inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #0 of 379: Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 1 Jun 01 21:03
    
New York Times reporter Katie Hafner has been writing about technology since
1983. She has worked for Newsweek and Business Week, and has written for
Esquire, Wired, The New York Times Magazine and The New Republic. She has
published three books: "Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the
Internet" (with Matthew Lyon) (Simon & Schuster, 1996); "The House at the
Bridge: A Story of Modern Germany" (Scribner, 1995); and "Cyberpunk: Outlaws
and Hackers on the Computer Frontier" (with John Markoff) (Simon & Schuster,
1991). 

Leading the discussion is Cliff Figallo, a consultant, speaker and writer
in the field of online community whose resume includes six years managing
the WELL leading up through its connection to the Internet. His clients
and employers since 1992 have included EFF, AOL, GNN, Genentech, Salon.com
and Cisco Systems. He currently works with his wife and partner Nancy
Rhine in a consultancy called SociAlchemy. Cliff was a founding member of
The Farm and has raised - or co-raised - 8 kids to reasonably sane
adulthood. He is the "solid, compact" character in Katie's book The Well.

Here's how Cliff describes the book:

"Katie Hafner got in touch with me sometime in 1996 to ask if I'd talk
with her about the WELL. Something about an article in Wired. Some months
later, awash in red and looking self-consciously cool, there I was along
with Stewart, Larry and Tex on the cover, with the WELL spilling its guts
as never before inside. It hurt to read it, it was that good at depicting
the slice of the WELL's history that was its dramatic focus. I had some of
those same pains of discomfort reading the book version - "The Well: A
Story of Love, Death and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community," -
which expands on the Wired article and brings the WELL more up to date,
ending with Salon.com's purchase of the WELL in April 1999.

"There is no doubt that Katie gets the WELL. She talked with a lot of us
who had lived through its first decade and experienced the swirl of
wonder, frustration, excitement and disappointment. She reported on the
real characters that shone through the text. And in her early days on the
WELL, Katie experienced the kindness of virtual strangers, though I read
in her interview with Janelle Brown that she has always felt too shy to
post much. I'm glad she gets another chance.

"This is obviously not your typical forum for discussing a book about the
WELL, so I'm going to try not to lead a typical interview. I know there are
questions she's answered 50 times already. I'll try to avoid them.

"And, on a stylistic note, I'll be calling the place "the WELL" while
Katie - at least according to her editor's druthers, calls it "The Well".
Can't be helped. My fingers remember it that way, just like they still
move in Picospan commands in spite of my not having used it for years."

So, with that, please join me in welcoming Katie and Cliff to inkwell.vue!
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #1 of 379: Cliff Figallo (fig) Sat 2 Jun 01 06:25
    
Hi, Katie. I'm going to ask a few questions at once to take maximum
advantage of our asynchronicity and of your being logged in. I imagine
you're very busy and may not have the time to log in frequently.

I know you're out representing the book in the media and I'm curious
as to the reaction you get from the public. Almost 10 years after I
left my job there (here?) it still stands as a significant experience
at the foot of my resume, and I still find that people beyond a certain
age or with historical curiosity hope I'll offer them some mythic
tales and wise perspectives from the early days. (I'm afraid usually
disappoint them.) 

Today, millions of people have been exposed to some form of online
community. To the extent that they've actually participated and formed
relationships, they can relate to the "sense of community." How do
people relate to the stories you told? Are they inspired in any way or
do they regard the WELL as an interesting but over-intellectual
dead-end in the social history of the Net? And to follow on that, what
aspect of your book seems to get the most interest?

Also, I'd like for you to address what is probably the most prevalent
feeling among people who used the WELL regularly during the years
described in your book - a lot of key stories and characters were left
out. I know you interviewed many people and, as I've seen you describe
it in other interviews, Tom Mandel was brought up by almost everyone.
Indeed, his was an important role and the playing out of his life here
- down to his last days - encapsulated a lot of what relationships on
the WELL were all about. But could you imagine a book about the WELL
without a Tom and Nana story? What would have been its focus? And what
other qualities or processes of the WELL as a group endeavor and early
networking business deserve more description?
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #2 of 379: Katie Hafner (kmh) Sat 2 Jun 01 18:52
    
hi cliff,
okay, i'll take the questions one by one:

1. How do people relate to the stories I've told? 

People are incredibly moved by the story of Mo finding his biological
mother. Whenever *I* read that part, I get kind of weepy....It's so
poignant, and speaks so well to the way of the Well, at its very best.

