inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #76 of 379: the invetned stiff is dumb (bbraasch) Tue 5 Jun 01 07:53
    
> You might have wished she'd
 given a taste of the potato instead of the carrot, but the sauce is the
 same all over.

It's a stone soup made of words and ideas.  

The WeLL is still here, broke as ever, as useful as ever for anyone who wanders
in needing something.  Experts on the WeLL and the topics in the Health conference,
parenting and some others are worth the investment of time and money that it takes to
get here.

I think its a very good thing that it is no longer unique.  My son goes straight to a
website that is just as active on guitar topics, technique, advice and discussion as
the WeLL has been for me, and its just as compelling for him.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #77 of 379: the System Works (dgault) Tue 5 Jun 01 09:26
    

Upon a bit of reflection,  I think the <mandel> <nana> hook is a very
good one,  for this reason:  Tom was a public guy,  by virtue of his
online persona.  Also,  he's dead.  There's nothing that can be
constructed out of his collection of postings that's going to hurt
anyone.  

That's not the case with a lot of these other dramas,  especially the
staff/board/owner dramas.  We're all still on pretty good terms,  and
still have shared capers to look forward to.   Getting too deep into
those essentially private stories would be juicy,  but
counterproductive.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #78 of 379: Dodge (hnowell) Tue 5 Jun 01 09:36
    
Which raises a question, Katie.

Were there pieces of information you came across while investigating
the book and instances where you had to think very hard and long about
including because they might be detrimental to someone? Things you
deliberately did not include for that reason? Care having to be taken
on the way you wrote about some things you did include in the book so
that the downside of the incident didn't come out? That is, the
downside which would possibly be injurious to someone?
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #79 of 379: Katie Hafner (kmh) Tue 5 Jun 01 10:40
    
That's a great question.

When working on a book, one gets very close to one's subjects. It's
just the nature of the enterprise. And, in the process, things
inevitably come out that you have to think long and hard about whether
to include. Usually, they are very personal, and interesting for that
reason (we're all pruriently curious, at our core, some of us more than
others). 

When these kinds of situations arise, I ask myself two questions: 
1. is this relevant to the story i'm telling? 
2. whom would i hurt if i write this?

If the answer to the first question is no, then it's easy -- I don't
include it. But if it's yes, then I really  have to think hard about
what to do. If it seems that someone could be hurt, then the answer,
again, is pretty easy: I don't include it.

This was especially hard when I wrote my book about Germany. There
were many intensely personal things that came out (illegitimate
children, affairs, etc.) in the process of reporting it, but I chose
not to put all of that in, even though it would have made for better
reading, because it would have hurt people who are still alive. As a
result, the book lost some juice, but I felt better about myself as a
journalist.

The same was true for the Internet history ("Where Wizards Stay Up
Late"). 

With the Well book, I knew that Nana was putting a lot on the line by
cooperating with me, and we were in close touch pretty much every step
of the way, about what I would be including and what I would leave out.
In the end, I think she felt fine about how it turned out, because she
was prepared.

The flip side of this is when the writer comes upon something that the
subject doesn't know about. When I was turning the Wired article into
the book, Kevin Kelly sent me some photos he had taken of Tom shortly
before he died. I knew Nana had never seen these and I made copies for
her and told her I was sending them. They were very poignant photos and
I knew that she would be surprised, maybe even a little unsettled, to
see them. I stood at the mailbox for a long time before putting the
envelope in, and just before I did, I gave the envelope a gentle
kiss... 
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #80 of 379: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 5 Jun 01 10:44
    

Which raises the issue, for me, of how the WELL is structured, which might
be of interest to, and lessen the confusion for, those who are not WELL
members and are reading along on the Web.

When I first got on the WELL, in 1991, there were public conferences and
private conferences.  Anyone could go to public conferences, but access to
private conferences was restricted to the members of the user's list
(ulist) and only the host of the private conference could add a user.  So,
if you were aware of the conference you could request admittance, but if
you weren't aware of it, you had to be invited.  So, essentially, private
conferences were divided into two groups, private and secret private.

I will never forget how I felt on the day that I discovered that there was
a whole 'nother WELL that I didn't belong to.  

Now, in addition to public and private conferences there are independent
conferences, and they come in two flavors - open to everyone without
requesting admission, or by admission only.  (Do I have that right?)

