The WELL was launched in 1985 with minimal rules and a free-wheeling spirit. The aphorism crafted to greet users at the time was “You Own Your Own Words.” This now classic and carefully tended policy has been expanded into The WELL Member Agreement with detailed explanations of the implications of “YOYOW,” as members refer to it.
The WELL Policies and Etiquette
The WELL, as a community, functions on mutual respect and cooperation. Computer conferencing is quite different from face-to-face communication. Only your words travel over the network — the facial expressions, tone of voice, and other live conversational nuances are completely absent from discussions on The WELL.
Please pay careful attention to how you wield those words. Teasing and sarcasm, for example, may not travel well. Asking or explaining that a joke was meant may be necessary from time to time until your personality and point of view are well known.
Remember that words you enter in a burst of inspired passion or indignant anger will be there for you (and everyone) to read long after your intense feelings are gone. This isn’t meant to discourage spontaneity and the expression of feelings on The WELL, but merely to remind you of the long-term existence and effects of what you write.
You may, from time to time, find yourself in disagreement with someone on The WELL. At times like this, keep in mind that it’s safer, more polite, and more persuasive to take issue with that person’s comments, rather than attacking them personally.
People on The WELL generally avoid “obscene” language (no, we aren’t going to try to define that here), except in conferences where such language is acceptable. There are no rigid rules about this. Just remember that we are a diverse community of individuals with varying standards, and there may be minors present.
Naturally, purloined passwords for The WELL and other systems, credit card numbers, or other information that was gained or can be used illegally may not be posted on The WELL.
You are encouraged to make full use of the Welcome and Test Conferences during your first days on The WELL. Please don’t leave requests for help in every conference you enter. The Welcome Conference (g welcome) is for getting your feet wet and asking questions; the Test Conference (g test) is perfect for practice.
When you first enter a Conference on The WELL you will see a list of conversations known as Topics. Some users of a particular conference are likely to read a single topic, while others keep up with all or most of the new commentary in each conference on their personal lists. Posting of a single item to multiple topics around The WELL is considered impolite, especially when done within a single conference. Within any given conference, it pays to keep in mind that anyone who may be interested in your comment is likely to be reading most of the topics where you might post it. So, posting it once should be enough. If you aren’t sure which topic would be most appropriate, feel free to ask the conference hosts where they think would be best. If your posting is of interest to several conferences, (for example, a discussion of giant tropical Monitor Lizards for both the Pets and Wildlife Conferences), and the subject merits a topic to itself, The WELL supports something called “linked topics” — the same topic appears in multiple conferences. If you’d like to start a linked topic, ask the conference hosts.
Who are conference hosts? They are members of the community who are in charge of tending a specific conference or conferences. These volunteers may, in the community interest, delete a comment. However, they may not edit it. If you have a comment deleted by the host of a conference, and you disagree with the deletion, you can:
- Email the host and discuss the deletion privately.
- Start a topic to discuss the deletion publicly.
- If your comment was deleted as “off-topic,” start a topic where your comment will not be considered off-topic.
- Re-post a new version of your deleted comment in another conference.
- Re-post a new version of your deleted comment on your Web page, and point to it from within The WELL conferences.
- Alter your approach in the conference.
The WELL administration does not, and will not, impose explicit rules on hosts governing such deletions. To do that, we think, would undermine the freedom of hosts to exercise creativity in handling their conferences.
Hosts are also empowered, under duress, to ban a nuisance member from their conferences. Because hosts aren’t always present online, or aware of all the details of a particular conflict, they cannot be held responsible for the content of comments that may appear in their conferences. Once again, “You Own Your Own Words.” Responsibility rests with the writer.
The above text was adapted from The WELL Manuals and online Members Guides over the years. It has endured as excellent advice.
And just for perspective, here is one of the earliest attempts to create community guidelines, as seen in the help files in the original version of The WELL PicoSpan software written by programmer Marcus Watts in 1985:
**** ETIQUETTE **** A note about etiquette. Keep in mind when responding to a topic or entering a new one that the other users also have feelings. Please avoid trampling on them. Also, remember that comments entered in hasty reaction to someone else's posting will be available to be read long after you have entered them. So it is wise to exercise some moderation and good judgement.