Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Sun 27 Mar 05 09:43
A couple of things came together at once -- and I attribute these to The Well, as much as to Al Gore. I sold half a dozen articles about "electronic democracy" "online government" and so on, based on early products such as StateNet and Hanna Information Systems, as well those states that had BBSes of various kinds, such as Florida. I was a delegate to the 1991 White House Conference on Libraries and Information Services. I interviewed Dr. Michael Nelson, Vinton Cerf, and three or four other people whom I would not have known to search out, but for my interactions here. Then, one dark 5:00 pm night in January 1995, coming home with NPR on the car radio, I heard Newt Gingrich announce Thomas. I knew my work was done.
Cliff Figallo (fig) Sun 27 Mar 05 13:07
Michael, you're right that I should not have generalized (NEVER generalize, I tell my children) about BBS culture. In fact, Art Kleiner wrote about some great diversity among BBS in the first edition of the Software Catalog. Yet, when I attended BBScon, later in the Eighties, the overwhelming vibe was one of hobbie boards and, increasingly, access to growing libraries of software. I attended four meetings of the Electronic Networking Association while I had the prestige of the WELL behind me. Those conferences allowed me to meet other people in similar roles to mine. We showed one another our scars and told our uplifting stories. We shared our visions of where our attempts to channel social interaction through technology would take us and the world. This week I'm working on pulling together an online community of practice around the topic, Feeding Ourselves Sustainably. The aim is to improve community leadership skills in the developing world. I'm also planning online dialogues for civic input on the topic of a new airport for San Diego, and working on a proposal for online forums to support retired doctors coming back to work in free clinics. What I learned here about people and groups and onscreen dialogue have continued to be very practical in my work. I can always point to the six years of concentrated immersion in the WELL's soup o' ideas as a unique and precious experience. It matters a lot to know what we all discovered together when you're asking someone to front the money for an online community venture that will last more than a year.
(divinea) Sun 27 Mar 05 15:59
I hope you'll share links to those when they're up and running, fig.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sun 27 Mar 05 17:50
fig, are you hooking up with the various Earth Institutes around the country?
Cliff Figallo (fig) Mon 28 Mar 05 08:37
The links to the organizations were included in the intro post by Gail, early in this topic. Not all of them include the parts I'm involved with at this time. And Hi, Sharon Lynne. No, I haven't hooked up with the Earth Institutes, but they would be a natural for me. Thanks. Ms. "slf" - you were one of the stalwarts when I was here. Just want to throw some appreciation your way for hanging tough and being part of the conversation, however circular it might have been. Ten years ago, when Katie Hafner was working on her article about the WELL for Wired, she and I had a couple of long sessions during which she encouraged me to ramble on with stories and facts and not-so-humble opinions. Only a small portion made the cut for the article and the subsequent book. Which is probably for the best. I was kind of embarrassed to see my stilted farewell messages included intact in the book. Let's just say that my last year working at the WELL was not my finest hour in terms of happiness or sanity. I often wonder how things might have been if we'd had enough business knowledge to find our own new owners to buy out Point and NETI at around Year Five. It could have spared us all a lot of controversy and stress. I might not have felt like I had to quit. But - and here's the paradox - the WELL may not have been any "better" for it. No one has ever gotten rich from the WELL, though Bruce Katz may have actually profited from owning it and selling it. But he was already rich.
