// Posted by on 05/21/2015 (6:58 PM)

Get into The WELL

According to Turner, this computer network, using the Whole Earth Catalog as its model, was created in 1985 by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant. Brilliant was looking for a ready-made user community.  Brand, who envisioned putting some of the Whole Earth Catalog online allowing viewers to be create, brought together counter culturists, hackers (that according to our lecture did not have negative connotations), and journalists.  This group had been shaped by Communalist and cybernetic ideas (Turner P. 2102).  At first, the users were made up of technologist, staff writers, editor from established magazines and numerous freelance writers.  This caused multiple communities to come together as the Whole Earth Catalog had previously done.

The virtual bulletin board system (BBS) community had several design goals according to Kevin Kelly which included Free or as cheap as it could be, it should be profitable, self-governing, self-designing in that it would co-evolve, it would be a community, and Business user would fund it.  User contributions would be marketed back to the user.  It was a new medium to deliver information.  Turner explains that the WELL became not simply a computer conferencing system but a way to recreate the countercultural ideal of a shared consciousness in a new virtual world” (Turner P. 2102).  It was grouped into the following categories- Arts and Letters and Entertainment, and its themes were books, cooking, computing and the Grateful Dead (Turner P.2138).  Turner explains that this techno centric form of management brought a New Communalist preference for nonhierarchical forms of social organization with a cybernetic vision of control.

Its members could dial up and communicate with each other either asynchronous or real-time. Public and private communication co-existed and it has been referred to as a ‘hang-out’.   This network contained the “privileges of membership, and its governance were a set of ideals, management strategies, and interpersonal networks first formulated in and around the Whole Earth Catalog” (Turner P. 2102).  In other words, it is a virtual community that is open to almost anyone and requires a paid membership. For the service, users were charged an eight dollar subscription fee and two dollars per hour to log in.  Why was The WELL so popular?   According the Wikipedia, you know who you’re talking too because The WELL is non-anonymous. You held quality conversation with smart people engaging in a wide range of topics. There is no data-mining. There is no advertising. No pop-ups?  It’s a real community. One member recently called it, “A small town all over the world.” “The most influential online community in the world.” — WIRED Magazine.

Instead of capitalism being so contained The Well allowed for open communication and many contributed to its success.  Many also benefited.  As times changed so did the material posted.  It was a place where humans and technology lived in harmony.  It was a place where communal living was carried over and existed online. 

Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism

                (2006) University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-81741-5

The WELL. (2015, March 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:55, May 21, 2015, from


Interesting pics:

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Rosatelli said...

Hi Shirley,

This is a great summary of how the WELL got started and what it stood for, but I’m really interested in what you think of online chat rooms. Do you think that the WELL was really nonhierarchical? What did you think of the two users that didn’t quite follow the rules? You mention that communal living carried over in the space, but we know from reading Turner that communal living wasn’t all that communal–in many ways, it replicated hegemonic society. I would love to see you dig into this a bit more after our experience tonight!

// 05/21/2015 at 7:42 pm

Kaitlyn said...

Shirley I would like to start by saying that is a great photo from the Rolling Stones! Your blog post really showed how The WELL was a community where people from all over the world could join together and engage in interesting conversations. Like you said The WELL was a place for men and women of all cultures and backgrounds to get online and discuss what ever they wanted with people outside of their normal comfort zone. In my opinion some of these individuals who conversed back and forth would have never been able to do so without the WELL because at that time it would have been hard for people in different countries to communicate so rapidly as if in a real face to face conversation. I believe that the Internet and websites such as The WELL make us feel so united with others because we are able to find people to talk with that have our same opinions and share our same interests. In another sense we could also find people who do not agree with our opinions and we may be able to learn and expand our knowledge by listening to their opinions and engaging in meaningful conversations with them.

// 05/23/2015 at 9:33 am

Shirley said...

WELL, thank you:) I didn’t like the chat room which should be no surprise. I read slowly and by the time I thought of something clever the subject changed. I wonder if everyone in the WELL enjoyed the experience or were able to benefit from it. I totally get the purpose though.
Just like it was easy to determine your voice in the LA Chat Room I think that the Users of the WELL were very aware who had the control and who made the major decisions.
Regarding the commune, it is obvious that some things about the bureaucracy were difficult to let go… The Farm comes to mind with its Sunday services.
Do you think that this entire trip resembles Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” with an technological twist?

// 05/23/2015 at 10:13 pm