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TUCoPS :: Cyber Culture :: voiceswl.txt

The Logic of the Virtual Commons

                           Voices from the WELL:
                     The Logic of the Virtual Commons

                            Marc A. Smith
                       Department of Sociology

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the Master's Requirements

Professor Peter Kollock
Professor John Heritage

Correspondence regarding this essay may be sent to Marc Smith, Department
of Sociology, U.C.L.A., Los Angeles, CA 90024.  Email may be sent to

Its hard enough to love someone
when they're right close at home
don't you think I know its hard honey
squeezing sugar from the phone

- Bonnie Raitt

The Road's My Middle Name,
from Nick of Time, Capitol Records

ABSTRACT: The recent development of virtual communities, sites of social
interaction predominantly mediated by computers and telecommunications
networks, provides a unique opportunity to study the mechanisms by which
collectivities generate and maintain the commitment of their participants
in a new social terrain.  Using the analytical framework developed in
studies of intentional communities and collective action dilemmas, this
paper examines the unique obstacles to collective action and the commitment
mechanisms used to overcome them in a particular virtual community, the
WELL.  Drawing upon ethnographic and interview data, this community is
evaluated in terms of the community's capacity, or lack thereof, to
overcome obstacles to organization and elicit appropriate participation in
the production of desired collective goods.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: Social Dilemmas in Virtual Spaces				4
	Cyberspace and Virtual Worlds				5
Method								9
	The Structure of the WELL					11
	The Character of Virtual Space					14
Theory								18
	Theories of Communities and Collective Action			18
	Towards a definition of community				20
	The Elements of Successful Community				21

	The Construction of Commitment				22
	Economies of Commitment				24
	The Character of Collective Goods			24
	Accounting Systems and Misunderstandings		 25

Data									 28
	Collective Goods in a Virtual Space 			 28
		Social Capital 					 28
		Knowledge Capital 				 30
                            Communion 					 34
	Obstacles to the provision of collective goods 		 35
		Population Pressures 				 36
		Participation 					 37
		Transgressions and Sanctions 			  37
		Stolen Files and Justice
		Decorum 					 44
		The Weird Raid on Misc
Discussion 							 48

	Suggestions for Future Research 				 49
Conclusion 							 49

Introduction: Social Dilemmas in Virtual Spaces

A virtual community is a set of on-going many-sided interactions that
occur predominantly in and through computers linked via
telecommunications networks.  They are a fairly recent phenomena and
one that is rapidly developing as more people come to have access to
computers and data networks.  The virtual spaces constructed by these
technologies are not only new, they have some fundamental differences
from more familiar terrain of interaction.  Virtual spaces change the
kinds of communication that can be exchanged between individuals and
alter the economies of communication and organization.  As a result
many familiar and common social process must be adapted to the virtual
environment and some do not transfer well at all.  One aspect of
interaction remains constant however; virtual communities, like all
groups to some extent, must face the social dilemma that individually
rational behavior can often lead to collectively irrational outcomes.
The purpose of this paper is to begin to examine how community and
cooperation emerges and is maintained in groups that interact
predominantly within virtual spaces.

As yet, virtual communities are somewhat esoteric and have attracted
only limited attention from the social science community.  Many
questions about virtual communities remain unanswered, and many more
unasked.  No detailed work has yet addressed the questions, for
example, of how virtual communities form and mature, how relations
within these communities differ from relations in "real-space", or how
the dynamics of group organization and operation in virtual
communities differs from and is similar to communities based upon
physical copresence.  But like their real-space counterparts, virtual
communities face the challenge of maintaining their member's
commitment, monitoring and sanctioning their behavior, ensuring the
continued production of essential resources and organizing their
distribution.  The dynamic and evolving character of these groups
provides a unique opportunity to study the emergence of endogenous
order in a group.  Simultaneously, the novel aspects of interaction in
virtual spaces offers an illuminating contrast to interactions that
occur through other media, including face-to-face interaction.

