My Life on the WELL

By Alex Sutton
March 24, 1995

I have been on the WELL since the Summer of 1988. The WELL is known for its multitude of conferences on virtually any topic you can think of. The wealth of information on-line, all provided by members, is staggering. As the system has grown, the size of dicussions has also grown. Many of the conferences I frequented, which were like small towns where you knew everyone, grew into disorganized morasses.

The WELL is made up of many different sub-groups, or areas, often with limited cross-over. That is techies read primarily the computer conferences, writers hang out in their space, and the Deadheads never leave the GD ghetto. In an attempt to recapture the feeling of the old, smaller WELL, conversation shifted to private conferences. Only users on the "ulist" are allowed entry. Private conferences are either "public-private" or "private-private". The former are announced on the WELL conference list or are talked about in the public conferences, and require emailing the host for access. Examples of these are "women on the WELL", "men on the WELL", "recovery" for people recovering from addictions, and "band" for working musicians. However, it is in the more exclusive "private-private" conferences where the insider action of the WELL is.

WELL policy allows any user to request the creation of a private conference for their own use. They become the host, and can invite or shut-out whomever they like. Commonly, private conferences are forums for more intimate or high-level discussion without the distraction or interruptions of interlopers. Sometimes, these conferences are simply a reflection of the hostıs ego.

The WELL is a fairly social place, and off-line, or face-to-face (f2f), meetings occur frequently in the various sections. There is a monthly WELL office party (though itıs not held at the WELL office anymore) and frequently gatherings before and during Dead shows and major computer conferences. When someone from outside of the Bay Area comes to town, WELL members from their conferences will often get together. However, at many of the gatherings I went to, the same people kept on showing up. And because there was a core critical mass in the Bay Area, we were getting together several times a month for dinner, concerts, whatever.

At the same time, I found myself having less and less time to read the WELL, and uninterested in endless rambling topics. I also felt that it was inappropriate to discuss San Francisco get-togethers for 15-20 people in large national conferences. We tried email for a while, but large email loops are not very manageable, and do not have the written record of conferencing.

So I decided to start a private conference made up of two circles of friends, my 20-something crowd and a 30-something crowd which we were frequently intermingling. The goal set out by myself and my two co-hosts, was to create a place to plan social events and discuss things amongst friends, with the participants being all the people who were consistently coming to our WELL gatherings. While the conference would not be publicized, anyone would be welcome to join if they asked or invited by a current member.

We had trouble thinking of a name at first, and decided on "ohmypri". But one of the co-hosts shortly thereafter came up with the name "weekapri", very appropriate as the three co-hosts are big Phish fans. We sent out invites, and weekapri was born.

The conference was initially focused on social planning. I was living in San Francisco with a lot of time on my hands, so I organized lunches several times a week, we had brunches, and we went on Phish tour. All planned through weekapri. After a couple of months, one of the members started a topic called "one line status" a take off on the status postings famous in other WELL conferences like gd. Status is a topic where you write about what you are doing in the third person. An example could be:

alex had a pretty good day
alex is writing his last paper before spring break
alex is looking forward to sleeping
Status really took off in weekapri. Many of the members had stopped reading status in other conferences, so this was a way to stay in touch. Whole conversations can take place in status, all in the third person. Status is a place to vent frustrations or ask for support through WELLbeams. One-line status quickly disintegrated into multi-line status, and recently one-line stats.

Weekapri is the only WELL conference which I read regularly, that is often several times per day, and this is true of many participants. Someone termed the conference their on-line, or virtual coop. I think this is an apt description, as weekapri has become a really special place. It is like a local coffee house where I see and chat with my friends everyday. It is a true virtual community, even though the participants get together in real life (IRL) fairly often. Weekapri has become an important part of my life, part of my regular social scene, and part of my identity.