inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #176 of 215: Gail Williams (gail) Sun 3 Apr 05 19:28
    
Slip one is perfect!  Shady!
Let's try for the other two.

Maybe Satinwood expreses the fine, smooth part of WELL discourse and 
cultural impact, versus Sauerkraut, the sour and esoteric treat 
that outsiders have to work to get used to.

After Saint Stupid's day on Friday, where a good WELL contingent took
part, Wavy and Weed perhaps point to another cultural thread.  I do
say that in a totally non-tie-dyed way, of course.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #177 of 215: Ramon Sender Barayon (rabar) Sun 3 Apr 05 20:47
    
Yes, I think your interpretations for Slips Two and
Three have much merit, Gail! Ever think of giving
it all up to sit on a tripod over a gas vent at Delphi
on Mt. Parnassus? Superior fumes, I'm told...

"A recent study, reported in the August issue of Geology, 
reveals that two faults intersect directly below the 
Delphic temple. The study also found evidence of hallucinogenic 
gases rising from a nearby spring and preserved within the 
temple rock..."
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/08/0814_delphioracle.html
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #178 of 215: William Dell Wisner (wisner) Mon 4 Apr 05 04:03
    
In 1993 I became the WELL's system administrator. I was 22 years old,
still a bit snot-nosed and had dropped out of college and moved to
the Bay Area only a year earlier. But in matters technical I really
knew what I was doing; <mo> saw that and gave me the job. That I was
(relatively) cheap helped, I'm sure.

I didn't know much about the political and personal tumult that preceded
me. I knew that I had just been given my first real dose of professional
responsibility - for when it came to keeping all WELL systems running
smoothly, I was the buck's final terminus. If I made a mistake that took
the WELL offline, it went directly to the company's bottom line. I don't
think I would have found many other companies willing to give me, at that
time and at that age, responsibility for literally all of its revenue
operations. I am the better for it.

I made mistakes - thankfully, minor ones - and I learned from every one.
Oh, did I. And I had one huge milestone: I personally retired the old
Sequent server and transplanted the WELL onto its new Sun SPARCserver
1000. Considering that project's critical importance to the company, it
remains on my resume to this day.

(The choice of what sort of new server to buy was eventually narrowed
down to the Sun and a Data General AViiON. I strongly favoured the Sun;
I think Mo leaned toward the DG. Sun has since become the world's leading
UNIX company; the AViiON was killed off at the end of the nineties.
DG/UX? Dodged a bullet there.)

This coming-of-age story is personal, too. Never the world's leading
authority on meeting people and making friends, the WELL handed them to
me gift-wrapped. I made friends and enemies and mistakes and inroads into
social realms I would never otherwise have encountered. I was abused by
local celebrity Jon Carroll. I provided technical support to international
celebrity William Broad. (Look him up.) I appared on CNBC half of one of
my allotted 15 minutes. I read the Whole Earth Review. A lot of the
Whole Earth Review. I discovered the world best General Tso's chicken.
I explored, I learned, I grew, a couple of times I got stupendously
drunk. I am the better for it.

After a year and change I moved on. It was the right thing to do
professionally. The first vague glimmers of the dot.com explosion were
becoming visible on the horizon. I joined a young, vigorous Silicon Valley
company, I got a great big raise, I broadened my professional scope and
(in realisation of a long-held dream) I eventually got transferred overseas.
I'm not so certain it was the right thing to do personally. When I move on
I move on, and when I left the WELL I left the WELL. The connections, the
friendships, the fascination and the fun didn't survive. I've had to look
for new ones. The old ones, some of those I still miss. And I miss Gate
Five Road.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #179 of 215: David Gans (tnf) Mon 4 Apr 05 07:23
    
Nice to see from you, Bill.  Where are you now?

And Ramon!  And SHADY!!
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #180 of 215: Gail Williams (gail) Mon 4 Apr 05 08:04
    
Wisner! wow, excellent to hear from you, Bill.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #181 of 215: William Dell Wisner (wisner) Mon 4 Apr 05 09:27
    
Thanks. I'm in London now, looking for the next big (or little) thing.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #182 of 215: Cliff Figallo (fig) Mon 4 Apr 05 11:03
    
Bill, you may have been cheap to hire, but you were brave. And smart,
too, to go with Sun.

The Sequent installation was the result of many days of amateur
research, looking for a rig that without the VAX's shortcomings. I went
for the multi-processor system even though it had it's own bizarre
version of UNIX. It made sense to me that if we needed to handle more
and more multi-tasking situations with multiple users on the system,
more processors was better! Given the choices in the late 80s, it's
hard to say whether anything else would have been better. The technical
world was figuring out how to convert from mainframe mentality to
micro-server mentality. There were still other OSs with credibility
besides UNIX. There was no Windows NT. Thank God that was not one of
the choices. We were ideologically convinced that UNIX was the way to
go, but there was no generic hardware to go with BSD that had the balls
to keep up with our traffic.

