

  10. I’m (rik) on the Well, have been on since 1990. It’s no longer the on-the-leading-edge phenomenon it once was, but remains a genuine multi-generational, community of polymaths, pedants, and people whose thoughts are worth reading. The level of political discourse is way above the usual blog level. And it’s where I learned about a lot of the things that currently interest me, boing boing included.

    But mostly, it’s a device for organizing my social life, and when people ask me what it is, I say that it’s the original social networking site, and that it predates the web.

  11. My mother, then 80, can be seen in the background when Dr Flash — still my physician — is talking.

    I started using blip.tv before Youtube allowed larger format videos. If you watch the Flash version, you shouldn’t have a problem — the Quicktime version sometimes has problems.

  12. My mother, now 99 years old, can be seen behind Flash Gordon, who is still my physician. I’ll post another episode next week.

    I started using blip.tv before youtube allowed larger format videos, and stuck with it out of habit. If you view the Flash version, you shouldn’t have the problems that ppl sometimes get with the Quicktime.

  13. Others have already identified everyone that I recognized. I’m pretty sure that =wasn’t= David Morgenstern early on, which is too bad, because I’d love to run into him today and hear some more jokes.

    I miss a lot. It’s good to see her again, if only in video.

  14. John,

    This tape was dubbed from a VHS tape I got from the late Blair Newman who had arranged the shoot (for a BBC thing that never happened). I kept it in a box for 19 years until I digitized it last month. There is more on it – maybe Howard will put other bits out there at some point.

    If you have the video digitized, why not just put the whole thing up on blip.tv or archive.org yourself?

  15. I *think* that’s me doing a quick non-speaking cameo behind Janey just when she’s talking about working with Mickey Hart. The sleeveless tiedye certainly seems familiar.

    FWIW, pozar had a 50th birthday party this weekend and I got to see a bunch of the old WELL gang f2f. Didn’t see flash, even though he had said he was coming. Hi to the rest of you!

  16. I’m not in the video but a friend sent me the link. I was on the well from 1988 to around 1991, when I left to go to Asia to be a Buddhist nun, and then a bit after I got back (still a nun). Howard put me in his book about virtual community after the Well pulled together to help me when I was dying in India, and it’s sweet to see everyone again.

  17. That by the way is one of the great stories of why the WELL was/is a real community. It would be great to hear you tell it someplace.

  18. I haven’t watched the posted excerpt but I did watch the DVD today, that John gave me a couple weeks ago. I actually didn’t recognize myself at first – I was like, “Who is that skinny guy wearing my t-shirt?”

  19. What a treasure to watch. I was but a wee tyke when the WELL got rolling and to see Howard and the rest of you out on that ‘lectronic frontier sure is something. The WELL paved the way for so many other online thinking spaces, and the digital culture created there remains its legacy. Neat!

  20. The WeLL was really special. I’ve never found anything like it since, with the exception perhaps of a subset of the burningman mpeople I know…
    I really miss those days.. I was completely addicted for about 4 years!

    I hate to be ageist – but most people on the well were over 23 – and it showed in the maturity of the conversations, the support and the exchanges..sure there were a few flames and DRAMAS… (oh wow I had forgotten some of the DRAMA!) but all in all it was a great spot and probably still is!

    Thanks Howard – I only went to one out door gathering… I wish I had done more..I was down on the Peninsula so it was a hike.

    If I ever move back there maybe I will chaeck in again.

  21. It was fun to see those clips, and I would like to see the whole video some time.

    As I have mentioned to others, when I saw the glasses i was wearing back then i thought “Wow, those probably prevented me from getting laid more than once.”

    The WELL was a major institution in my life for many years – I have been using it from late 1987 to this day, and still several of my close friends are people I met on or because of The WELL, including the unique Dr. Are We Really, who officiated at my marriage.

    The WELL is where I learned Unix, and about the Internet (back in 1991) and a huge amount about social systems, community relations, business operations, governance (I worked there from 1991-94) and other important matters.

    When I was lucky enough to write a book on Unix, in 2002 I dedicated it to David Hawkins, (dhawk) an important figure on The WELL who taught me my first multi-part Unix command line. David passed away in July 2000.

    I recall (tex), that is John Coate, explaining to Gail Williams and I, how sometimes one has to simply soak up what people are saying and doing, and then go somewhere else and squeeze it out.
    Very Postelian that.

  22. It looks like I really missed some fun. I was living in eastern Kentucky in 1989, and logged in to the Well via CPN. Too far to drive or fly to a party.
    Nice to see all the faces (and hair!!) after all these years.
    The Well is still a very important place/hang out/information source for me. If somebody had asked me in 1989 if I would still be on the Well 19 years later, I’m sure I would have said yes, but I would have doubted it would still be here.
    I’m very happy to see the Well is still here now.

  23. I joined the WELL in 1987 when I was in grad school and had to get a computer. I saw an ad for the WELL in a magazine published by some friends about the Grateful Dead, and thought it would be fun to check out. Right after that I met someone at a party who was on the WELL and had an extra 1200 baud modem she was willing to lend me. Little did I know that it would change my life completely. I’ve met people through the WELL who are my dearest, closest friends. and some of those early WELL office parties stand out in my memory as being pretty wild times. I’m surprised that I wasn’t at the one in the video, because I went to every WELL office party from the time I joined in June 87 until about 1992. Guess I musta been out of town….:-)

    I remember at one early party tex took me into the VAX room and when I saw the machine I said, “Wow, we’re all *in there*!” To someone who was completely alien to the world of computers until I joined the WELL, it was a strange universe. But I like people and that’s what kept me coming back to the WELL: the human connection. The information was great but for me that part was secondary. I liked the part about forging a new social frontier. I liked the part about when someone was in trouble, the whole community banded together to help. I liked the part where people shared their vulnerability and (mostly) good things would happen. I even liked the part where people shared their vulnerability and bad things happened…..not that I would wish it on anyone, but it was so fascinating to watch the community get sucked into a vortex of miscommunication and misperception because of the limitations of the medium as it struggled to regain its equilibrium. When there was a thrash, it seemed like the world was going to end! and yet, here a lot of us are, still–actively contributing and making new friends.

  24. I am researching community based social compacts in online communities (see my profile regarding why) and the Well really started it all. I came upon this link and the system i have been working with really mimicks what people here are saying about the Well but if anyone can tell me more or point me to more Well stories or official publications regarding the history…it would be great! :)

  25. I saw Robin (robngail) go by in the background early on. Is this video dowloadable? That’d make it much easier to step through to name more names.

    Elly, hi!!

    — Hank

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