When I start talking (at bookstore signings, of which i've had only
two so far; i'll be at stacey's on market st. on june 11 at 12:30 p.m.)
about all the drama contained in the Tom/Nana story, they are
transfixed (and a little confused as to how so *much* could have
happened on-line).

2. Are they inspired in any way or do they regard the WELL as an
interesting but over-intellectual dead-end in the social history of the
Net?

Hmmm. I think people get very inspired, because I manage to make a
strong case (to any skeptics in the audience) that this was very much a
community, an important second home for many people. 

3. Could you imagine a book about the WELL without a Tom and Nana
story?

That's a tough one. Yes, I know there's been criticism for what it
left out. The book never purported to be *the* definitive story of The
Well. The sub-title (A Story of Love, Death & Real in the Seminal
Online Community) very carefully points that out -- that it is just one
story.    
But that said, I have trouble imagining a book about the Well without
Tom and Nana in it.

The story desperately needed a narrative thread. And telling stories
is what I do best as a reporter. Analysis is not my strong suit.
Storytelling is. So when I discovered the Tom story, I decided to wrap
the tale around him. Of course, putting it into context was important.

I can't say I'd do things differently a second time around. The story
is what it is, and I'm happy with it for what it is. 
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #3 of 379: Cliff Figallo (fig) Sat 2 Jun 01 21:27
    
I'm happy with it, too. I think it manages to evoke the WELL's essence
- a combination of stubborn individualism mixed with compassion,
active involvement and a sense of community in the most human sense,
where fellow members don't have to like each other to complement each
others' roles in the ecology. I'm sure that few people outside of the
WELL community itself would give you any grief about what you might
have left out. 

I'm especially happy with the book because Joe Troise refers to me as
the Jesus of sysops. Thanks, Joe. YMMV, everyone else.

But you had to leave out a lot of stuff that people who use the WELL
regularly appreciate as *their* essence. The WELL is that elephant
being felt by all the blind men. All of us who went through those years
saw things a little differently through our own windows into the
place. Most of our essential stories would make lousy reading, but
those thrashes over the limits of racist and insulting language were
pretty amazing. The interminable YOYOW controversy, while often
repetitive, was our opportunity to take part in civic discourse - who
cared if it was virtual. It was "our town." And the early incarnation
of Weird was on a par with Monty Python in its ability to skewer the
WELL's pretenses to importance. 

Those of us on the staff know that the WELL office was itself the
scene of some intense melodrama – some of it directly related to the
online social scene, some a product of our personal lives and
interpersonal relationships, but much of it a result of the lack of
money in the business. Knowing what you know as a reporter on the tech
beat and a chronicler of tech history, how to you think the WELL would
have been different had it started with a million bucks in funding and
experience in the CEO and CTO roles. (in which Cliff cuts his own
throat.)
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #4 of 379: Cliff Figallo (fig) Sat 2 Jun 01 21:37
    
That should have been:
"...how to you think the WELL would have been different had it started
with a million bucks in funding and experience in the CEO and CTO
roles?" 

The point of the question is not so much to pose a useless "what if?"
but to get your assessment of the importance of the financial and
technical value vs the social value. We've all seen
magnificently-funded businesses run by the best business and technical
talent money could buy, all go down in flames within two years of
founding. The WELL, meanwhile, just celebrated its 16th birthday, still
hanging on by its fingernails.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #5 of 379: Jack King (gjk) Sun 3 Jun 01 00:12
    

Hi, <fig>!  Love reading your stuff!

I do have a question for <kmh>, though.

Katie, you said something like, "when I discovered the Tom story, I decided
to wrap the tale around him."

You wrote the cover article on the Well for the May '97 _Wired_, and you
obviously spent a long time on it and the <nana> and <mandel> story was a
good hook for that.  But exactly when, if you recall, did you "discover the
Tom story"?