Many communities have the potential to organize their members so as to
produce a collective good, something that no individual member of the
community could provide for themselves if they had acted alone.  Some
goods are tangible, like common pastures or irrigation systems, others
are intangible goods like goodwill, trust, and identity.  However,
this potential is not always realized.  As Mancur Olson noted, "if the
members of some group have a common interest or objective, and if they
would all be better off if that objective were achieved, it [does not
necessarily follow] that the individuals in that group ... act to
achieve that objective." (p. 1, 1965)  There are many obstacles that
stand in the way of the production of collective goods and even
success can be fragile, especially when it is possible to draw from a
good without contributing to its production.  Nonetheless, despite
arguments to the contrary (Hardin, 1968), many groups do succeed in
producing goods in common.  And, as Elinor Ostrom's work illustrates,
some communities have succeeded in doing so for centuries (1991).  The
question this raises is: what contributes to the successful provision
of collective goods?  How is cooperation achieved and maintained in
the face of a temptation to defect?

Virtual communities produce a variety of collective goods.  They allow
people of like interests to come together with little cost, help them
exchange ideas and coordinate their activities, and provide the kind
of identification and feeling of membership found in face-to-face
interaction.  In the process they face familiar problems of defection,
free-riding and other forms of disruptive behavior although in new and
sometimes very unexpected ways.  The novelty of the medium means that
the rules and practices that lead to a successful virtual community
are not yet well known or set fast in a codified formal system.

Cyberspace and Virtual Worlds
Virtual interaction is often said to occur in a unique kind of space,
a cyberspace, constructed in and through computers and networks.  This
term was coined by William Gibson in his visionary novel Neuromancer.
Gibson described a new technologically constructed social space in
which much of the commerce, communication and interaction among human
beings and their constructed agents would take place.  In the novel
Gibson gives his own description of cyberspace,

"Cyberspace.  A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions
of legitimate operators, in every nation... a graphic representation
of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human
system.  Unthinkable complexity.  Lines of light ranged in the
nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data.  Like city
lights, receding" Gibson's cyberspace remains in part in the realm of
science fiction.  But much of what he described has already taken on
very real form.  The global interconnection of computers via phone and
data networks has created the foundation for a seamless system of
communication between machines designed specifically for the storage
and manipulation of signs.  Cyberspace, then, can be understood as a
vast territory , a space of representations.  While human beings have
inhabited representational spaces for a very long time, we have never
been able to create representations with the ease and flexibility
possible in cyberspace.  This is important because with each new
development in the technologies of representation, from the printing
press to satellite communication, there has been a reworking of the
kinds of representations and social relationships that are possible to

Gibson envisioned cyberspace as two related technologies, the first
provided the individual connecting to cyberspace with a complete
sensorium, enclosing the user in a totally computer generated reality.
Connected directly to a computer, wires connected directly to the
nervous system, an artificial set of sense data would be constructed
and delivered to a credulous mind.  The fact that no such technology
yet exists does not invalidate Gibson's vision, mistaking far less
sophisticated representations for reality is already common and does
not require such complex technology.  Nonetheless, research and
development of this kind of technology is advancing rapidly,
compelling visual cyberspaces (often termed "photo realistic") are
available now and will become widespread after the further refinement
and decline in the cost of processing power.  Direct contact between a
machine and a human mind may be a bit further off, but is a subject of
research that has promising and disturbing implications.  In contrast,
the second element of Gibson's cyberspace is very much a reality.
This is the matrix, the densely intertwined networks of networks,
lines of communication linking millions of computers around the world.
 While sensual cyberspaces may have profound effects on our perception
and understanding of reality, even when limited to the comparatively
pedestrian medium of text, the matrix is already having visible