When I arrived in 1998 to take over Table Talk for Salon, they were
running WebCrossing on an NT system. It was a big mess until they
replaced the entire technical staff and we converted to Linux.

I'm glad I don't have to make such choices anymore. I was in over my
head, but grateful for all the informed opinions I got from experts in
the community. And to Mike Wilens, too. He would spend the time to
research my choices and make recommendations.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #183 of 215: John Payne (satyr) Mon 4 Apr 05 11:53
    
As I remember it, an unusual sort of financing scheme was used to help 
pay for the Sequent.  Members were asked to voluntarily make advance 
payments on their accounts, which were recouped as monthly and 
connect-time charges accrued.  I think I kicked in $100, which was a 
lot of money for me in those days, and then wasn't billed for the next 
two or three months.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #184 of 215: Bryan Higgins (bryan) Mon 4 Apr 05 12:20
    <scribbled by bryan Mon 4 Apr 05 12:21>
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #185 of 215: Runcible Spoonerism (bryan) Mon 4 Apr 05 12:22
    
Nice to hear from you, wisner. I have good memories of the quality work you
did here.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #186 of 215: Gail Williams (gail) Tue 5 Apr 05 10:25
    
How cool to be making a life in England!  Reminds me of a young
Englishman who got into the WELL, moved to California and is now making
a life here.

A few months ago Howard said something that stuck in my mind.  He
mentioned somet thing to the effect that while the WELL may be an elite
or esoteric reference to a lot of Americans, it's strongly appreciated
and known in other countries.  Allowing for the selection bias of
people who want to meet Howard around the world, that's still
fascinating.  Only about 10% of WELL members are from outside the US.
However, you will indeed find members in London if you seek them out
and befriend them, just for example.

Why has this little place, "the Bolinas of cyberspace" as it has been
called from time to time, with no publicity budget and a membership
with a mixed reaction to evangelizing the services to those "NOTW" or
Not On The WELL, remained so famous in Europe and Japan, especially?
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #187 of 215: Gail Williams (gail) Wed 6 Apr 05 14:13
    
Something else that occurs to me about The WELL is that we haven't talked
much about surviving all the ownership changes.  

The auster3e but golden era of the Figtex days were the Neti/Point 
shared ownership days.  Then Bruce Katz was recruited as a friend with 
deep pockets, as I understand it, to buy out Neti.  

Bruce -- actually Rosewood Stone Group -- bought half, and then
bought the other half. 

I haven't said much about the experience of working with Bruce Katz,
because I both found him incredibly tough to work for at times, and
abundantly enthusiastic.  

He used to come up with new plans and toss them out partially formed.  
My way is to be more cautious, and to think through the implications.  

I found it helped me to take all of Bruce's ideas as proposals that 
needed testing in a a small, controlled way first.  It kept me 
from feeling threatened by proposed changes, and after all, I might be
wrong.  I felt that a simple test would send him in another direction
if his idea was not workable, so that kept me grounded. 

He did manage to make some significant errors in dealing with 
the community, particularly around how he thought growth would work, 
and he failed to take my advice at the times I disagreed with his 
impulses.  The reactions to Bruce were sometimes so disproportionate 
that I ended up feeling as bad about the predictable backlash as 
about his proposal of the week or a human relations gaff.  

I found that time incredibly stressful emotionally.  I felt I 
couldn't go if I could help prevent disaster, but that I was seldom 
listened to.  This made a lot of unnecessary stress and I was tense and
difficult with some of the development people Bruce brought in.  I
apologize to all the people I was snarky with.  I also found I couln't
socialize with my WELL friends much during that time because I was 
peppered with angry questions that had no answers.  It felt like work, 
and the vilification just seemed excessive. 

I appreciated Claudia and later Maria for dealing so gracefully with 
Bruce and being able to remind me that the Web interface development he 
was funding had to be done by somebody in order for the WELL to 
survive.  I'm still thankful for that lifeline. 

I don't have hard feelings towards Bruce, but I understood many of 
the concerns and hard feelings that were expressed to and about Bruce's 
plans.  That was so isolating, and it was hard for me to figure out what I
needed to do to make things work for everyone.  Ultimately, handing off to
Maria and then eventually selling to Salon turned out to be good moves on 
Bruce's part.  

I haven't said much about that time.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #188 of 215: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Wed 6 Apr 05 15:39
    
Yes, that was stressful for a lot of people. In retrospect, it was the
idea that the WELL could be owned that was most traumatic. Of course
it HAD been owned, but Larry Brilliant and Stewart Brand were
benevolently absentee landlords. Bruce's enthusiasm about changing the
WELL met with resistance in large part because of his failure to
communicate effectively with the old guard, and in large part, the
resistance was triggered by the shock of realizing the WELL could be
owned. 