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that I would think that anything
someone posted that was truly invasive or damaging in some way would not
be posted in a public conference by that individual.   They would, I
assume, choose to posted in a private conference, governed by
confidentiality issues.  If they choose to post something with so much
potential to be deeply damaging in a public conference, they would have to
be aware of the consequences.  The rule of thumb that I've heard bandied
about is, "Don't post anything you don't want to see on the front page of
the Times."
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #81 of 379: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 5 Jun 01 10:46
    

slipped by Katie.  My opening sentence refers to the post that Katie is
responding to, not Katie's post.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #82 of 379: David Gans (tnf) Tue 5 Jun 01 11:49
    

Those who are reading this form outside the WELL are invited to send comments
or questions to inkwell-hosts@well.com for posting.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #83 of 379: Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Tue 5 Jun 01 14:15
    

   My perception is that the private versus public dynamic has changed
rather dramatically over the last ten years.  Early on, many of us had
occasion to participate in one or another private conference, some of them
on extremely sensitive subjects (e.g., the "Adult Children of Alcoholics"
conference -- and no, it would *NOT* be proper for me to say who else was in
there) and some of them just project-oriented.  But then there came a spate
of violations-of-trust with various people deciding unilaterally, often
without bothering to discuss it, that they had a good reason to reveal
extensive details about the conversations going on in this or that private
conference -- not just quoting a few words anonymously to make a point, but
actually lifting significant threads with IDs intact.  It seemed that this
rather painful development pretty much signalled the end of at least the
visibility of private conferences on sensitive subjects, although of course
some of us continue to participate in a few.

  Katie, was any of this dynamic apparent to you when you were working on
your article originally?
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #84 of 379: Katie Hafner (kmh) Tue 5 Jun 01 15:07
    

I was very aware of the sacred nature of private conferences, and
treated them, their participants and their contents with respect.

Which is all just to say that the line between public and private
stayed pretty well delineated while I was reporting the article...And
the standards I was measuring it all against were journalistic.

Does that answer your question? or am I being too muddy?
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #85 of 379: Michael Gruber (mag) Tue 5 Jun 01 15:17
    
I just finished the book, and thought it was a good effort at an
almost impossible task.  I've been a member since around '88, but not
being an IN person, and not visiting many conferences, I had entirely
missed the mandell-nana story, nor did I have much contact with the
less savory parts of mandell's character.  Interesting to learn about
it, tho.

I think katie did capture an aspect of the wonderfulness of the well
then, that ability to write letters to a lot of smart, funny people at
once.  Some of the older parts of the well are full of terrific short
essays and comic riffs.  I wonder whether anyone will ever mine that
stuff, or whether it's all too ephemeral.  

I still feel the loss of that aspect of the well.  I guess I never
participated much in the more emotional 'community' stuff, altho I can
see where losing that would be hard as well.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was researching something and came upon
a thread from the late 80's, with a dozen or so of the old guard
discussing media. mandell's stuff was scribbled, but the rest of it was
terrific--polished, elegant prose.  I guess one of the lacks I found
in the book was the absence of a thread like this, to demonstrate to
everyone why the well was such a fascinating place.  For me, at any
rate, it was not the gossip, the personal katzenjammer, or the flame
wars.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #86 of 379: Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Tue 5 Jun 01 16:40
    

  No, you're not being muddy Katie, although my question may have been.
It sounds like you're saying that you didn't encounter violations like
those in my description above.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #87 of 379: Mike Gunderloy (ffmike123) Tue 5 Jun 01 20:28
    
From the book, discussing the Well circa 1986:

"The alternatives were unattractive at best. Conferencing systems such
as Compuserve and General Electric's version, called GENIE, were
around, but they weren't The Well. By now, nothing could come close to
approximating the same mix of companionship and intellectual sparring."

Katie, did your research lead you to any conclusion as to why this
might be the case? I think many of us here feel the Well to be a
special place, but I wonder a bit about the roots of that specialness.
Was it perhaps a technical consequence of the hassles of dealing with
picospan compared to Compuserve? An outgrowth of the Well's Whole Earth
roots? Luck?

Is there anything to learn from the origins of the Well that might
help build another place of specialness if this one goes under?
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #88 of 379: David Gans (tnf) Tue 5 Jun 01 20:38
    

I think it might have had something to do with timing, and also with the
appeal to non-techies (including journalists).

