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

How Facebook decides which images to allow

Wondering why your Facebook breastfeeding image was blocked, but not the image of a deep wound your friend posted? Wonder no more. A leaked document reveals the weird, arcane, and extremely detailed guidelines used to determine which images are Facebook-safe.

Facebook bans images of breastfeeding if nipples are exposed – but allows "graphic images" of animals if shown "in the context of food processing or hunting as it occurs in nature". Equally, pictures of bodily fluids – except semen – are allowed as long as no human is included in the picture; but "deep flesh wounds" and "crushed heads, limbs" are OK ("as long as no insides are showing"), as are images of people using marijuana but not those of "drunk or unconscious" people.

Facebook's nudity and violence guidelines are laid bare (via Naked Capitalism)

6 myths of microfinancing

Over the years, I've been really impressed with the stuff I've heard about microfinancng charities like KIVA. The idea of helping people in developing countries launch and support small businesses, changing their lives and the lives of their children, makes a lot of sense. And the personal stories that go with microfinancing are pretty appealing.

I'm starting to re-think my opinions on microfinancing, however, after reading some of the research done by GiveWell.org, an organization that casts an evidence-based eye on what different charities do and whether they actually get the results they claim.

It's not that microfinancing is bad, per se, GiveWell says. It's just that the system doesn't measure up to the hype. And if you've got a limited amount of money to spend on helping other people, there might be more effective ways to do it that produce more bang for your buck.

GiveWell has written a ton on this, but I'd recommend starting with a blog post of theirs from a couple of years ago called 6 Myths About Microfinance Charities that Donors Can Live Without. This piece provides a succinct breakdown of what questions you should be asking about microfinance charities, and provides lots and lots of links for deeper digging. The myth that surprised me the most:

Myth #6: microfinance works because of (a) the innovative “group lending” method; (b) targeting of women, who use loans more productively than men; (c) targeting of the poorest of the poor, who benefit most from loans.

Reality: all three of these claims are often repeated but (as far as we can tell) never backed up. The strongest available evidence is limited, but undermines all three claims.

All new Submitterator!

Submitterator is back and better than ever! We learned a lot from our original public submission system (basically a reader-generated blog), and I've made a few key changes to help you get your cool stuff to the right people at Boing Boing, and make it easier for everyone else to enjoy your submissions too:

  • We now have a few simple categories for submissions. You don't have to use them, but this helps editors, as well as you, organize and find good submissions.
  • Certain links that are embeddable (YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, etc.) will be automatically embedded for you. Just drop your link in the suggested link field.
  • I've removed the voting system for now, as the original wasn't very effective. I'm working on some new alternatives.

You'll need a Boing Boing user account to submit to Submitterator. The private submission form is still available if you'd rather use that.

You're welcome to tell us about things you make and things you sell: once. Apart from this, there is zero tolerance for spam and inappropriate submissions. I'll be actively improving Submitterator, so look forward to changes as it grows!

Tell us about what's wonderful by using the Submitterator!

BB gets WordPress, Disqus, new machines

Good news, everybody! We've just upgraded our site software, installed new hardware, and moved our antiquated comment system to Disqus, replete with modern features. The site itself is otherwise unchanged; the grueling task of making everything look and work the same on a completely new platform fell to our lead developer Dean Putney and sysadmin Ken Snider. Both have worked tirelessly for weeks, and deserve many thanks. Thanks, guys! Your current comment login will work on the new system, but you'll need to reset your password. Fire any bug reports to bugs@boingboing.net and we will stamp on them ASAP. Also, the Submitterator will be in drydock for its own upgrades for a short while; in the meantime, submit via the private form.

Boring Magazine design contest winner!

We asked you to design the cover to a supremely boring periodical. The response was overwhelming, with more than 100 thoroughly mind-numbing entries resting on the magazine rack in Hell. Pictured here is winner Tired Magazine, a mirror-world version of Wired where hold music, baby photos and warm salads dominate the headlines. Designer Jack Daniel gets a heavy-duty $350 messenger bag from Saddleback Leather. Three more of the best are after the jump.

Read the rest

[Giveaway] Free MOO stickers for 250 fast-clicking readers!

notasticker.pngHit MOO cards with the promo code BOINGSTICK get a free pack of its new stickers, rectangular labels, or stickerbooks. You'll need a pic to upload and a fast trigger-finger: only the first 250 people to use the code get 'em free of charge.

Kickstarter: "Serpent Twins," mobile sculptures for Burning Man

[video link]

Early SRL (Survival Research Laboratories) member and metalworking master Jon Sarriugarte and creative partner Kyrsten Mate have been the subject of many, many Boing Boing posts, Boing Boing Video episodes, and fun experiences we've had offline.