Tom Mandel was a lot of stories.  He buzzed all around the Well in the old
dial-up days and almost always dropped a fact, an anecdote, or certainly an
opinion wherever he went, and it was rich guano.    

So were you watching Tom's weird mating dance with Maria while it happened
or reconstructing it after the fact or both or what?
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #6 of 379: all booms are sonic (gjk) Sun 3 Jun 01 00:18
    

Ah, okay, I'll take my answer off the air.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #7 of 379: Fuzzy Logic (phred) Sun 3 Jun 01 00:41
    
I like the book because, as you already mentioned, Katie, it accomplishes
what it advertises it will do.  And I have to commend you for really
thorough factual research (I found little to quarrel with and mostly 
minor typos, some of which you had nothing to do with like the fact that
calliope is listed as "Hilaire" in the photo captions :).  And the nuances
of the mandel/nana situation were covered very admirably; that's a hard
one to sustain over an extended bit of writing.

I'm interested in what your thoughts were in trying to scan across the
tumultuous history here, in trying to tease out workable themes for
a long article and book-length treatment.  

There are three things that the book didn't cover that to me are important
to understanding how the Well has evolved and what role it's played in
public life.  The first, more on the internal side of things, is how the
Well's Deadheads were involved in very active social contact literally
around the nation as a result of the gd conference; I am personally
very grateful for this and I think it was a major source of the social
bonds here, along with the WOPs themselves.  This was especially  
true in 1986-92, and has continued in the past decade.

The other two emblematic things, in my mind, were the Mitnick affair and
the CDA.  In both cases, there was a concerted effort to make the Well
a "player" in the given situation, but factors and coincidences well
beyond anyone's control conspired to push the Well, however briefly,
into the national spotlight each time.  John Markoff's front page
NYT stories about how the Well handled the Mitnick matter, and Brock
Meeks' tales from around the pooltable with friend and foes on the CDA,
are just a couple things etched most sharply in my memory.

I'm sure everyone will have their own favorite things that were left out
of the book, but as I said, the question of interest here is what your
approach was in deciding what to leave out, in order to concentrate 
effectively on what you left in.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #8 of 379: Stuart (sjs) Sun 3 Jun 01 07:00
    

Hi Katie.  I haven't read the book, yet.  But your Wired article is
what prompted me to look for the Well in the first place.

You used the past tense in your second response to <fig>, up there in
<2>:

     "Hmmm. I think people get very inspired, because I
      manage to make a strong case (to any skeptics in
      the audience) that this was very much a community,
      an important second home for many people."

Do you think the sense of community is still here?
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #9 of 379: Katie Hafner (kmh) Sun 3 Jun 01 08:44
    
cliff's question:"...how do you think the WELL would have been
different had it started
      with a million bucks in funding and experience in the CEO and
CTO
      roles?" 

Cliff, gee, I certainly hope it wouldn't have been on the path to
becoming AOL, because an important, stark difference between AOL and
the Well is that AOL aimed at the lowest common denominator. The level
of discourse on the Well is what has always set it apart. And such
level of discourse, by its nature, self-selects.

Jack's question about how I discovered the Mandel story: No, I didn't
read it as it was unfolding. But when I got the assignment from Wired,
and started the reporting on the book, everyone kept mentioning Mandel.
One of the first interviews I did was with Stewart Brand, and he kept
mentioning Mandel. Eventually, through a lot more interviews, the whole
story came out. It was fascinating (to me, anyway), and I decided to
make it the focus of the book.

<phred>, there was nothing very systematic in my approach to leaving
things out. Now that I think about it, I guess you could say that once
I glommed on to Mandel, everything else by definition was not likely to
 make it in. That's a hazard of an approach like the one I took. It's
difficult, too, to mention things in passing, because they often *need*
more explanation than I get give in a few paragraphs.

For instance, I couldn't have mentioned the whole Mitnick episode in
passing because of all the background it would have required. Then,
once I launched into all the context, the thread of the whole story
would have been lost. It's a tricky balance, to be sure.

