The WELL, Chatrooms, and Message Boards: The Birth of User-Generated Digital Media
// Posted by SarahP on 05/21/2015 (2:35 PM)
The internet as we know it today is a bustling metropolis of commerce and entertainment. It is a gathering point for like-minded individuals to convene and share their thoughts and opinions. While the internet was evolving, chat rooms and online forums have been an important part of the online culture, bringing people all over the world that would otherwise not have an opportunity to converse together
In chapter 5 of From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Turner discusses at great length the evolution of the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, otherwise known as the WELL. The WELL evolved from the Whole Earth Catalogue (which someone in class likened to a primitive, paperback, non-digital form of Amazon) and served as a cyber-playground for anyone and everyone- from highly advance computer technicians to twenty-something year olds educating themselves in the ways of the hacker.
Chat rooms and forums have always been a vital part of the internet and its presence. I can recall (again, as mentioned in my previous post) using the America Online “Kid’s Only” server to converse with other youths about Sailor Moon, Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers, and, of course, Ty plush toys, all under the username of “BeanieBabe84” (the number 84 signifying how many Beanie Babies I owned at the time of creating my screen name. Yes, I am a child of the 90s!)
It was after creating my first public profile on America Online that I realized the internet wasn’t as safe as I initially thought. On my profile, I listed my interests as “ballet, reading, and movies.” One evening, I received an email from a man saying it was the craziest thing he’d ever done, but wanted to know if I would go out on a date with him to see a local production of Swan Lake. My grandmother so very eloquently wrote back, informing him that he had requested a date with a 9 year old girl, and that while I was a mature 9 year old, I would respectfully be declining his offer. Needless to say, my profile was deleted that evening…
Online Forums have also been an integral part of bringing widespread internet users closer together. Topics from religion, to recipes, to politics, to kittens all house their own communities for gabbing. For example, there are many forums dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, such as Straight Dope. Straight Dope works to correct common misconceptions in a public forum. Also, the influence of WELL on Reddit is present, as Reddit is an open site where anyone can post on any topic. People have serious intellectual conversations upon the electronic marketplace of ideas, while others share the latest viral video or pop music single.
I feel like Brant and Brilliant (what a wonderful name for an inventor, if I do say so myself!) created the WELL as a means of communication that would be simpler than having face-to-face meetings. It later expanded from a corporate feel to a home-y cyber environment, giving the user, to quote Reba Wiese, the “gift of an extended family.”