Now they have a new project in the works: "The Serpent Twins - mobile sculptures for Burning Man." They're raising funds for it on Kickstarter.

These twin sculptures are the embodiment of the Serpent mythology that exists in numerous cultures throughout the world. The first is Jormungand, a dark harbinger of doom that Thor fights to save the human race in Nordic myths. His body comprised of blackened steel, he shoots fire from his mouth to prove his dominance over mortals. His twin, the bright Julunggul, shines in the sun and lights the night from within its 50' body. She serves man by swallowing boys and spitting them out as men. They should both be fantastical in the old fashioned sense of the word!

What are we asking for? Specifically, here are where all the donations will be going. We received an honorarium from Burning Man, which is wondrous, but we now need to raise the balance of the funds needed to complete the project. In addition, we have expanded the scope of our original sculptures to include many fantastic features that require expensive technology. The most expensive of these are 6 times the amount of LEDs along with all the programming moduals to control them and batteries to power them. Wonderfully, Benny of Cool Neon (coolneon.com) is working with us, but the materials costs alone are staggering. Additionally, there were a number of items that were excluded from the original bid including generators, transportation costs, propane for the fire breathing Jormungand, etc. Truly, whatever money we raise will be put towards not only the completion, but the artistic expansion of the project.

More about the project, and benefits for those who kick in, at Kickstarter page and at the Serpent Twins website.

More images from the project below. Click to make 'em larger.

Read the rest

BoingBoing Meetup: Twin Cities edition


The temperature climbed over 100 on Tuesday, but the Twin Cities BoingBoing Meetup was still a lot of fun. (I refuse to give in to urge to make a "cool" pun.) We had probably close to 25 people who met up at one of Minneapolis' best parks—Minnehaha Falls. On a patio overlooking the waterfall, we drank good beer, had some great conversations, and shared some seriously nifty objects and ideas. In the photo above (taken by Michael Lee, who was kind enough to take some iPhone shots, as my camera is in France with my husband.) you can see Katrina Mundinger demonstrating a drop spindle—the technology that preceded the more-recognizable spinning wheel.

Some other cool items: Emily Lloyd brought some local very, very short memoirs that she's collecting as part of the 6 Words Twin Cities project; Scott brought some steampunk goggles he'd made using materials from Ax-Man (The most awesome stores in the Twin Cities. Seriously. The St. Paul location has an iron lung for sale.); musician Jeremy Messersmith brought an intentionally bad poem that he successfully submitted to a vanity music label; and Will brought a 3D film camera. Hopefully, he'll figure out a place to get it developed and we'll have some 3D photos of the Meetup, too!

Links to a couple more photos: These shots were taken by Scott, the gentleman who brought the goggles.

I'm going to be sad when this is no longer a sign of dorkery

It's been almost two decades since it was first released. So why is Settlers of Catan suddenly becoming so popular? (Thanks, Carrie D.!)

Heat wave buckles highways in Minneapolis

buckled concrete.jpg

Apparently, while I wasn't paying attention, Minneapolis plunged into a heat wave. (I suspect this says something about the temperature-control powers of my 1920s stucco house. That, and my husband's practice of opening the house and turning on fans over night, and then closing all the windows in the morning. ) We hit a new record high—97 degrees F—yesterday afternoon, and more of the same is expected today.

But here's the really fun part: The heat caused serious highway damage in 21 different spots around the Twin Cities yesterday. We're not talking about gaping chasms opening up or anything. But heat and humidity do make concrete expand. If there's no place for it to expand to—as in the middle of a highway—it can buckle along the weakest point. The result: Sudden, big potholes where potholes did not used to be. Also: Traffic jams.

Bear that expected bad traffic in mind today, if you're joining me for the Twin Cities edition of the 1st Annual International BoingBoing Meetup Day. On the plus side, it's not likely to rain on us, right? Maybe we'll go for a purifying dip in the waters of Creek Minnehaha.

Via Amy Nelson

Image: American Film, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from swanksalot's photostream. Not a highway in Minneapolis, but buckled concrete, nonetheless.

Alabama tornadoes: How you can help


Over the weekend, I read several beautifully written, deeply moving essays about the deadly line of tornadoes that swept through Alabama last week. I wanted to share a few of those essays here, as well as let people know where you can donate to help the many, many people left homeless by this disaster.

First, my old Alabama buddy Kyle Whitmire wrote a piece for CNN called "When a Monster Came to Alabama".