Another example: I labored heavily over a description of the
destruction of all the old backup tapes (done out of concern for
members' privacy) and finally whipped the prose into good shape, but
then it got cut because it seemed to be taking the story off in the
wrong direction. A writer's lot....

Stuart, I should *not* be referring to the Well in the past tense. I
do refer to the community that *I* wrote about in the past tense,
because that set of people and concerns was definitely of a certain
time and place. But as I say in the book, the Well is definitely alive
and the sense of community is, fortunately, still very present. I do,
however, think that the intensity that brought the Well worldwide
attention (such as the Mitnick story, the Marty Rimm mess, the CDA, and
EFF), has waned, perhaps because there are so many other venues for
such things to happen. I'm not sure.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #10 of 379: Scott Underwood (esau) Sun 3 Jun 01 09:09
    
I wonder whether you thought twice about writing about a place filled
with writers that spend a lot of time writing about this place?

Um, if you follow me.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #11 of 379: Cliff Figallo (fig) Sun 3 Jun 01 09:11
    
Yeah, Scott. Tough, tough audience.

The topic du jour seems to be the elimination of the grandfathered
discounts that had been enjoyed by a small number of pre-1996 members.
How to break "bad news" to the community has always been as much a
political challenge as a business one. Committed members don't leave in
droves over the WELL's business changes. I think there's an
appreciation by most people that it has to do what it has to do to
survive, and survive it has. People leave - at least the people you
notice have left - over untenable social situations. 

Katie, you're exposed in your book tour to more reaction over key
stories and features about the WELL than the rest of us. Has there been
any mention of the practice of scribbling one's posting history in
online communities? This is certainly one of the more significant an
unique elements in the story of online community. Where else in life
can one choose to eliminate the traces of one's existence and
contribution to a public life? I guess a writer could burn his
manuscripts, a painter could destroy her paintings, but a conversant
destroying his statements and comments - many of which influenced or
catalyzed the statements and comments of others - is only possible in a
medium like this. And I don't know any other system where a
mass-scribble - a scorched earth practice - is possible.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #12 of 379: staring at the end of rolling nowhere (watadoo) Sun 3 Jun 01 09:29
    
The topic du jour seems to be the elimination of the grandfathered
discounts that had been enjoyed by a small number of pre-1996 members.
<<

Still much cheaper than what I was paying 7 years ago. Though ironic
that the letter announcing the change to my account came two weeks
after signing up for Salon premium.  
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #13 of 379: all booms are sonic (gjk) Sun 3 Jun 01 09:34
    

I like having the power to scribble OTHER PEOPLES' postings.  Moo-ha-ha!
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #14 of 379: the invetned stiff is dumb (bbraasch) Sun 3 Jun 01 10:01
    
scribble etiquette is a problem.  maybe there should be a way to peek.

If there was a Wired Magazine and I was a writer when I arrived in 1990, I
think the story would have been wrapped around blair because he had just died
and people were working through their relationships with him.

<casey> and <mandel> were slugging it out in a topic somewhere, or more
likely several topics somewhere.  In weird, every new topic was about
<rhino>.

I guess today's story is that some people are complaining about paying $15 a
month while the old timers tell stories about $150 bills.  

One thing I recall about <mandel> was thinking he must be paying huge connect
charges or be an extremely quick typist.  I realized later that he was using
the office computer.  Heh.  
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #15 of 379: Cliff Figallo (fig) Sun 3 Jun 01 11:33
    
Most of us in the office would stay logged in most of the day. So I
was mighty impressed when we'd look at the usage logs and find people
who were logged in even more hours per month than we were. And being
able to check who was online during the day helped you get an
impression of who was most engaged in the community. (and who was tying
up the modems and ports - besides the staff).

Katie, have you heard from any readers - or in your research for the
article and book - about similar stories of personal drama playing out
within other virtual communities? We know of from Stacy Horn's tell-all
book about ECHO. I know there are many health-related communities
where the personal bonding level is high and people support each other
through medical crises, but I haven't heard of any systems that are
known by their more domestic life and death relationships.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #16 of 379: Declined To State (jrc) Sun 3 Jun 01 12:07
    

Hi Katie.