I often wish that Bruce has been effective in selling the community on
his schemes for expansion. It would have been good for social
cyberspace as a whole if the WELL had proliferated. 

Claudia tried her best. It wasn't her fault that nobody -- myself,
certainly included -- managed to establish good communications with
Bruce.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #189 of 215: Cliff Figallo (fig) Wed 6 Apr 05 17:16
    
I agree with Howard and the perception that we were owned but that
we'd been set adrift to find our own course if we could just figure out
how to support ourselves. That seemd to be consistent with the
mentality that many of us brought to the WELL. I can't put my finger on
it, but I always sensed a shared attitude that we were getting away
with something cool. 

Speaking, if I may, for many of the early WELLers, we'd spent most of
our adult lives in anti-authoritarian mode (even those who had been in
the military) and appreciating any opportunity to occupy liberated
territory, whether it was mental, physical or electronic. Of course,
such idealism was destined to bump up against harsh realities like cash
flow and depreciation. 

The WELL's owners and absentee founders didn't take into account, for
example, how fast the VAX would depreciate in its capacity to support
the growing community. NETI had loaned us $90K at the outset. LOANED, I
said. And that just barely got us to the break even point around the
time when the VAX was about to blow its mind trying to keep up with all
of 15 or so simultaneous users. 

With our member's generosity, we were able to jump to the Sequent in
the nick of time, but it, too, was straining under the load by
mid-1990.

So by the time Bruce came calling at Stewart's behest in early 1991, I
was predisposed to overlook any reservations I had about the imperfect
personality match. It was crunch time. 

Ironically, Bruce really wanted to be associated with a free-thinking
community. He thought of himself as one of us in that way. He was an
anti-authoritarian guy - didn't like to take orders. But not everyone
takes gracefully to the kind of collective opinionating that the WELL
generates, especially if you are identified as the authority to be
questioned. (Take it from ME!)

We needed a financial savior at that point in time, and no one else
had come forward. I know there were meetings happening among a small
group of WELL members to cook up alternative ownership or management
schemes, but there was little leverage there. I could have performed
more due diligence regarding Rosewood Stone's readiness to kick in more
cash for immediate system and staffing upgrades but, well, beggars
can't be choosers. Having at least one of the owners with a bankroll
held the potential of an eventual cash infusion. I wasn't around to see
it.

(Can I get off the couch now, Doctor?)
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #190 of 215: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Wed 6 Apr 05 20:59
    
The very idea that hardware costs would be the primary bottleneck for
a relatively small community forum is just boggling today.  It was
another era.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #191 of 215: Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Wed 6 Apr 05 21:32
    
As we all know now, bandwidth expands to fit the waste available.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #192 of 215: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 6 Apr 05 21:49
    
I remember visiting the WELL on a trip to SF - actually the
aforementioned FringeWare Bay Area visit - and learning from Sumser
that he'd just closed the deal to sell the other half of the WELL to
Bruce. I didn't know quite what to think.

Still don't.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #193 of 215: OZRO W. CHILDS (oz) Wed 6 Apr 05 22:55
    
When I joined, most of the silverbacks were still active.  I spent days
reading through the more interesting conferences (true confessions was my
favorite).  It's wonderful to see how many who are either gone or seldom
post have come back here to reminisce.  Especially good to see Josh, always
one of my favorite voices, and Ramon Sender, whom I met at a hosts party --
at the Arboretum I think.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #194 of 215: *%* (jewel) Wed 6 Apr 05 23:16
    
The first WELL gathering I attended was a meeting called a "deadhead town
council" in September of 1987.  We met at a bar before a Grateful Dead show
at Shoreline.  The meeting was called to see if we could come up with a way
to solve the Well's technical problems, as I recall.  I remember <wheezer>
saying it was not worth it to put a new front end on the VAX, whatever that
means.  I remember looking at each person and reconciling the image with the
one I'd been holding in my head since May.

Back then, I had a 1200 baud modem but the WELL would hang, and hang, and
hang.  I drove us nuts.  We'd press to continue, and wait, and wait.  So we
were all anxious to get the WELL moving smoothly.  I have no idea if
anything that happened at that meeting contributed to the problem being
solved.  As I recall, it was when we got the Sequent everything was finally
smooth.  I remember being all excited and then all happy to see a new
screenful any time I wanted.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #195 of 215: *%* (jewel) Thu 7 Apr 05 09:16
    
Town Meeting.  Not Council.  Council is another welltale entirely.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #196 of 215: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 7 Apr 05 11:03
    
Great tidbit.

