How to use PicoSpan

Welcome to the command line!

If you plan to use PicoSpan, our venerable command-line interface to access and participate in WELL conferences, this very old guide will help get you on your way PicoSpan Command Summary

This guide was created back in 1995, when the PicoSpan command-line text interface was just ten years old. If you see something anachronistic, please let The WELL helpdesk know about it. This manual was printed and mailed. It described a major update, adding context-specific menus as an overlay to that system. While some people appreciated the floating menus, others objected that they made navigation more cumbersome. We suggest you also try downloading the PicoSpan Command Summary pdf document from the table of contents in the right column and try using commands directly instead, just for contrast.

At that time, after the Internet but before the World Wide Web, there was no other way to participate in the acclaimed conferences. Now we offer direct web browser access to the same conversations by simply logging in to “My List” where you can manage and visit the list of conferences you want to read.

Conversation on The WELL is asynchronous, which means that discussion is not predicated on each participant being online at the same time. Instead, conversation occurs over time, with everyone having a chance to read and respond in discussions in their own time and place, while the software faithfully keeps your place in the conversation.

On The WELL, a new conversation begins when one participant types in a statement or a question for discussion into a Conference or forum area. When other members log in, they have the opportunity to read the statement and post a response to it. The resulting series of responses becomes an ongoing conversation—or Topic—that reads like a script. On each visit, you may read and respond in numerous ongoing discussion topics, and create additional new topics.

Topics are grouped within Conferences that usually focus on a particular broad subject or theme, like “books” or “politics.” Once you have the idea of Conferences containing Topics, you have the basic map of The WELL. In the Books Conference, for instance, you will find hundreds of topics, with names like “Audio Books” or “Patrick O’Brian.” Conference hosts help facilitate conversation and assist participants.

You can do all of the above via your Web browser, and most people choose to do that all or some of the time. 

When you log into The WELL using an SSH application, you will land at a prompt that looks like:

OK (Return for menu):

This is the OK prompt. You enter a command by typing directly after that colon. PicoSpan is simply the name of the program at The WELL which allows you to enter commands to navigate the conferences and participate in the community. To use the PicoSpan Menu System to start to navigate, simply hit the Return or Enter key at the OK prompt to display your Menu choices.

Once you are familiar with the commands to use to get around The WELL, you may enter some of them directly at the OK prompt, bypassing the need to display the menu. Many people prefer to turn off the menus and use the commands in the PicoSpan Command Summary . You do not have to have the menus turned off to use direct commands, sometimes called “quick commands” in this guide.

There are many commands that have been created over the years since the PicoSpan system was launched in 1985, and some that have been disabled along the way. The Menu System once offered defunct services that have long fallen out of favor. The most frequently used ones are still documented here on these webpages. If you want to dig into the historic documentation for older commands, a few of which still function, go to the Picohelp Conference. You can do that by typing: go picohelp, or just g picohelp if “go” takes too many keystrokes for your taste, at the OK prompt we just told you about.

WELL policies and etiquette (Classic wisdom from the earliest WELL Manual)

Our terms of service are spelled out formally in our Members Agreement.

You can always log in using your browser to ask questions about policies in in the Policy conference, or go there using g policy in an SSH session.

Notes on the writing conventions in this online Members’ Guide:

In navigating through the menu system, you will be making menu choices; usually numbered menu items. The menu choices you are to select are in bold. We will always make the menu choices bold, so that you can pick them out easily.

In the instructions herein, each step is described. However, we don’t want you to have to read “and press the Return key” again and again. So, throughout the Guide, we will use the word Enter to mean, “type the following information and press the Return key “.

Look for more documentation of legacy commands in the picohelp conference. For documentation of the newer web-based access to the same conference content, see the newer guide to direct engagement using your browser.