WELL users pledge more than $100K to community buyout

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.)

Will The WELL Survive? Members Pledge $100K+ to Buy Influential Virtual Community from Corporate Owners


  1. There as here I’m ohbejoyful.  I can’t imagine my online life without The Well – it makes up a large part of my virtual neighbourhood.

  2. Cory, sorry to be off-topic, but can you recommend some online games for 10 year-old boys? Not a gamer here, going crazy trying to keep them occupied (Dad)… They adore Crimson Skies. Nothing too gory, pls. Thanks so much in advance, T

  3. If you’re interested, here’s a direct link to the aforementioned article: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.05/ff_well.html

  4. I was on the WELL from 1997 – 2011. I stopped because $15/month was too much to pay, though I do miss it. I hope it survives in some form.

    Seems to me the easiest solution is to find a new domain name and move the content. Let someone else pay the big bucks for the domain; the name’s less important than the community.

      1. Unfortunately, the internal renewed well movement afoot there will very likely NOT carry that domain name with the place of it’s next landing.

        Hence it might be a good thing to move those out, and via a .htacess file point that reference to a more lasting server name …

        However the jury of modern commerce is still out, and there may be some reason in an unreasonable world for them to continue owning their domain so life can flow on as before in their happy Well valley.

      2. That was why I was paying my $150 a year or so to io.com as well. It was very sad when it turned out they hadn’t kept the domain name in various sales of the parent company.

  5. I’ve made lasting, valuable connections on the WELL since joining as in 1996. Any time I’m stuck for exotic information, keen insight, or just plain unvarnished erudite thought (or wack-ass blowhard opinions, for that matter), that’s where I go.

    I was trying to explain to someone today why the WeLL’s format alone – threaded community-topic-based discussion – is so much better than Facebook: 

    Would you rather seek enlightenment by strolling a hall lined with sparsely-furnished, but well-labeled living room suites – or wander around in a massive, smoke-filled, trash-strewn, neon-lit gymnasium where everyone screams at once whatever random thing is on their mind? 

    Okay, so I’m overly romantic and probably soft-headed about it. But the WeLL is the real thing – and we deserve to survive.

  6. How influential is the WELL really? This is the first I’ve heard it mentioned in years.

  7. The Well’s importance was always overstated, merely because so many early online-focused journalists hung their hats there. But it is certainly an interesting blip in online community and WWW history, and in that it deserves its place.

  8. internet is a volatile place, sometimes you must let the things happen, although you do not want it, for example: the end of a online community

  9. wow.. I joined in 1992 or 93, jcourte at well dot com.   I still remember snippets of threads that flew back and forth on there.    It was actually because of the Well that I got to spend two weeks in San Francisco in the summer of 1993, soaking up the nascent pre-dotcom excitement that was prevalent at the time, and got to spin records with Goa Gil at a house party in Santa Cruz.   It was pretty much the best a recovering redneck from Michigan could hope for, dropped into the epicenter of techno-hippie wonderland.

  10. The WELL is one of the few online entities where there is critical and thoughtful discussion that isn’t the mindless drivel that is AOL, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. Go figure that it was co-founded by Stewart Brand, the legendary editor of “The Last Whole Earth Catalog: access to tools.”

  11. > The Well’s importance was always overstated

    My view is that you can’t overstate the significance of the WELL and its parent, Point Foundation/Whole Earth.  Early bloggers (like those at boing boing and yours truly) were influenced by the structure of reviews in the Whole Earth publications, and adopted a similar style. For many of us, our WELL accounts were our pathway onto the Internet. Much of the culture of the Internet post 1990, especially the concept and execution of virtual community and the way it evolved into contemporary social media, was inspired and driven by experiences on the WELL.  In my own case, I built an Internet career starting with my volunteer work at the WELL, and made many of my connections there. I became an editor for boing boing and Factsheet Five through connections on the WELL, a writer for publications like Mondo 2000, cofounder of FringeWare publisher of FringeWare Review, all via connections and experiences on the WELL. I became an active member and supporter of EFF and cofounder of EFF-Austin because of the WELL. I’ve had a number of major author interviews on in the Inkwell conference on the WELL, as well as the annual state of the world conversation Bruce Sterling and I have had every January for 13 years – we doubtless wouldn’t have done that without the WELL.  I first heard the word “weblog” when Bruce applied it to his posts in the Mirrorshades conference that we cohosted on the WELL. I also recall, when Katie Hafner was working on her book about the WELL and interviewed me at her office, which was then in Austin, that I saw a diagram on her wall that she’d been working on, that showed how communal movements in the 60s fed into the WELL, and the WELL fed into the evolution of community and social aggregation on the Internet. From my perspective, the WELL’s influence has been huge.

  12. I’ve had my well.com e-mail since around 1990, the only e-mail I’ve ever known (of course I have five or six others, but this is, and has been, my personal e-mail), and I’ve been an active participant on the Well for a long, long time. I know Wagner mostly through “Guessing the Grosses.” I don’t care if the Well is influential or not — there are a lot of very bright people, some with connections at the New York Times, Washington Post, Wikipedia, and elsewhere — and it’s an extraordinary resource. Its loss, both personally because of my e-mail address, professionally and in every other way, would change my life in ways I don’t want my life changed. 

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