As I mentioned last week, Salon has put legendary online community The WELL up for sale again. WELL users have been rallying around, pledging funds to a user buyout. The major stumbling block appears to be the domain name, which, with its health implications, is worth a large amount indeed. That said, more than $100K has been pledged, most of it in $1,000 chunks (I'm in for $1K). Wagner James Au reports:
A thread called "Would you kick in $1,000 for The Well?" (subscriber account required), has already garnered over 120 members pledging $1000 (some less, many more, with at least one pledge of $10,000), for an estimated total of over $120,000. That's a lot of money, especially coming from so few people, but it may not be enough. Many have pointed out that the Well.com domain name is probably quite attractive to organizations willing to pay a lot to own it. (For example, an HMO who wants turn well.com into a wellness resource.) So at the moment, it's still unclear what this user-driven campaign will do, though I hope the WELL can survive in some form.
In any case, as someone who's been a member of the WELL since the mid-90s (I joined with the Gen X contingent), then went on to write a lot about other virtual communities, chief among them Second Life, it's hard to miss the ironies at play:
For one, Salon was in great part inspired by the WELL, since a lot of its first writers and editors were members of the service. For another, it's an example of how virtual communities can fall into jeopardy, no matter how influential they once were. Read the 1997 Wired magazine article by Katie Hafner (which subsequently became a book), with the sub-head, "The World's Most Influential Online Community (And It's Not AOL)". It's an accurate title. Writers like Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow, Howard Rheingold, and Neal Stephenson are (or were) members, as were a lot of writers for Time Magazine, the Washington Post, and other leading media outlets. As I noted, an 80s popstar became a big fan, but where it was Duran Duran joining Second Life, in 2006, in the mid-90s and the WELL, it was Billy Idol. (As you might have guessed by now, I owe a lot of my writing career to the WELL too.)