In my own case, I was somewhat computer-literate, having done some work in
the computer ticket business, and I was happily writing a book using a
borrowed Osborne 1 (thank you, Bennett Falk!) when Mary Eisenhart started
talking about this online stuff.  I came to the WELL to work out some ideas
with Mary and Bennett for an online community we wanted to start, but the
experiment worked so well here that there was no need to take it to a box of
our own.  And I was hooked on the WELL from day one.

At that time I also spent some time in other professional (music industry)
forums, none of which had anything approaching the personality of the WELL.

One of the most amazing things I have ever experienced was the Mind
conference, hosted by Howard Rheingold.  I was living on Buena Vista West in
San Francisco, and I would sit there in my cozy room with the fog closing in
outside, laughing til I couldn't breathe.  There were several people online,
posting in several topics, and when you got to the end of the topic list
you'd hit "see new" and start over.

It astonishes me a little, tonight, to think of who my playmates were in that
conference.  Some of them are dead now, one of them is not someone I am
likely to speak to again, and several are people still active in the WELL
with whom I do not enjoy interacting nearly as much as I did then.


What I mean by "timing" is that it was the beginning of a time when you
didn't have to be a hacker to be online.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #89 of 379: Mike Gunderloy (ffmike123) Tue 5 Jun 01 21:28
    
And oddly enough, I was here for some of it, including times when
major incidents in Katie's book happened -- and I remained completely
oblivious. For whatever reason, I never made it off of the periphery of
Well users to the core group. 

I also note that many of the people I remember from those days are
still here now.

I have no clue what any of this means. But I'm glad Katie wrote the
book, and inspired this topic, to get me musing.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #90 of 379: David Gans (tnf) Tue 5 Jun 01 21:32
    

The thing is, Mike, there was lots of "core groups."
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #91 of 379: Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Tue 5 Jun 01 21:57
    

  Absolutely!  It all depended on what your own interests were, and
which conferences you frequented, and how much you interacted.  Of
course, the groups (usually) overlapped to some extent, but it was
very much the case that, well, there were many different WELLs.  This
is why another book that told many parallel stories would be a great
idea.... (and some of us are collaborating in that space already).
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #92 of 379: Mike Gunderloy (ffmike123) Wed 6 Jun 01 07:12
    
I'm suspicious of this "there were lots of core groups" idea; I
suspect that may be the result of fuzzy memories of the Golden Age,
mixed up with a notion of the sort of polity that the Well was _meant_
to become. Let me throw in another quote from Katie's book (start of
Chapter 5):

"By the late 1980s, even as its creative core remained at roughly 200
original members, The Well's total membership grew to 3,000."

There's the core group. (Exercise for the Well statisticians: what
percent of the total posts on the Well came from the 200 most-prolific
people in 1989? How many posters do you have to gather today to hit the
same percentage? I'll bet it's not a lot more than 200.) I realize
that the Well has always had private corners for various subcultures,
and recognize that there were several important subcultures -- hackers,
deadheads -- during my first stint on the Well. But I don't think any
of that disproves the existence of THE core group, who set the tone of
the Well, and many of whom are still doing so today.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #93 of 379: Cliff Figallo (fig) Wed 6 Jun 01 07:37
    
I'd say that if a bomb hit a gathering of a certain 100 people in
1990, the WELL would have been a very quiet place for a while. 

I can't help but compare my experience on the WELL with my experience
on the Farm. Though they were very different in terms of purpose and,
of course, the medium in which they existed, they both followed a
similar arc in terms of cohesiveness.

Both began with a rise in enthusiasm. "Here we all are, doing this
unique thing, creating it as a group, discovering new things about each
other and how groups work toward their common goals! Maybe we don't
all like each other, but it's COOL!"

Then we discovered how all this coolness came at the expense of some
very hard social and personal work. Disagreements came up, people
hassled, some left, some took their marbles when they left. Leadership
was questioned and the basics of economic survival came into focus.

Then there came a stage where people realized that they didn't have to
share all things in common. That the ideal was not necessarily a
requirement. That one didn't have to comply with social convention and
rules just for the sake of harmony. Subgroups separated themselves from
the whole and became more independent. Leadership, realizing that it
really had no power, threw up its hands and said, "Whatever."