A sort of metaquestion here: In other places on the Well, people have
indicatred that in readings and interviews, you have complained that you
have been flamed on the Well for the book. Is this true? Could you post
pointers to places where the book is being flamed?

Someone in the media conference reported that, in an interview with Alex
Bennett, you expressed contempt for the Well. Is this a fair
characterization, of either your attitude or of his as you understood him?

A more general followup question: Did your impression of the Well change
after your Wired article came out?
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #17 of 379: Katie Hafner (kmh) Sun 3 Jun 01 13:39
    
scott's question: I wonder whether you thought twice about writing
about a place filled with writers that spend a lot of time writing
about this place?

well, no, i didn't think twice. maybe i should have ;-) just kidding.

but what's life without analysis and controversy, provocation and
reconciliation, respect and contempt? it's what made (and makes) the
Well so fascinating.

cliff, people do seem genuinely surprised when i explain mandel's mass
scribbles. they can't believe that someone would annihilate an entire
civilization. and that often leads to interesting discussion about the
importance of words, just words....
and aside from echo, i don't know of other online communities where
the personal drama gets played out so visibly, and in such a protracted
way. howard, if he chimes in here, might be able to illuminate a bit
better than i can. i'm not a student of virtual communities in general
as he is.

jon, i haven't wanted to look on the Well to see what people might be
saying about the book (perhaps it's like performers not wanting to read
reviews?) but something odd happened to me the other night: i was at
sylvia paull's cybersalon, and a woman came up to me and said, "i am so
sorry about what you're going through." i looked at her blankly. she
continued, "there are all these people on the Well coming down hard on
your book." and i thought, "oh boy, i'm not going *there*."

that's a long-winded way of saying i can't give you pointers. maybe
someone else can.

but more to the point, i certainly don't want to get defensive. as i
said earlier, i'm happy with the book, and my approach to the
narrative. 

reporting is hard, and writing is hell, as a lot of people here know.
and i was, in the end, happy with the product of a couple of years'
worth of work.

contemptuous of the Well when i talked to Alex Bennett? i'm not sure.
maybe it was a friendly kind of contempt, the kind of contempt one has
for one's parents, or one's best friend. you love them dearly but you
rag on them. i do think there's a certain arrogance about the place,
but that's part of what makes the Well what it is...

my impression of the Well didn't change after the Wired piece came
out. i *love* what the Well is. i love how it started and the
philosophies and principles that guided it when it started. i love the
effort and hand-wringing and care that tex and fig and everyone else
put into handling sensitive situations, like the mark ethan smith
incident, and the mandel incident and other difficult situations that
didn't make it into the book. 

look at how AOL and others have handled sensitive situations:
censoriously. the Well is the antithesis of that and it should be
cherished as such.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #18 of 379: bit-part player (satyr) Sun 3 Jun 01 13:53
    <hidden>
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #19 of 379: bit-part player (satyr) Sun 3 Jun 01 14:29
    
<mandel> was my first contact with the Well, but as host/sysop of
CompuServe's now long-defunct Whole Earth forum.  It wasn't long after
that shut down before I signed on here (and terminated my CompuServe
account).

The Well was a lifeline for me during that time, a connection to people
with active minds when I was feeling isolated and getting very little
support for my thought-life, having been primarily surrounded by people
whose attention was riveted much closer to home.

Even as a mostly-lurker, it provided a window into events months or years
before they became "news".  Still does, quite frequently.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #20 of 379: What would Jenna drink? (stdale) Sun 3 Jun 01 14:45
    
I saw a reference somewhere to that remark at a reading about how hard
people were being on the book, but I just haven't seen it.  There have been
remarks to the effect that there might not be enough content beyond the
Wired article to make the book worthwhile to people who've read that, or
that there's a tone to the book that makes the Well seem too much past tense
that reflects the view of someone not particularly engaged in the Well on a
day to day basis in the present, but there's been no generalized trashing of
the book or of Katie.

