The WELL, Chatrooms, and Message Boards: The Birth of User-Generated Digital Media

// Posted by 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!)


This is a screen cap of the Kids’ Only Section on AOL 4.0

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.”

Categories: Uncategorized


Shirley said...

Very interesting how you were able to tie in the colorful information on chat rooms. I wonder if the WELL had been free and if your identify was secured, would it have had the same popularity. I think that for the average person to be able to communicate, read the ideas and thoughts of the rich, famous and well read was nothing short of brilliant.

// 05/21/2015 at 7:48 pm

Rosatelli said...

Hi Sarah,

How utterly sad that one creep ruined your AOL experience! As you grew older, were you interested in recreating those types of spaces? I remember the first time I created my MySpace page and started liking bands–it was an empowering experience. For the first time, I had my own space online, and I could (try to) extend my personality onto the page. I think, as we look through American history in particular, we just want to make our mark. We are raised within a culture that heralds individualism, but many of us struggle to harness that–we would prefer community. Online, you could have a bit of both.

// 05/21/2015 at 8:19 pm

Kindall said...


I, too, am a child of the 90s and completely remember being interested in all of those things!

But your creepy chat room experience brings up a side of the WELL that isn’t heavily discussed in the book, thus far. These communities are not all positive, and I remember reading that only 3 members of WELL were removed in its first 6 years… and they were permitted to return after some time.

I realize that the creators and participants of WELL are idealistic and want everything to truly be “free speech”, but my question would be: Don’t these communities and programmers/administrators have a duty to protect their users from online creeps? Internet stalking is a very real thing and it has greatly contributed to all 50 states FINALLY adding stalking laws into their legal codes.

The internet and these online communities can be wonderful, but they can also be dangerous. I wonder if perhaps these groups should monitor their fellow users more heavily. I am not suggesting censorship is the answer, but allowing threatening and dangerous solicitation to occur in the name of “free speech” is a little much for me, and I wouldn’t want my future children to be easily targeted online (especially in a zone designated for kids). What do you think?

// 05/23/2015 at 5:20 pm

SarahP said...

Indeed- when I was older, I had a myspace page, but didn’t list my name or picture on it- instead, I was “Enigma” and had a picture of an anime girl. I guess you could say I was still wary of the world… The background I used looked remarkably like the one on LA Live Chat, ironically!

// 05/23/2015 at 10:15 pm