Computer networking was pioneered by the United State's Defense
Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) which funded the
development of the first wide area network (WAN), the ARPANET, in
1969.  The ARPANET has since grown exponentially and inspired many
additional networks.  It has since been integrated into the INTERNET
(1983), a globe spanning "network of networks" supporting over fifteen
million users.  The ArpaNet/INTERNET was joined by the USENET (1979),
the BITNET (1981) and the FIDONET (1983).  These large scale networks
are supplemented by the proliferation of independent Bulletin Board
Systems  (BBSs) run from individual microcomputers and medium to
large-scale information services like Compuserve, GEnie, and the WELL.
 While not all of these networks are unified or managed by a single
regulating body, many are interconnected: users on one network can
often utilize many of the resources available on the others through
gateways.  This list does not exhaust the number of networks in
existence, John Quarterman's 1990 book on the subject, The Matrix,
lists over 900 networks.  That number may already be surpassed.
Within these vast networks interconnections of another kind have
formed: social networks of people who have come together virtually,
that is via computers and networks, to interact with others for a
myriad number of purposes.  A number of methods exist to facilitate
communication between individuals and groups via these networks.  The
simplest is electronic mail (email).  Email allows for one-to-one or
one-to-many communication between any individuals who have a valid
email address on the same network or on a network that can be
gatewayed to.  Effectively, this means that some 15 million people are
accessible to one another instantaneously and without regard for
distance.  Using tools to enhance email, some groups have created
"lists" than ease the process of collecting email addresses.
 Some lists provide a single address for mail that is to be forwarded
to every member of the list.  The largest of these lists have as many
as 15,000 subscribers located all around the planet.  At last check,
there were more than 2,400 lists carried on the INTERNET alone on
subjects ranging from dentistry to religion to quantum physics.  New
lists are created on a daily basis while some old lists fall inactive.
Conferencing systems, information services and BBSs fill out the range
of virtual communications.  These systems share a great deal in
common, differing mostly in terms of size, commercial status, and
focus.  These systems tend to be centralized, that is supported by
computers at a single location although accessed by computers all over
the world.  Conferencing systems focus on providing the tools for the
facilitation of discussions.  BBSs and information services do this as
well, but additional emphasis may be placed on services like software
libraries, weather and stock reports, and airline reservations.  Often
information services are operated on a for-profit basis.

Whichever system people use, they frequently develop relations with
other users that have some stability and longevity.  This should not
be surprising considering the ease with which network systems allow
individuals to find others with like interests.  Networks are in many
ways dynamic electronic "Schelling" points (Schelling, 1960).  In The
Strategy of Conflict, Schelling developed the idea of natural and
constructed points that focus interactions, places that facilitate
connections with people interested in a participating in a common line
of action.  The clock at Grand Central Station is an example, as are
singles bars and market places.  Each is a space designated as a point
of congregation for people of like interests.  Networks enhance the
flexibility of Schelling points by radically altering the economies of
their production and use.  Members of these virtual social networks
frequently identify their groups (and groups of groups) as "virtual
communities".  The use of the term "virtual" may be confusing for
those who do not know its use within the computer literate community
where "virtual" is used to mean "in effect", a surrogate.  For
example, virtual memory is not memory in the conventional sense, it is
not composed of memory chips, but is instead the use of a hard drive
to simulate chip-based memory.  In the context of community, then, the
term is used to emphasize not the ersatz nature of the community but
rather that a seemingly non-existent medium is used to facilitate and
maintain one.  Virtual communities are communities "in effect".  The
use of the term "community" to describe these social formations may be
contested, but it is the argument of this paper that virtual
communities are indeed communities.

Virtual communities developed soon after the first computer networks
were created in the late 1960s.  But it was not until the wide
proliferation of microcomputers in the late 1970s that there were
enough computer owners to create collective organizations outside of
the defense and military establishment.  Often fairly small, many
groups used Bulletin Board Systems run as non-profit collective goods
to facilitate their interactions and exchanges.  In addition to local
non commercial or semi-commercial BBSs, large systems, used by tens of
thousands of individuals, most notably Compuserve, GEnie, Prodigy,
America On-line, and the WELL have been created and run for profit.
Despite the fact that both kinds of systems provide mostly the
exchange of unadorned text, users of these systems have come to feel
that they participate in a community that fulfills many of the roles
more commonly found in traditional face-to-face communities.
Interaction in virtual spaces share many of the characteristics of
"real" interaction, people discuss, argue, fight, reconcile, amuse,
and offend just as much and perhaps more in a virtual community.  But
virtual communities are also starkly different.  In a virtual
interaction nothing but words are normally exchanged.  Interaction
involves the creation of personality, nuance, identity and "self" with
only the tools of texts .  But the differences may not be as sharp as
they first seem, as Erving Goffman showed, real life too is an act of
authorship, of constant image management and careful presentation.
Face-to-face interaction is a rich canvass with which to paint, but it
is one loaded with the indelible "stigma" of social identities.  In a
virtual world participants are washed clean of the stigmata of their
real "selves" and are free to invent new ones to their tastes.  Escape
is not total, however, participants are revealed in virtual
communities, they "give off" as well as give signals as happens in
face-to-face interaction, but with a far more reliable mask.  This is
just one way in which virtual interaction and virtual communities
differ from "real" ones.

