The WELL is an online conferencing system, the community of people who interact through it, and the deep, accessible record of their online conversations. Within it are many discussion areas, called conferences, some open to all members and some private, but each having some general theme or perspective. Conferences contain topics, sometimes hundreds of them, and topics can run up to a couple of thousand responses each, although a fraction of that is more common.
"WELL" was originally an acronym derived from Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link. The system was founded by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant, under the auspices of Point Foundation, which publishes Whole Earth Magazine, the successor to CoEvolution Quarterly. The WELL is currently a subsidiary of Salon.com
Far from being dry and academic in tone, The WELL is lively and full of wit. The conversation varies even more widely than what you're apt to hear around you, from the totally trivial to the brilliant, and everything in between. Because there is so little temporal disjunction of the sort you may find in newsgroups (at worst a few others' responses may slip in while you compose yours) topics read very much like conversations. The WELL differs from many online systems in that anonymity is not allowed and in that much of what's posted there remains on the system for years. These two factors, and the exceptionally sharp minds of much of the clientele, work together to make The WELL an unusual, perhaps unique environment.