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WELL Conferencing and Community Building

What does The WELL mean by "conferencing"?

The WELL is divided into forum areas we call conferences, each with many conversational threads called topics. Conferences on The WELL are distinguished by software that makes it easy to have your say in a flowing conversation, and by the way the talented discussion hosts influence the quality of the interactions. It ends up feeling immediate and often eloquent, like transcripts of face-to-face conversations, but without any need to meet at a set time.

How can I get the most out of my participation on The WELL?

When you start out you'll want to look at some of the descriptive pages where our conferences do outreach for new participants.

The basic way to participate is to read up on a recent conversation, add your comment if you have one, and then return, perhaps the next day, to follow the responses. The responses or posts are organized into linear topics within each conference.

Some topics are fast moving, some are slow accumulations of resources or ideas. Many people read new posts from all the topics in a given conference daily, and keep those conferences on a personal list to make it easy to catch up. Others just check in here and there around the system with no particular pattern. Frankly, going back to the same conversation is probably a good strategy, because it lets you gain context, know people, and begin to be known over time for your suggestions, opinions, and contributions in general.

While it doesn't happen in real-time like chat does, conferencing can have an equally powerful sense of living dialog and vitality. The delayed response feature actually favors more thoughtful participation. In addition, you may take part in a series of discussions over a period of weeks or months with people from all over the world -- without ever having to remember what time zone they are in, or trying to arrange a meeting time in advance.

The conversations end up looking a lot like a long scroll with the transcript of a conversation on it. With permission from the posters, several historic topics have been reposted to Conference Front Pages such as the Virtual Communities site, where anyone, member or not, can read them.

What is Hosting?

Hosting in the conversational sense is online innkeeping -- a large part of what makes a sense of context and "place" worth coming back to again and again in the glistening, fragmented wasteland of the Web. Designating an informed, opinionated and outgoing conference host who is focused on encouraging interaction with a light touch, without censorship of ideas or language, is part of the magic of The WELL.

Hosts of Featured Conferences are community members who maintain a few simple technical aspects of the conference; stimulate participation; and deal with the fascinating people issues that arise in this medium, just as they would in social situations such as hanging out in a villiage square, corner bar, classroom or a group of travel companions.

How can I give conference Hosting a try?

Anyone with a Complete account on The WELL may set up a Private or Independent Conference to experience hosting first-hand. Generally, though, you will find that starting a topic within an existing conference, or even posting to an existing one, tends to generate more traffic unless you have a ready-made group aware of and committed to joining your Private or Independent Conference. Doing so will also help you gain a handle on group conversation dynamics in this environment.

The WELL Host Manual has both social and technical lore for managing online conferences, and a good definition of hosting in Section Two.

In addition, we cannot urge too strongly that you participate in several conferences with different hosts, and watch how they handle situations. The craft of hosting has evolved on The WELL by the exchange of host information and observation since 1985. Come to The WELL Hosts Conference (open to all members -- shortcut is: g hosts) to discuss the techniques and philosophies, as our mutual knowlege of this skill increases.

-- The WELL Conferencing Team

Related links and resources open for everyone include:

Community guidelines
Policy Conference Page - with community-forged Members' Agreement
The Hosts Conference Page - with hosts' essays on hosting
Virtual Communities Conference Page
Articles on community at The WELL Gopher (Text Museum)
Resources (from staff presentations and speeches)
Host Manual

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