A Timeline of the First Ten Years of The WELL

Created by Ron Pernick with assistance from Cliff Figallo and Gail Ann
Williams for the Anniversary in 1995.

1985 on The WELL * February WELL boots up its computer and turns on The WELL is founded as a partnership by Larry Brilliant, of Networking Technologies International (NETI) and Stewart Brand of the Point Foundation. NETI provides the computer, software and a loan of $90,000. The Point Foundation, responsible for the Whole Earth Catalog series, provides staff, office space, Whole Earth's name recognition and regular coverage in "Whole Earth Review" magazine. Business goals remained flexible. Matthew McClure is named the founding director. * February-April Many writers, computer wizards, scientists and other experts with associations with Whole Earth were given free accounts and invited to help invent the system by starting areas of conversation and cooperatively designing the interface. * March The WELL presented its first users with the sole disclaimer: "You Own Your Own Words." YOYOW strived to achieve the one goal of attracting interesting people into on-line conversation with each other, while giving them responsibility for their own words and ideas. * April 1st. The WELL opens for business, allowing customers to register on-line to use the WELL for $8 per month plus $2 per hour. The initial staff is one full-time and one part-time employee. * April The WELL exists on a leased VAX 11/750 computer and hard disks, UNIX system software and a conferencing program called Picospan. The WELL has 12 phone lines and 800 MB storage. * June The WELL makes USENET news groups available to its customers and begins exchanging electronic mail with other networked computes around the world. * December Packet-switched connections via UniNet are made available enabling customers to reach the WELL over long distance at lower hourly cost.
1986 on the Well: * February The WELL incorporates as a company. * February Hourly prices are raised to $3 per hour from $2 per hour. * April One year after the opening of The WELL, the Grateful Dead conference is started. The already-extant community of Deadheads finds a virtual home on the WELL and gives the WELL a financial and cultural boost. * July The True Confessions conference is begun. WELL members are encouraged to tell stories from their past and find out about each other. * August Cliff Figallo replaces Matthew McClure as director. * September John Coate, WELL Support Manager, and Maria Syndicus, a WELL conference host, organize the first WELL Office Party with open invitation to all customers and friends. (Parties have since continued on a monthly basis for over 100 months.) * October WELL management expels a customer for causing widespread social havoc. This would be the only such expulsion of a WELL member up to the present. The WELL's population begins to focus more on the development of community standards. The first baby's birth in chronicled on The WELL and celebrated on-line by the community. * December Packet switched to tymnet.
1987 on the Well: * July The WELL reaches 2,000 registered members. * July The Weird conference is established. Weird proves that a no-holds-barred pressure relief area is a good thing to have to relieve tensions in the rest of the community. * August The WELL takes its Office Party to the beach for the first time. * November "Off-line," the WELL's occasional printed newsletter, is sent out for the first time. * December For the first month, the WELL's revenues exceed expenses, achieving profitability.
1988 on the Well: * May The first wedding between WELL beings takes place-event is celebrated on-line. * July The WELL is featured in its first New York Times article. * September Packet switched to Compuserve Packet Network (CPN) from tymnet. * November The WELL receives the Media Alliance Meritorious Achievement Award for Community Journalism.
1989 on the Well: * February WELL management creates the Anonymous conference where peoples' identities are hidden. WELL members begin spoofing one another's identities. Immediate chaos and angst occurs and the conference is removed. * April The WELL's original VAX computer, overburdened almost since the beginning, is replaced by a more powerful Sequent with the help from $25,000 in voluntary prepayments by WELL customers. The WELL has available 20 phone lines and 1.6 GB memory. * October The Loma Prieta Earthquake shakes the San Francisco area and the WELL becomes a message center for people communicating into and out of the Bay Area. For a brief time The WELL becomes one of the few methods of exchanging information with the outside world. * November The WELL's computer software license is upgraded to handle up to 64 simultaneous users.
1990 on the WELL: * February ECHO (East Coast Hang Out) goes on-line in New York City. WELL staff and customers help create the early vision. * March The WELL opens a discussion involving programmers, writers, first-generation computer hackers and two teenaged self-styled hackers call Phiber Optic and Acid Phreak. The forum on "the ethics of hacking" is transcribed and printed by Harpers and Phiber and acid are given accounts on the WELL. * May The first funeral is held for a member of the WELL community, Blair Newman. * July The Electronic Frontier Foundation is founded based on discussions of law and justice in cyberspace held on The WELL. The EFF conference is created on the WELL. * July The WELL reaches 5,000-registered members. * November Hourly prices are dropped from $3 to $2 and the monthly fee is raised from $8 to $10 to encourage people to stay on-line ore and contribute their words. * December The WELL receives the Best On-line Publication award from the Computer Press Association.
1991 on the WELL: * April Rosewood Stone Group purchases NETI's half ownership in the WELL. * August The WELL has its first chili cook-off, which becomes a yearly event. Members travel cross-country to compete. * December Gail Ann Williams replaces John Coate as Conferencing Manager.
1992 on the WELL: * January The WELL's Internet connection goes live. Customers are able to search databases and log into other systems on the Internet from their WELL accounts. Equally important, Internet access opens the WELL's doors to a larger audience, allowing people from around the country and world to participate with lower access costs. * February The WELL has another major computer upgrade, from a Balance to Symmetry and SUN. * July Maurice Weitman replaces Cliff Figallo as Director. * August WELL monthly fees go from $10 to $15 to help cover expenses of system upgrades and more staff. Generation X conference opens, an immediate hit. * December The WELL receives the Best On-line System award from Dvorak/Zoom Telecommunications.
1993 on the WELL: * January Howard Rheingold, a premier member of the WELL community, publishes The Virtual Community, a book the focuses on The WELL and other on-line communities. * November WELL Conferencing Manager Gail Ann Williams gathers volunteer conference hosts for the first "Hosts on Hosting" meeting, to nurture the skills of on-line moderators.
1994 on The WELL: * January Bruce Katz buys the second half of The WELL from The Point Foundation, acquiring full ownership. * July The WELL hosts the Woodstock '94 Internet Multimedia Center, enabling people onsite and around the world to share their experiences. This project launches The WELL's experimental web program. * August The WELL reaches 10,000 registered members. The WELL begins testing PPP (Point-to-Point Protocol) access over high-speed modems and ISDN lines. * September Bruce Katz, CEO, replaces Maurice Weitman as director. * November System storage space more than doubles to 30 GBs. * December The WELL receives three major 1994 industry awards: *The Best BBS award from PC World. *The 1994 Best Bulletin Board award from Computer Currents. *The Electronic Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. * December 31 The global New Year's Eve party on the Internet is initiated by WELL members and supported by The WELL. Live and cyber sites around the world and across 5 time zones come together to celebrate.
Through the Anniversary... 1995 on the WELL: * January The WELL officially launches and opens its Web site. The WELL becomes the first major on-line service to offer direct self-publishing on the Web for its membership. Over 180 members pages are put up in the first month. * February New menu interface is introduced to simplify access to WELL conferences and Internet services. New Members' Guide is published. With the aid of The WELL technical staff, the FBI captures system intruder and famed hacker Kevin Mitnick. The WELL upgrades its server to a SUN SPARC 1000e and increases security as well as processing power. System memory is doubled and storage space increases to 40 GBs. * March The WELL prepares to celebrate its tenth anniversary by launching The WELL Tales conference on-line. * April The WELL turns 10.

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