That said, Katie, your slip into referring to the Well in the past tense in
this very topic, and your confession that you haven't even looked at the
Well since the book came out, seem to indicate that criticism along those
lines is reasonably well-founded.  This place has sure taken up an awful lot
of my time and attention for the last six years for something that people
think died off a while back.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #21 of 379: all booms are sonic (gjk) Sun 3 Jun 01 14:49
    

I visit here about 11 times a day, or approximately about the same daily
frequency that I visit the bathroom to take a leak.  Predictably, when I
drink a lot of beer, I have to visit here more often.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #22 of 379: Paul Bissex (biscuit) Sun 3 Jun 01 15:00
    
I think it's tempting, but unfair, to hold Katie accountable for the fact
that many people think the Well is history. It would have flattered us
current inhabitants more to deal with more recent events, but the
storytelling rationale makes a great deal of sense to me. 

And if I spent two years writing a book, I'd want a long break from the
subject matter when I finished too.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #23 of 379: What would Jenna drink? (stdale) Sun 3 Jun 01 15:27
    
The story makes sense to me, and I wouldn't hold Katie accountable for any
impression folks might have of the Well unless they got that impression from
hearing her speak about it in the past tense.  Which she has admitted she
shouldn't do.  I think the book is a good thing.  Having not read it, I
can't say it's a good book, but I've got the Wired issue and I know it
(the book) is built around a solid core of research and storytelling.

I was just saying that I don't think she has anything to fear if and when
she decides to search out the general Well commentary on the book.  I haven'
t seen any lynch mobs forming - at worst the book seems to be viewed with a
sort of positive ambivalence.
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #24 of 379: Katie Hafner (kmh) Sun 3 Jun 01 16:05
    
I know the Well has been covered in bits and pieces in other books, by
Howard, and Cliff. I don't know if there will be other book-length
treatments of the Well (I hope there will be). This is just one.

As I've said in the past, I've been *on* the Well for a long time, but
never *of* the Well (an interesting and, I think, important,
distinction). I've never asked Kevin Kelly this, but perhaps that's why
he assigned the Wired piece to me in the first place.

Yes, I should not refer to the Well in the past tense. Plain and
simple. I think (putting my writer's cap on), I'm referring to the
story as I knew it, as a writer, in the past tense. Writers are like
that: they tackle a topic, then, when it's over, it's over. As a story.
For that writer. Maybe that helps explain it. 

It's funny to think about now, but after writing a book about Kevin
Mitnick, I started talking about *him* in the past tense (and he's very
much alive and well). And I've always talked about his sidekick in
crime, Lenny DiCicco, in the past tense as well.

Then, about two months ago, I was sitting outside the Andronico's in
Emeryville, eating lunch with a friend, and who should come up to me
but LENNY. I hadn't seen him in ten years, and lo and behold, there he
was, with that same goofy grin on his face.
Actually, it was great seeing him and we ended up getting together for
lunch (with Johnm, my co-author on the book) and had a good time.

But even after that recent lunch I kept referring to him in the past
tense. And I'm still in touch, at least a little bit, with many people
from my other books, but tend to refer to *them* in the past tense. An
odd, writerly thing, perhaps....

"Positive ambivalence?" That seems like a good thing...

And speaking of breaks from one's subject matter, I'm not sure how
other writers work, but I tend to go cold turkey after immersing myself
(in spite of, as I said, staying in touch with people) in a topic. I'm
not sure why....
  
inkwell.vue.113 : Katie Hafner: The Well-A Story of Love, Death, and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community
permalink #25 of 379: Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Sun 3 Jun 01 16:06
    

  As one of those who hasn't been shy about criticizing Katie's article,
it surprises me that anyone (other than the terminally hyper-sensitive)
would find anything that was said in those conversations to be so strong
as to be something to be "so sorry about".  Several of us had some serious
criticisms of the article-turned-into-book, and most of the reasons are
mentioned above, and it was an interesting and informative conversation.
In other words, it was what the WELL can be good at -- from time to time.
{smirk}

  I do think that a book needs to be written and published that is not
so narrowly confined by the notion of a "narrative thread", which may be
a necessary device sometimes of course but which seems to have been more
of a disservice this time.  Just my opinion, of course.

  So, Katie, don't take that foolish woman's comment as evidence of what
you'll encounter if you venture back into the WELL.
  

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