These differences do not necessarily exclude virtual communities from
the category of legitimate communities.  While interaction with a
virtual community is peculiar in many ways, this does not mean that
very familiar kinds of social interaction do not take place within
them.  Rather, it is the ways that common and familiar forms of
interaction are transplanted into and transformed by virtual spaces
that is of particular interest.

This paper offers a structured ethnographic account of the production
of collective goods in a virtual community, of the processes that
maintain those goods and the processes that block or disrupt such
production.  It is structured broadly by the theories of collective
action dilemmas and seeks to address some general theoretical claims
made by that school of theory.  I have let these theories direct my
ethnographic data collection and will use them to frame and analyze
that data.

Ethnographic data was drawn from a single virtual community, the Whole
Earth 'Lectronic Link (WELL).  The WELL is a relatively old virtual
community, established in 1986 by the Point Foundation.  The WELL is a
for-profit organization, access is billed at two dollars per hour.  It
is physically located in Sausalito, California and is composed of four
Sequent computers, an array of disk drives providing four gigabytes of
storage, and multiple telephone and Internet connections.  It is
currently used by over 6600 people located all over the world although
a large majority of the users live in the San Francisco Bay area .
The WELL is not the only virtual community, nor is it necessarily the
model for all the others that exist.  As a result the generalizability
of conclusions drawn from the WELL is not certain and comparative
analysis is certainly called for.  However, this is beyond the scope
of this paper.  Nonetheless, the WELL has pioneered and developed the
concepts and practices of community in a virtual space, making it a
useful starting point for an analysis of this phenomena.

I collected data by logging into the WELL from my personal computer,
using the UCLA connection to the Internet to connect me with the WELL.
Unlike face-to-face interaction, interaction through the WELL produces
a fairly durable artifact, indeed it could be argued that interaction
takes place through the construction of artifacts that are then made
publicly visible.  This allowed me to collect faithful records of
interactions among a wide variety of groups and over a large period of
time.  The artifactual remains  of interaction in the WELL go beyond
audio and video recordings of interactions in that no aspect of the
interaction is missed.  However, the subjective meanings that were
constructed in these interactions must reconstructed just like audio
and video records.

The WELL is structured by software called Picospan which organizes
interaction into a series of conferences which may have any number of
subordinate topics.  There are currently 223 public conferences open
to any user of the WELL, each of which may have anywhere from 1 to 500
or more sub-topics.  Data was collected by copying contributions to
public conferences to files that were then transferred back to my
personal computer for examination and analysis.  The WELL also offers
a variety of back-channels of communication.  Users may email one
another or open private conferences that are accessible only to those
who are invited by their owner.  The contents of email and private
conferences were not available to me.

To illustrate certain significant processes, I will present segments
of interactions that took place in the WELL.  I will set off materials
drawn from the WELL in the following manner:

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
# 57: Banter with a strange device (jrc)      Thu, Sep 17, '92  (15:38)       5

the key between "f" and "h" on my old keyboard broke, so I can't move
to any conferences. My new keyboard doesn't wanna work. I may commit
indecencies, but I'll have to do them ri'ht here.

I will always present the entire posting and have not edited any of
the contents.  However, posts are single turns in a much larger and
longer series of exchanges.  Due to the length of most topics, it is
necessary to lift particular posts out of their series and highlight
them.  In so doing I will attempt to summarize the context of the
posting as faithfully as possible.

In addition to reading and selecting posts from WELL conferences, I
engaged in a series of interviews with participants of various
interactions of particular interest.  Interviews were carried out
"on-line", that is through email or in a public conference.  Some
additional information was gathered through telephone conversations
with members of the WELL community.  In addition, I attended the
WELL's Summer Picnic, held in San Francisco on July 19, 1992, one of
the occasional face-to-face meetings organized by members of the WELL.
This meeting allowed me to gather information about the social status
of WELL members that could not easily be derived from contact via the
WELL itself.