(rytas) | (satyr) Mon 28 Mar 05 09:34
> There was KJ, who was, I recall, rather caustic online KJ had already been one round with cancer, which was thought to be in remission when, in '93, I decided I wanted to spend a few days in the Bay Area and asked if I could spend a few nights on her couch. I'd had in mind to just walk about, but instead she acted as my personal tour guide for the entire time I was there, making sure that I hit all the high points. Maybe she was always hyper like that, or maybe she was trying to fit a lifetime into the year that, as it turned out, she had left. About the same time that the recurrence of a tumor was diagnosed, I was deeply involved, along with <lisa>, Lisa's Doug, <dpd>, <kline>, <jax>, <sumi>, and one or two others in getting the <rockies.> conference ready for launch, and either didn't hear about it or didn't process the information until she was near death. That, combined with the results of the '94 election, which put Newt Gingerich in the driver's seat, had a lot to do with my giving up the "wuwei" account for what turned out to be about a six-month break from the Well.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Mon 28 Mar 05 10:38
Oh, well, thank you, Mr. Cliff. :-)
Michael C. Berch (mcb) Mon 28 Mar 05 13:12
I go back to the earliest days of the Well, but not as a member. I knew <slf>, <bandy>, <booter>, <fair>, <crunch>, a few others (who am I forgetting? Were Hugh Daniels and Eric Hughes members?) in 1985 from social, work, and hacking circles, and got regular reports about goings-on, but had the fixed idea that the Well was basically a hippie-granola-New Age-Grateful Dead BBS, and well, what with all of Usenet and ARPANET out there, what was the point? (And I was in a severely anti-hippie phase then, as well. I mean, I still am, but I try to be nice.) Erik <fair>, who I knew from UNIX circles c. 1982-83, became my office-mate at Livermore Lab in 1985, and he dragged me to an early WOP at Gate 5, and I met a whole bunch of people, notably <dhawk>, and it was a lively and challenging crowd, but I still didn't sign up. A couple of years later I met <jef>, <shibumi>, <pozar>, and some of that crowd, when <shibumi> came to work for me at IntelliGenetics in '91 or '92 or so. Well membership was again offered, but rebuffed! I joined Table Talk in '96 when it was new, watched with approval when Salon acquired the Well (it seemed at the time to be a guarantee of financial stability). So when Table Talk went pay-only in August 2001 I sent in my $$ and was amused to see that it included Well membership, and I finally bowed to the inevitable. I have logged in and posted essentially every single day since 8/01, and set as my goal to rise to the top of the Lurkometer. And I finally met <fig> at a launch party for his book HOSTING WEB COMMUNITIES (when was that exactly?) and it is good to hear his old stories from the early days.
Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Mon 28 Mar 05 14:46
re: 55 -- Ms. "slf" - you were one of the stalwarts when I was here. Just want to throw some appreciation your way ... I go through the Eros conference and imagine what she has scribbled. Seriously, though, it is interesting to see a regular like SLF have scribbled posts in some conf or other, blushable or not. I wonder if they had some insight that antiquated the old truth, or if they were obsessive and found a typo, or if they regretted calling an idiot a moron, or what. ... and moving right along, allow me to drop the name "Bob Bickford."
Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Mon 28 Mar 05 14:46
(divinea) Mon 28 Mar 05 17:22
Kinda bad form, there, mercury.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 28 Mar 05 19:47
I was living in Austin, subscribing to and reading Coevolution Quarterly = Whole Earth Review, wanting to be part of that community, but it was a million miles away as far as I was concerned. I was also avoiding computers that friends and relatives dangled before me ("you'd be really GOOD at this!"), seeing computers as glorified slide rules and seeing myself as a devoted non-techie... a writer, dang it, not a gearhead! But I got sucked into technology various ways, and the biggest way was in the back pages of the WELL, where there were posts about a Whole Earth BBS. When we finally bought one of the early PCs with a 300 baud modem, I told my wife I was going to dial into the WELL and join. You're out of your mind, she said, and we dropped it for a while... but eventually I logged on, made some idiotic posts, and met Gans, who mentioned he had a copy of an album I'd lost in the shuffle, Autosalvage, and sent me a tape (with a performance by his band Crazy Fingers on side B). I also ran into Mike Godwin, who I knew through the Austin BBS community at "Johnny Mnemonic." He was mnemonic