What can anyone tell me about "The WELL"?
October 16, 2011 8:56 PM   Subscribe

What can anyone tell me about "The WELL"?

So, The WELL (www.well.com) seems to be one of the oldest (and certainly the most expensive) online communities out there. Being an absolute internet discussions junkie, I'm curious as to whether or not the price of admission is worth it when considering the signal:noise ratio / or even if people still post regularly there after 25 years. Can anyone shed some light?
posted by pipian to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: *Mind, I do consider Metafilter to be the top of all the discussion forums that I can find. I'm just always on the look out for more.
posted by pipian at 9:02 PM on October 16, 2011

This is a fascinating read on a siginificant part of its history.

I was a member for a short period. Didn't find it a particularly compelling community, in part because it seemed to be a lot of old-timers. A hard circle to break into.
posted by fatbird at 9:03 PM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ugh. Very hard to break into. I'm still slightly curious to know if there's actually more to it than pictures of smiling white collar professionals, and a plain text wall of cliquey postings from 14 years ago, because that's all I ever found before concluding I didn't have the requisite ARPAnet experience and probably wasn't in the right tax bracket to participate, and promptly left.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 9:22 PM on October 16, 2011

I was a member for several years, but it's been a long time so I don't know the current state of things. I loved it when I was a member, though. My biggest piece of advice (and I know this is highly subjective, and there are surely people who will disagree) is that if you're going to do it, use the text-based interface, not the web interface. I found the web interface to be a fairly poor example of web-based conferencing, but the bigger issue is that I felt like it didn't really capture the spirit of the WeLL. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but that's how I see it...
posted by sharding at 9:36 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

We take for granted now what the WeLL was 15, 20 years ago. It's like saying, "Hey, guys, I just found this old Motorola StarTac phone -- what's up with that? It doesn't seem very useful."

The WeLL is an anachronism at this point -- there is plenty of great conversation wherever you look; a ten dollar a month fee isn't necessary for finding it, at this point.

If, however, you are an internet completist and have some (major) time on your hands, pay the introductory fee (what, something like $7.5?) and browse for a month. You'll turn up some crazy and amazing conversations at what was a nascent stage of the internet.
posted by incessant at 9:40 PM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: God, this is going to make me sound old...

I've been a WELL member since 1989*, when "going online" meant dial up and a 1200bd modem. This was pre-World Wide Web, in the waning days of the BBS. Due to the geek factor, including the obscure text-based UI once you logged in, you had to really want to be there.

As incessant says, the WELL was years ahead of its time in terms of the quality of the various discussions you could find there; most threads had excellent content and very low signal to noise ratios. This made the WELL equal parts world class salon (with a small "s") and secret-handshake-society. That last part has always been part of the WELL's particular flavor, IMO, and as a result it's a very insular community. It also makes it a rotten tourist destination. Many of the folks that participate on the WELL have been talking to each other for years, even decades in some instances. That's a lot of history to contend with, and it's very hard to soak up what's going on by casually browsing a few threads.

That said, there are some very smart, eloquent people on the WELL, including some folks who are very notable within their respective fields (as there are here). The discussions are typically very intelligent and meaty. If you can find active threads on something that is interesting or important to you, it is probably worth it to invest the time to enter their community and join the discussion. However, I think if your interests are less specific and more general, it may be harder to get a lot from the WELL. There is a lot of depth to the WELL, and there's also a lot of breadth, but the UI hides much of the latter.

If you do decide to invest the time to poke around, I strongly agree with the above comment to browse via the text-based UI. Yeah, it's so old school it hurts, but it's also how many members still participate in WELL discussions, and it contributes a lot to the overall experience of browsing and participating in WELL threads.

I hope this is helpful.

* NB: I joined for the Grateful Dead forum - gd forum representin'!
posted by mosk at 11:52 PM on October 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

There's also ECHO, the NYC version. I was a member there for a few months and had a similar reaction to fatbird's description of the WELL, but might be worth checking out if you're in the Northeast.
posted by pete_22 at 12:59 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I always wanted to join the WELL, but couldn't afford it then. I hope you'll update with your results.
posted by theora55 at 7:29 AM on October 17, 2011

I've been on the Well, intermittently over the years, and I'm still on Echo. I never stuck around on the Well, because having gone through the laborious process of establishing one's bona fides, and credibility, and relationships, in a number of online communities, I just lacked the patience to do it again. I kept trying though, joining and quitting three or four times.

I think if you want to join someplace like Echo or the Well now, you do have to accept the reality of what mosk says. People in these communities have known each other for over twenty years in some cases. They've married each other, had children, divorced, hung out together, and generally lived life with each other on a daily basis for a long, long time. So, if you go, think of it like moving to a small town...no, that's not the right analogy. It's like joining a kind of hive mind, with a collective memory that goes back twenty years. You will be an outsider. BUT, both of these communities have been stagnant for so long as far as new blood, that if you approach this with enthusiasm and a little humility - asking to belong and for help in becoming part of the community - I think you would be received with open arms.

In the bad old days, making newbies jump through hoops, and making them feel like complete idiots and outsiders for stumbling over all the inside jokes, community taboos, and internecine feuds, was a hallmark of both communities. With a tough skin and enough wit and intelligent contributions, you could prove yourself over time. Nowadays, both communities are sadly diminished in size, and as a result have grown a lot nicer. It's harder to be mean in a small group. Every newbie must be treasured - a new voice! Someone who might have a different opinion than the ones we've been hearing for ten, fifteen or twenty years!

Good luck.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 9:48 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

My very first online contacts were via the WELL. The intelligence and empathy I found there... I cherished, but you have to remember no one was all that adept at online interaction then. The advice I got in a few cases (curious empathic kitty, this is you, hugs!) were worth their weight in time because I saved years of my life with a few comments given me. In the end it seemed too incestuous and I left, but would never exchange a minute of WELL time for anything else that was happening then.
posted by jet_silver at 8:07 PM on October 17, 2011

I read about the Well 20+ years ago and was fascinated. Wanted to join but a connection would have been long distance with toll charges from my NYC-based 2500-baud modem. Then along came ECHO, located in New York, toll-free, and it was faithfully patterned after the Well. I joined and have been on Echo ever since. What eresh says above is true, that we've become a bunch of relatives at this point. OTOH, if you can handle the interface and the lingo you might like it. In the last couple of years we've lost memers to Facebook but also gained a few new ones, including a guy from Australia who bypassed newbiedom so fast no one even noticed.

With the Internet doesn't matter where you're posting from. Try it, and first month is free. http://www.echonyc.com/
posted by Berry at 5:25 PM on October 18, 2011

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