Data was collected and examined in terms of its relevance to the
central theoretical assumptions and conclusions of collective action
theory.  In particular, I looked for examples of individuals being
encouraged to participate, the returns on participation, and the kinds
of disruptions that raise the question of monitoring and sanctioning
systems.  These aspects address the construction of commitment in the
virtual community and mechanisms that are enacted to maintain and
defend it against the endemic temptations that threaten to dissolve
the systems that maintain the collective goods produced in the WELL.
At each point, the unique character of virtual interaction will be
highlighted to illustrate the special challenges and opportunities of
this terrain.

This paper will proceed in three stages.  First, because many people
have as yet never experienced virtual spaces, I will provide a
description of the development of networks and systems like the WELL.
This description will be further elaborated in the following sections.
Next, I turn to the theories of community and collective action.
Finally, I will examine specific data drawn from the WELL in terms of
the theoretical framework developed in the preceding section.

The Structure of the WELL

The WELL is in many ways a single program called Picospan.  Written by
Marcus Watts in 1984 and since refined and embellished by many others,
Picospan constructs and maintains a hierarchy that sorts and
identifies messages created by its users (see appendix A for a
schematic diagram of the WELL).  As a result of its segmented
architecture, Picospan allows thousands of individual discussions to
progress simultaneously without loss of coherency or much limitation
on the activities of individual participants.  At the top most level
of the Picospan hierarchy are conferences, broad subject categories of
interest.  Conferences include subjects such as current events,
telecommunications, agriculture, erotica, philosophy, and over
two-hundred others at the time of this writing (see appendix B for a
list of all current conferences).  Picospan is noted for its
flexibility and openness to individual control.  While conferences can
be created only with special permission, any user, from the oldest
hand to the newest user, can create a new topic with the use of a
single, simple command.  This power allows interaction in the WELL to
share the phenomena in conversation whereby the topic shifts from
subject to subject.  The difference in Picospan is that more than one
subject may be maintained at one time: as new topics are spawned, new
"threads" are added to the conference while old conferences are
sometimes deleted or removed to an archive after a long period of
inactivity.  Within each conference there many be anywhere from one to
many hundred topics (see appendix C for a list of topics in the
"Virtual Communities" conference).  A topic is often more specific
than a conference.  All contributions to a conference are placed in
one topic or another at the discretion of the individual contributor.
A posting is an individual's contribution to a topic.  A posting can
be anywhere from zero to many hundreds of lines of text, although the
average posting is approximately eight-lines in length.  Individuals
post their contributions serially, following all other contributions
that have already been made to a topic.

A posting is always accompanied by a header generated by Picospan.  In
this sample posting:

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
#  3: Stephen David Fishman (sfish)      Tue, Sep 15, '92  (12:26)       2 lines

I have a Mac LC with a Seiko color monitor. All of a sudden the picture has
started shaking. What could be causing this? (It's very annoying.)

the top line identifies the number of the topic within its conference
.  This posting was drawn from the News conference, one of the oldest
and most heavily used conferences in the WELL.  Following the topic
number is the topic title.  Topics are given titles by their creators.
Any WELL user may create a new topic at any time in any public
conference using a single command.  The second line of the topic
header identifies the number of the posting in the topic.  Each
posting is added to the topic and numbered serially in chronological
order.  Following the posting number is the pseudonym, this is a line
of text that the poster may change to anything they want.  Often, as
in this case, the "pseud" is the full name of the poster, however this
is not always the case.  Many members change their pseudonym to
contain a nickname or some meta-commentary on their posts or the posts
of others.  For example,

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
#  4: Will Work for Pay (chuck3)      Tue, Sep 15, '92  (13:19)       1 line

The blow dryer.  (Or any squirrel-cage motor like that.)

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
#  7: Cosmic litterbox (darlis)      Tue, Sep 15, '92  (14:48)       2 lines

And -- this is silly, I know, but -- have you checked to be sure that all
the connectors are plugged in nice and tight?