on the WELL; told me he had a job with a new nonprofit, EFF. I immediately looked into it, found the EFF conference when it formed, and recognized what was up (I'd read the transcription in Harper's of the hacker discussion that Barlow had put together in a private conference). Steve Jackson posted that he was going to have a meeting in Austin to talk about EFF, maybe start an alpha chapter, and I showed up, joined the Board of Directors... and those two moves, joining the WELL and getting involved with EFF, set the direction for my life and career thereafter. I joined the Whole Earth conference and started talking with Howard, looking for an opportunity to write something that would actually appear in the magazine. I was aware of Factsheet Five via Bruce Sterling, and found the F5 conference, started posting there, too. Gareth Branwyn invited contributions for the 7 day issue of Going Gaga, an issue comprised of pieces submitted over a week's time; coincidentally Desert Storm broke out around then, and I wrote a piece about my ambivalence re. that and other wars. Mark Frauenfelder asked me to be an editor at bOING bOING. I proposed a Mondo 2000 conference and set that up as cohost with R.U. Sirius... which led to a few pieces published in Mondo. I met Paco Nathan through bOING bOING and the WELL, and we started FringeWare, Inc., and published Fringe Ware Review, which was modeled on bOING bOING and Whole Earth Review.... The WELL was a big part of my life over the years. I've hosted several conferences here. I was a curator of the WELL gopher with Matisse Enzer and Eric Theise, and I've done the tips report and hosted Inkwell.vue. I've developed close friendships with several folks, and I've been engaged in flame wars with others. At some point the flames predominated so I stopped posting much outside the conferences I host. Somehow we all seemed really tense for a while; I'm tempted to dig back in and see who's there now and what's happening. During one of my bouts of inattention Tom Mandel learned that he was dying, and I never knew about it until it was too late. Tom had mentored me a bit when I first joined the WELL, and I'm bummed that I didn't have a chance to say goodbye. I suppose a lot of us have moved on to other venues, and that's too bad. The WELL is still a great city.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Tue 29 Mar 05 05:12
Mercury, I imagine there's a lot of curiosity among a lot of people about who has scribbled what and why. One of the things I've really enjoyed about these various 20-year retrospectives is the ability to look at the past without getting sucked into it and refighting old battles, and I certainly plan to do my part in keeping it that way.
snarly (obizuth) Tue 29 Mar 05 08:02
very gracious response, sharon.
(divinea) Tue 29 Mar 05 08:09
Yes, nicely said.
Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Tue 29 Mar 05 08:14
I was living in Bolinas on the Mesa just down the road from Cliff and Anita when I first got on the WELL via a 2400 baud modem and an Apple //e. I still have that old Apple //e and the Profile Hard drive which probably has a lot of transcripts of those early WELL sessions. But finding it and firing it up would have to be for a day when I have a lot of time on my hands (not too soon!). I did a couple of reviews, with Cliff's help, on the BPI Accounting System and on Appleworks which I used for it's communications program to access the WELL. I lived on the Tennessee and Wisconsin Farms and have mixed feelings about that whole era. There was a great feel to the vibes there and I went from being a bachelor degreed urban planner to a farmer/carpenter/oilfield roughneck. At the same time, I spent some time in Winters, CA working on David Katz Odyssey Orchards Farm and got to hang around with J Baldwin some. I remember tearing down a barn with him and every aspect of his existence being some kind of object lession, like the time I was driving the salvage truck down a deeply rutted road and him telling me to keep my thumbs pointed up in case the steering wheel suddenly jerked around. I hope Jon is right about the tension cease fire thing. The WELL is an enlightened place and it's also a dark alleyway. It would be nice if folks loosened up a bit and weren't so hypercritical. Glad you're contributing to this, slf.
Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Tue 29 Mar 05 08:20
The reviews, I forgot to mention, were for the Whole Earth Software Review. Like Jon, I still have my collection of Coevolution Quarterlies which take up one full shelf on my bookshelf. The bookshelf is in our guest room and I wonder if our visitors sometimes persue those wonderful old magazines. Cliff, where can we find the "Feeding Ourselves Sustainably" community you mention that you're pulling together this week?
