I recently posted about the acquisition of the seminal online community, the WELL, by some of its members. At Social Media Today, my friend and former WELL director Cliff Figallo has an informative and insightful post that gives some context. “The people who log in and participate can be numbered in the hundreds,” he says, “but thousands of people have been active members at one time or another and many of them still think of the community as just that – a true online community that they consider to be their first home in Cyberspace.” He notes its history and influence:
In many ways, The WELL called attention to the social imperative in the early days of the Internet and the Web. It was one of the very first businesses to get an Internet domain name in 1992 – well.sf.ca.us. It inspired early Web developers to design platforms that would support social interaction. In 1996, Wired Magazine put The WELL on its cover, calling it “The World’s Most Influential Online Community,” and documenting some of the melodrama and technical “exploration” that had made it something more than an online forum.
When Katie Hafner was writing that piece for Wired, which later became a book, she interviewed me, and in her office she had a diagram that showed how the WELL derived influence from the communal movement in the sixties, and how it conveyed that influence to the larger Internet and the World Wide Web. Along with the BBS world, Usenet, and email lists, as Cliff says, the WELL inspired the social web – but not just developers, also users who, like me, were discovering that computers are platforms for communication and social connection.
Many of us who are still members of the WELL, and dissatisfied with a lack of depth in drive-by interactions on social media platforms, are hoping to see new growth within the community following its acquisition.