The word in parentheses is the "userid", a unique identifier that is
stamped on every contribution the member makes in the WELL.  While the
pseudonym is modifiable by the member, the userid is not.  There have
been some cases in which member's changed their userid with the
cooperation of WELL management or by opening a new account, userids
remain a fairly stable marking.  Finally, the posting is time and date
stamped and the length of the posting noted.  The length is important
as a signal to the reader about how much of their attention this
posting will take.  Since there is virtually no limit on the length of
a posting, some members contribute hundreds of lines (either of their
own words or transcriptions from other sources).  WELL etiquette calls
for very long posts to be "hidden" although this does not happen as
often as some members claim it should.  Hidden posts display only the
header when read normally.  Members must explicitly request the
contents of a hidden post, allowing them to skip over long

Each conference is managed by a conference host, an individual or
small group that attends to the technical and social management of the
conference's contents.  Hosts encourage participation, guide the
discussions, and are sometimes deferred to in conflicts.  Hosts do
wield significant powers not available to non-host participants.
Hosts may exclude a member from access to their conference, may
"freeze" a topic (making additional contribution impossible), and
generally hold some moral authority as a result.  The WELL's guidebook
for hosts defines the powers of a host as:

The host of a conference has the right and power to censor responses,
freeze topics, retire topics and kill (delete) topics where he/she
sees fit.  The host of a conference also has the right to ban users
whom the host judges to be nuisances within his or her conference from
further participation in that conference.  This is a serious move and
should be discussed in the Backstage conference before being
undertaken.  For lack of other technical means, "banning" can be
enforced by censoring postings of the banned user.

However, the use of these powers by hosts is subject to extensive
informal social controls and are, as a result, rarely used without
careful consideration.  The issue of the powers weilded by hosts will
be addressed below.  Any member of the WELL may enter any public
conference and post a contribution to any topic.  In addition any user
may create new topics.  New topics are frequently generated but not
all attract attention.

Each member of the WELL has certain rights, some that are a product of
the architecture of the Picospan program and some that have been
developed and refined through many years of discussion and conflict.
Most central is the member's right to control the use of their
contributions.  The principle is identified by a phrase often used in
the WELL and posted at its main "entrance": "You Own Your Own Words"
(YOYOW) (Figure1.).

Type your userid or   newuser    to register
login: msmith
Last login: Mon Jun  1 11:57:26 from julia.math.ucla.
Copyright 1984 Sequent Computer Systems, Inc.

   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.

    For a recorded message with WELL System Status information call:
       1-800-326-8354    from within the 48 contiguous United States.

     **  The WELL will be off-line for BACKUPS, Wednesday, June 3
     **  from 4:30am PDT until approximately 09:00am PDT

         This is a schedule change from the previously announced
         downtime we had planned from 4 till 9 am Tuesday.


PicoSpan T3.3; designed by Marcus Watts
copyright 1984 NETI; licensed by Unicon Inc.
Figure 1. A sample WELL login screen.

This means that no other user, including hosts and staff, may alter
the words a member enters into the WELL.  Users may not edit their
words once posted, although they may delete them entirely through a
command known as "scribble".  These norms and restrictions are
intended to rule out revisionism, abuses of power and censorship.

The Character of Virtual Space
A virtual space has some generic qualities that distinguish it from
the space of face-to-face interactions.  In many ways virtual
communities are modern incarnations of the committees of
correspondence of the eighteenth and nineteenth century.  Like those
groups formed around the political and scientific interests of the
day, virtual communities are composed of groups brought together by a
common interest and separated by potentially great distance.  However,
unlike the committees, virtual communities are not limited by the
speed of man on horseback or even the steam engine, but are granted
near instantaneous communication by the speed of computers and data
networks.  The increased speed and the unique qualities and powers of
computer network based communication makes the dynamics of virtual
communities distinct from committees of correspondence.  The
differences in the medium of communication have effects on the kinds
of interactions that can take place and how the interactions that do
occur can progress and unfold.  For example, slow media that introduce
long delays into turn-taking reduces the interactively of an social
exchange and can lead to more cautious (and thus, perhaps, more
detailed and exact) messages.  Media can vary in terms of the
ambiguity they introduce to the messages passed through them.  Some
media provide a certain audience, that is the target of a message can
be selected without fear of additional surveillance.  If you do not
know who might be in the room it makes sense to watch what you say.
Further, some media prevent the identity of message creators to be
known with certainty if at all.  With so much variation in different
kinds of media it is not hard to imagine that their character alters
the kinds of messages that are sent through it, and, by extension, the
kinds of social action and interaction that will develop around it.
This is not technological determinism, but rather a solid materialism:
technologies change the fabric of the material world which in turn
changes the social world.  The terrain of interaction in virtual
communities is different in some powerful and subtle ways, some forms
of interaction translate well into a virtual space, others do not.  In
all cases, people are actively drawing upon their understanding of
interaction and improvising in the gaps, some of which are cavernous.