There is no getting accustomed to natural disasters, but in Alabama tornado emergencies are seasonal part of life. I was in first grade the first time our teachers took us into the hall and taught us to line up against the walls and curl in the fetal position with our hands covering our necks. I can't remember how old I was when my mom made me climb into an empty bathtub, but I do remember her lugging a mattress into the bathroom to throw over me in case things got bad ...

You look for the "debris ball" that means a twister is on the ground. And when they get close, you hide in a windowless room, closet or hallway. If you're on the road, you're supposed to pull off and hide in a ditch, although I'm not sure many folks actually do. Then you wait. Maybe it kills you. Probably it doesn't. When it's over, you call your family to say you're safe and ask them if they're safe. And then you look around outside to see if it's all still there. The experience is terrifying, but it comes with the exhilaration Winston Churchill attributed to being shot at and missed. Of course, nature doesn't always miss.

The other essay comes from writer Brian Oliu. It's something he pieced together at the Tuscaloosa public library, not quite sure whether he'd have the Internet access to post it.

[Tuscaloosa] is where I have lived, worked, and wrote for the past six years, made art, made friends, made mistakes, always making. At some point, the town was called "Tuscalooska", but there was an executive decision at some point to drop the "K", perhaps it made the town sound too stammering, too unsure of itself. There are some old buildings in Alberta City that still had signs that had the "K" still in the name. Those buildings are gone now ...

Commonly, I hear "You live in Alabama? Why?" from folks up north. The effort that has been put forward during these past few days is why. Tuscaloosa has given me more than I can ever repay it for, and now that it needs my help, I am trying the best that I can. One of the jokes I heard a lot when I first moved to Alabama is "You're studying writing in Alabama? Do they even know how to write?" The short answer is yes: they do know how to write. They know how to do a lot of things. They know how to come together. They know how to love. They know how to rebuild.

But as they clean up and rebuild, the people of Alabama do need help. Thousands of people lost their homes. They need basic necessities. The organizations supporting them need money.

• If you'd like to donate supplies, check out this list of needed items. At the bottom of the list is an address to donate supplies by mail, and a list of places in Alabama where supplies can be dropped off.

• There's a long list of places you can donate money, ranging from the Red Cross and United Way, to the Alabama Governor's Relief Fund, religious charities, and Habitat for Humanity.

• If you're in the area and want to donate your time and labor, you can do that, too. Hands on Birmingham is a great organization that's coordinating volunteer efforts within that city. Serve Alabama is a government initiative that's registering volunteers for the whole state.

Image: Tami Chappell / Reuters

All the things left behind

On my walk around the neighborhood tonight, I found the following tornado debris: insulation, wood shrapnel, roof shingles, KFC receipt from Skyland Blvd in Tuscaloosa, a lease from 1996 for an apt at 800 20th street in Tusc., a tax return from a Schmon Ruffin, a receipt from Tuscaloosa Realty, pg 9 of 15 of "Exhibit B" with tank prices on it, and the Jesus bracelet. According to the KFC receipt they bought a pot pie, mac and cheese, and a 12 piece mix box. — My friend Eileen Kiernan, who lives in Birmingham, Alabama.

Photos found after the Alabama tornadoes


More than 100 individual tornadoes struck the Southeastern United States yesterday. More than 200 people were killed in Alabama alone.

I lived in Birmingham for two years, working for mental_floss magazine. I'm happy to report that all of my friends—including the mental_floss staff—are present and accounted for. But even for those who got by relatively unscathed, there's a lot of work to be done. The clean-up from this disaster is turning out to be remarkably disturbing. Many of my friends have reported finding strangers' belongings and pieces of demolished homes in their yards. In several cases, debris found in the Birmingham metro area appeared to have come from Tuscaloosa—some 60 miles away.

In the wake of that, someone's set up a new Facebook group where people are posting scans of photos and documents they've found post-tornado. Partly, it's meant to help reconnect keepsakes and belongings with their owners. And partly, it's a deeply moving memorial. There's little doubt that at least some of the people in these photos won't be able to come collect them.

My thoughts are with everyone down South tonight. I hope you, and the people you love, are safe.

(Thanks to Eileen Kiernan)

Limerick of Death competition winner

Our Limerick of Death competition was a huge success, attracting hundreds of entrants. The winner of an awesome Machine of Death hardback set is #259 by Petertrepan:

The pilot spat out a profanity
As he said "This machine speaks insanity."
So he launched anyway
And suffice it to say
"This is terrible! Oh, the humanity!"

Runners-up are #295 by nr and #66 by RadioFreeUSA, who each get a random thing from the vault. Winners, get in touch!