We're into the last 24 hours of this as a featured interview, summit and/or
nostaliafest.

If you are not a member of The WELL you can email a question to inkwell-
hosts@well.com for the final lap, or join and ask on your own behalf.

I have a couple of questions to throw out, but this has been the very
definition of drift, a sort of rolling history open-mic.  Wonderful 
posts!
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #197 of 215: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 7 Apr 05 11:25
    
I do want to put one story on the record.  This is for David Gans and Cliff
Figallo.

When I first came to work at The WELL I was trying to learn UNIX and
figure out the mysteries of how it all worked.  I had read the host manual
cover to cover more than once, joined the "Deeper" conference where dhawk
taught UNIX tricks,  and was fascinated by how tools make rules, and vice
versa. Cliff asked me if I knew vi yet, and I did not.  He compensated for
my weakness by contracting with David to do the technical things I
couldn't do yet.  And he gave me the opportunity to commission some work
on the PicoSpan conferencing software from Bryan Higgins.  I like Bryan
and David, so this was a treat.  

I began jamming on learning vi so I would be able to go full time and do
all the functions John Coate, my beloved predecessor, had done so well.
And I began to be frustrated by the inability to do things myself when
needed.  I didn't really want to be asking David for things or telling him
what I wanted to do for a minute longer than was needed.    

So at some point we had a consultant in, a business consultant who'd 
worked with  Clorox Inc out of Oakland, who burned sage or incense 
during the session, I believe. She asked for confidential wishes, 
suggestions, requests & complaints.  I told her I was ready to do the 
job myself.  I didn't go directly to my boss, Cliff, or to David, my 
colleague and a friend.  
 
I don't remember exactly what happened next in sequence, but the next big
WELL flap was David being pissed at Cliff for having his contract 
dropped, as I got to take on more or the responsibilty I'd expected.  For 
whatever reason, David did not expect to have his contract end, and there 
was a lot of dark murmering about why ever would Cliff fire David, and 
had Cliff lost it?

At the time I said nothing, but I think that was chickenshit.  I think it
was my fault, but I let Cliff play boss.  I was quiet, and worked on my
projects and my simple UNIX chops.  

I've been on the other side of those dynamics for years now, and been 
loathed for things I didn't initiate, but I feel terrible about having 
created bad blood, even briefly, between two community leaders and people
I admire, so long ago. I hope you will both forgive me.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #198 of 215: David Gans (tnf) Thu 7 Apr 05 13:01
    

I see now that I was temperamentally unsuited for that position.  I remember
making <jewels>' life miserable by managing to scream at him in email, and I
remember saying something really nasty to <slf> at that time, too.  It made
perfect sense to kick me off the staff - seriously.

I have contributed a great deal to this community over these 20 years, but an
appreciable proportion of it was on the negative side of the ledger.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #199 of 215: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 7 Apr 05 13:18
    

I'd completely forgotten about how there was a point where we had it so  
requests of our then sysadmin <jewels> were supposed to go from David 
through me, and I would rephrase them to be neutral in tone, and than 
add friendly PS messages from me saying thanks for taking time from 
whichever big emergency project of the day.  Thanks.  We've each grown 
and changed in so many ways.
  
inkwell.vue.240 : The WELL at 20, with Howard Rheingold, Cliff Figallo and friends
permalink #200 of 215: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 7 Apr 05 13:41
    
That was courageous of you, Gail. And yeah, I don't think David would
have been happy in the position in the long run.

A long ways upthread, Gail mentioned the WELL's reputation. I guess
I've  been around the world a couple dozen times since The Virtual
Community was published -- I put in 150,000 miles on UAL last year
alone -- and I'll certainly vouch for that. In many ways, I think the
WELL's fame is the result of Stewart's marketing genius -- no budget
for advertising, but free accounts for journalists (that's how I got
here, via a MicroTimes article). The folks who made the Media
conference a central watering hole for technology-minded journalists
should share that credit. Certainly, this isn't the oldest community
(Metanet, for example), and with 100,000 newsgroups and uncounted
listservs, message boards, chat rooms, online gaming communities, the
WELL is far from the only one. But with all the changes, a continuity
of intellectual tradition is worth applauding -- there's still plenty
of wit and wisdom, irreverence and lore, intellect and smartassery,
and, yes, community spirit to be found here.

We used to fear that the WELL would die. Having been through the
deaths of a couple of communities in the past decade, I now know that
you couldn't kill the WELL if you tried. If the servers turned to lime
jello tomorrow and/or Salon went under and/or any other doom scenario,
I am willing to bet that software, server, and (bickering) organizing
committee(s) would be on the case within minutes.

I have no doubt that the WELL will outlive all those whose words are
here now. You there in the 22nd century -- am I right, or what?
  

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