There are six aspects of virtual interaction that have a significant
impact on the kinds of interaction that can take place within them.
First, virtual interaction is aspatial, increasing distance does not
effect the kind of interactions possible.  As a result the economies
of copresence are superseded and assembly becomes possible for groups
spread widely across the planet.  This may have profound implications
on the organization of space; just as the telegraph enabled the
construction of the modern multi-national corporation by solving the
problem of control from a distance, virtual spaces may undermine the
economies that lead to the development of cities.  Indeed, there is a
growing movement for the relocation of many business activities to
rural areas.  This is made possible by the ease and economy of
electronic communication that makes any space as good as any other.
As a result criteria other than proximity can determine the selection
of sites for various activities.  Second, virtual interaction via
systems like the WELL is asynchronous.  While not all virtual
interaction is this way (notable exceptions include the IRC system and
the growing proliferation of MUDs ), conferencing systems and email do
allow interaction partners to participate in a staggered fashion.  One
person leaves a message and at some other time another reads and
responds to it.  This has a major impact on the coordination necessary
for the assembly of a group.  Face-to-face interaction requires a high
level of coordination since all participants must be copresent in both
time and space.  Conferencing systems, by contrast, allow people
separated by time zones, work schedules, and other activities to
interact with minimal coordination.  Despite the lack of immediate
interaction, the interactions created in many conferencing systems do
exhibit a high level of responsiveness and dynamism usually associated
with real-time interaction.

The current text-only nature of most virtual interaction leads to
another unique aspect: without copresence, participants are acorporal
to one another.  This may have profound implications since many of the
process of group formation and control involve either the application
or potential for application of force to the body.  In a virtual
space, there are no bodies.  As noted before, while the communications
"bandwidth"  of most communities is quite rich and capable of nuance
and fine texture through the use of communications devices like voice,
gesture, posture, dress, and a host of other symbol equipment, most
virtual communities allow their participants to signal each other only
through the use of text.

The absence of the body in virtual interactions might lead some to
dismiss the possibility of virtual community.  Indeed, interaction in
a virtual space has been described as "having your everything
amputated"   Rather than preclude the formation of community, however,
the effective absence of the body in virtual interaction
simultaneously highlights the role of the body in real-space while
liberating the individual from many of the restrictions inherent in
bodies.  And while telephone conversations are also acorporal, virtual
communities also have the capacity to facilitate the interaction of
large groups of people, far beyond telephone conferencing could
reasonably support.  Further, as noted above, because participants are
not limited to real-time interaction, the task of coordinating
interaction participants is greatly eased.  In addition, the qualities
of being aspatial and potentially asynchronous expands the pool of
potential participants of virtual communities beyond that of most
space-bound ones.  It is not uncommon to settle into a long and
satisfying discussion with someone who lives on a different continent
while in a virtual community.    But without the power of presence to
enforce sanctions and evoke communion, written and virtual communities
face unique challenges, a point I will take up again in this paper.

