The WELL was started by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant, met. The WELL was a major online meeting place for fans of the Grateful Dead, especially those who followed the band from concert to concert, in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
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Steward Brant: « The Well computer teleconferencing system was essentially a gift from a friend who had some software to spare, a little bit of money, and a Vax minicomputer to loan. When it started in 1984, it was connected to Co-Evolution Quarterly, which had a community feel, and it was another way for people who used the magazine to contact each other.

Within two years, it had attracted a particular group of people who were intensely interested in talking to each other online, the Deadheads. That was enough of a protocommunity for a real electronic community to take shape, where marriages and births and deaths and suicides and other profound personal changes all took place and were brought to life through the prism of this online connection. It worked as a community partly because it was set up as a regional system and partly because we insisted that people be identifiable. Anonymity was not allowed. Bright, eloquent people, both hackers and journalists, were involved from the very beginning. »

"The WELL was older than ECHO, larger, and its history was more rooted in the hippie romanticism of the 1960s, not in the club and performance scene of Manhattan. The WELL had grown out of the 1970s back-to-the-land-through-technology idealism embodied by the Whole Earth Catalog. The basic idea was that by providing citizens with the technology to do more things for themselves (...) you could free people from their dependence on mass consumer products and corporate marketing. (...)

In Archives one could learn that the WELL had been cofounded by Steward Brand came the Trips Festival, a multimedia extravaganza that was the prototype of the modern rock concert. In the mid-1970s Brand put on the Hacker's Conference, an important early intersection of visionary computer programmers that would flower in the Net culture of the 1980s.

In the early 1980s Brand began to see in computer networks a way of preserving some of the goals of the Acid Tests and the Trips Festival: lights, sound, multimedia, and a group of minds that could be connected in the way that sharing acid connected you, but without the drugs. (...) Together with another 1960s visionary named Larry Brilliant, who had a company called NETI, Brand founded the WELL in 1984. Brilliant licensed Picospan to Brand in return for half the company. The system ran on a VAX microcomputer in the Whole Earth Review's office, which was on Gate 5 Road in Sausolito.

A distinctive feature of the WELL was its conferencing software, a relatively difficult-to-learn keyboard command-based interface known as "Picospan", which had been written by a programmer named Marcus Watts. There was no GUI: to navigate the WELL you needed to learn the keyboard commands — words like "go", "browse", and "see since -5". Another aspect of the local culture, that marked the WELL indelebly, was that it was impossible for users to be anonymous. (...)

The total number of people who subscribed to the WELL in 1994 was about ten thousand. Anyone could join in. Subscribers paid fifteen dollars a month, plus two dollars for every hour they were on the system, plus their telephone charges — it was easy to spend a hundred dollars a month. The average user was white, male, and well off, although women were a stronger presence on the WELL than on the Net at large."

John Seabrook: Deeper, Faber and Faber, London, 1997. pp.147-150 link)

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