Once everyone who continued to identify, though more loosely, with
"the community" found their comfort level, a state of equilibrium was
reached. Maybe this is like growing up. 
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #94 of 379: Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 6 Jun 01 08:56
    
E-mail from Patrizia:

Hi hosts,

Long time, no talk to.

I've been reading the interactive Katie Hafner interview with some
interest since I was a Well member for a little over 10 years.

On the subject of whether the Well commands past or present-tense
description...  One of my favorite books has always been ONE HUNDRED
YEARS OF SOLITUDE because I admire the way that Garcia Marquez
telescopes time.  Reading it, one has a real sense of having lived
through distinct eras that drumroll into a very different present tense
but are corridors through which ghosts wander freely (mangled metaphor
alert!)  I always got something of the same sense about the Well.

In the early nineties, the Well was positioned on the cutting edge of
the Internet-explosion to come (and we all knew it was coming) and so
there was a sense of excitement, of precedent-setting if you will, in
many of our posted communications with one another.  (The banal shit we
left for the phone.)  For whatever reasons, the Well did not become the
model for the cyber-universe of the present tense -- but I have a
feeling that it will reascend within the next 10 years or so (if Salon,
the parent company, survives.)  It took 50 years for Kerouac's ON THE
ROAD manuscript to be valued at 2 million plus dollars but pop culture
time keeps going faster and faster and I think there will come a point
in the not-too-distant future where the Well's past will become a
selling point for its future.  It's nice to feel part of a continuum.

I enjoyed your book, Katie, although naturally I think it could have
been greatly improved if there had been more about ME.

warm regards,

Patrizia DiLucchio
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #95 of 379: Scott Underwood (esau) Wed 6 Jun 01 08:59
    
!!
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #96 of 379: the System Works (dgault) Wed 6 Jun 01 09:38
    

For whatever reason,  I always thought 200 was the approximate
carrying capacity for active members of a system like this.  
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #97 of 379: Katie Hafner (kmh) Wed 6 Jun 01 09:50
    
All the way back to Mike's question (#87). I think that the fact that
this was a ready-made crowd of very smart, intellectually curious, and
*funny* people helped make the Well so special from the start. I don't
think anyone would argue with that. Or maybe they would....
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #98 of 379: Cliff Figallo (fig) Wed 6 Jun 01 10:33
    
The WELL will come back, like bellbottoms. Uh, no. But I don't doubt
that relationships initiated and maintained over years through online
conversation will become more prevalent as people become more
comfortable with the medium and with the images the construct around
their virtual communities. If it does nothing else, the WELL
demonstrates that the relationships themselves are not a fad. They are
as real as any other relationships and for many, they are better
maintained.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #99 of 379: Reva Basch (reva) Wed 6 Jun 01 10:41
    
Katie, hi. I appreciated seeing my name in your acknowledgements, especially
because I was one of those people who'd urged you =not= to focus on mandel
and nana. I finished the book about a week ago, and I think you did a very
good job of counterbalancing the sturm und drang of their story with some of
the organizational and political stuff that was going on at the same time --
stuff that I was heavily involved in.

Several friends have asked me whether I read the book, and whether I think it
might interest them. I don't really know how to answer that. Way back in
#53, you said something about the warm reaction you've gotten from people
who weren't and aren't on the WELL. I wonder what that's about? In a way I
find it disturbing, because it indicates that online community is still a
bizarre notion, that this is a place people will pay the price of a book to
visit, like visiting creatures in a zoo.

I had less of a problem than I thought I would with your referring to the
WELL in the past tense (here as well as in the book). The WELL of the early
'90s is definitely a historical artifact. As others have suggested, it's
changed, we've changed. Online communities that succeed, like the WELL, have
a strong sense of place, and the greatest contributor to that sense is the
players. It's a different cast of characters now. A lot of us are still
around, but lurking, or hanging out in private conferences. And for a lot of
those people, the WELL is just not the defining element of their lives that it
was 8 or 10 or 12 years ago.

But it's telling, y'know, that we're still here.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #100 of 379: David Gans (tnf) Wed 6 Jun 01 10:41
    

What Cliff said in <93>.  Very well articulated.
And what Cliff said in <98>, too.
  

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