You Own Your Own Words
One of the founding principles of The WELL, responsible for the particular style of interaction here, was the enigmatic statement that “you own your own words,” commonly referred to as YOYOW. This mysterious phrase referred to one of the two oldest principles of the community: responsibility. Along with the tenet of not being anonymous, so that the “owner” of an action or an expression is known to all, this slogan laid the foundation for the character of this place. It also started many debates. Eventually the phrase was replaced by the current Member Agreement as the official rules of the road.
The original intent of YOYOW was to serve as a disclaimer, reminding you that you were taking responsibility for your actions in the discussions. The phrase was later extended to clarify for members that no claims on your copyrights were being made by The WELL, and that you would be responsible for enforcing those rights:
You own your own words. This means that you are responsible for the words that you post on the WELL and that reproduction of those words without your permission in any medium outside of the WELL’s conferencing system may be challenged by you, the author.
Since the WELL does not offer anonymous accounts, the YOYOW premise could work. It reminded you that your words determine your reputation. YOYOW didn’t eliminate personality clashes or conflicts, of course, but this shared value of owning up to your actions tended to lead to a desirable level of authentic discourse – improving the signal-to-noise ratio, if you will.
It still matters that a highly creative, iconoclastic group associated with Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Review were the first ones to the party in 1985. Now, years later, it matters even more that the interesting participants inside The WELL are willing to take responsibility for their own statements without the veil of anonymity.