fig’s blog – Discoveries from The WELL

This is the first in a series of posts describing social revelations from one of the earliest and most influential online communities – the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, or The WELL. As a business, it launched on April 1, 1985. It may be the longest-lasting online business operating today. Longevity and shared history are two important social assets for any organizational community and I will endeavor to describe how The WELL built those assets.

As a small startup business, The WELL charged its users the minimum necessary to break even. At the outset we had no business models to copy or learn from. Its managers for the first 7 years of its life were not technologists but were transitioners from over a decade living in the largest intentional community to emerge from the cultural revolution of the Sixties.

From now through The WELL’s 31st anniversary I will be posting about lessons we learned collectively through our early efforts inventing and hacking what would eventually be labelled “social media.” Most of these learnings are today taken for granted. Many of them are more policy-related than technical, and many describe the new social realities that electronic group communications forced us to deal with.

Of course, the people who populate online social venues today are a very different population – in terms of age, ethnicity and technical proficiency – than those who first inhabited The WELL. But human behavior is full of constants. We, still, are “only human,” and today’s community managers must still know how to deal with many of the same quirks that characterize our species.