Cliff Figallo (fig) Tue 29 Mar 05 08:36
Hey, Paul. Feeding Ourselves Sustainably is starting up on the Berkana Exchange (www.berkanaexchange.org). It's still in the formative stages. Hey, that was a good tip about keeping your thumbs outside the steering wheel on a rutted road. I remember someone telling me that on the Farm. The Anita that Paul referred to was my first wife, probably never mentioned before on the WELL. I rarely posted anything about my personal life on the WELL. (You're welcome.) It's a remarkable thing to have a record of relationship and personal growth like this, complete with the rights to scribble your personal record. We all witnessed the changes we were going through and, in many cases, the changes in our personalities and attitudes. I haven't done any reading in Archives lately, but a few years ago I dropped in and read some of the topics from the 80s and found them to be as quaint and dated in a cyberspace way as reading letters written during the Civil War. Sharon Lynne THEN is certainly not Sharon Lynne NOW, but thank Gopod that's also true of me and most of us. It took some years before the WELL emerged from our collective illusion that it was a private conversation where we could post outrageous stuff under our real names. Once it became a station on the Internet, it seemed to adopt what became the Internet social standard where you could only be uninhibited if you were posting under an alias. And that's why they call 'em The Good Ol' Days.
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Tue 29 Mar 05 08:56
I guess I came in around year 5, and those discussions about whether to offer an <anon> option were still going on. That's one of the fascinating things I find about the evolution of the internet. The WELL came down on the side of "you own your own words" and "real names required," while the rest of the world went pretty much for "we own your words" and an <anon> free-for-all.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Tue 29 Mar 05 09:04
Personally, I don't feel that connecting to the Internet was a major factor, though it's possible that the group experience, for lack of a better term, changed around the same time. It really does amaze me the sorts of things people talked about freely at that point.
John Payne (satyr) Tue 29 Mar 05 09:23
Conversely, the ability to telnet into the Well, and then to do so without an hourly surcharge for the connections, made a huge difference for those of us not located in the bay area, and gradually transformed it from a predominately regional system to a system with members all over the world, anywhere internet service reaches, although still with a concentration around its home base. A demographic some might find surprising is that there's long been another knot of Well members on the eastern seaboard, in and around NYC, since before telnet access was possible, presumably using Tymnet then the CSN Packet Network. (I mostly used CSN's network at first, since I was a CompuServe member before joining the Well, but I also made my share of long distance calls to Sausalito.)
John Payne (satyr) Tue 29 Mar 05 09:23
ooooops! slipped twice
Low and popular (rik) Tue 29 Mar 05 09:29
I think that one of the major watersheds was jeffreyp and cynsa's genx conference. The hippie/beatnik/deadhead hegemony had been a bit of an irritation factor amongst some of the younger users just prior to the explosion of the Worldwide Web, and the genx conference gave them a place of their own, which they expanded upon as time progressed. But it seemed to me that Well culture fractured along age lines at that point.
John Payne (satyr) Tue 29 Mar 05 09:44
The switch to free telnet access happened around the same time that the <rockies.> conference launched, and no doubt had something to do with its early success. Suddenly we were spending hours online and not worrying about the meter, at least not at the Well's end. (Most ISP's still had hourly charges then.) Easier access and growing fame also meant that people were hearing about the Well through non-personal vectors -- books, articles, etc. -- and venturing in without some preexisting social connection, more often than had previously been the case at any rate. Getting people oriented quickly took on even greater importance, and is something the Well has collectively become very good at.
John Payne (satyr) Tue 29 Mar 05 09:57
I should probably point out that "telnet" is no longer recommended, for security reasons. Instead, it's better to use the "ssh" protocol, if you want the PicoSpan command-line interface (and @well.com email, and your own web directory, and use of the "extract" search tool).
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