Closely related to the acorporeality of virtual interaction is its
limited "bandwidth" .  Most users of the WELL and other virtual
communities use computers equipped with telephone-line interfaces
(modems) that allow for the exchange of information at speeds of 2400
baud (bits-per-second) to 14,400 baud.  These speeds effectively limit
the quantity of data that can effectively be transmitted.  As a result
interaction in virtual communities remains firmly entrenched in a
text-only environment.  This has some interesting effects.  The first
is that virtual interaction is relatively astigmatic.  As Goffman used
the term, stigma are markings or behaviors that locate an individual
in a particular social status.  While many stigma can have negative
connotations, stigma also mark positively valued social status.
Without the ability to present ones self to others in virtual
interaction, many of the stigma associated with people are filtered
out.  Race, gender, age, body shape, and appearance, the most common
information we "give-off" to others in interaction, are absent in a
virtual space.  The result can be both positive and negative: the
information we give-off helps to coordinate social interaction,
identifies likely interaction partners, and may serve to minimize
conflict by identifying likely antagonisms.  Without such signals
additional work must be done to enable interaction and to signal
status and location to other potential interactants.  At the same
time, this limitation makes discrimination more difficult.  The result
may be that participants judge each other more on the "content of
their character" than any other status marking.

Finally, the preceding five characteristics combine to make virtual
interaction fairly anonymous.  This leads directly to issues of
identity in a virtual space.  In many virtual spaces anonymity is
complete.  Participants may change their names at will and no record
is kept connecting names with real-world identities.  Such anonymity
has been sought out by some participants in virtual interactions
because of its potential to liberate one from existing or enforced
identities.  However, many systems, including the WELL, have found
that complete anonymity leads to a lack of accountability.  As a
result, while all members of the WELL may alter a pseudonym that
accompanies each contribution the make, their userid  remains constant
and a unambiguous link to their identity.  However, even this fairly
rigorous identification system has limitations.  There is no guarantee
that a person acting under a particular userid is in fact that person
or is the kind of person they present themselves as.  The ambiguity of
identity has led some people to gender-switching, or to giving vent to
aspects of their personality they would otherwise keep under wraps.
Virtual sociopathy seems to strike a small but stable percentage of
participants in virtual interaction.  Nonetheless, identity does
remain in a virtual space.  Since the userid remains a constant in all
interactions, people often come to invest certain expectations and
evaluations in the user of that id.  It is possible to develop status
in a virtual community that works to prevent the participant from
acting in disruptive ways lest their status be revoked.

Figure2. Summary of defining characteristics of Virtual Communities.
The arrow denotes a derivative effect.

In this section I will examine some work that bears closely on the
development and dynamics of the WELL.  A significant body of theory
has developed to address the question of collective action and the
provision of collective goods but first I should note that there has
been some useful and high quality research on the role of electronic
communication in groups.  The effects of email on organizations has
been discussed by Zuboff (1988), Kerr and Hiltz (1982), and  Chesebro
and Bonsall (1989).  Generally, their studies have been limited to an
examination of email and their findings to the fact that electronic
communication alters the hierarchy of communication within
organizations, often resulting in shifts of power.  These works offer
some insight into virtual communities but suffer from one
short-coming: all concern themselves with organizations in which order
has been imposed by an external force.  Most of the email systems
studied have been inserted into existing institutional structures and
thus offer little insight into the emergence of new collectivities or
their maintenance through the use of electronic communication.  The
virtual community studied in this paper does not have an over-arching
institutional structure to explain why its members are present or to
offer an external source of power for imposing order on the
interactions found within themselves.

As a result, the central questions asked by theories of collective
action are underscored: how is order achieved and maintained in the
absence of external authority?  The common appeal to external
authority simply begs the question of order for two reasons.  First,
there is the empirical evidence of groups endogenously creating the
order they need to produce and consume the goods they need and want.
Second, appeals to external authority ignore the second order
cooperation necessary for the existence of the external authority.
Endogenous order is logically prior to exogenous order.

Theories of Communities and Collective Action
The term community is ambiguous.  It is used to describe groups that
range from neighbors to nations and levels of solidarity from the
personal to the professional.  Generically, a community can be
understood as a set of on-going social relations bound together by a
common interest or shared circumstance.  As a result, communities may
be intentional or unintentional, a community's participants may
purposely join together or be thrust into membership by circumstance.
Intentional communities are of particular interest because they raise
more questions about the reasons and causes for their emergence than
do unintentional ones.  Where unintentional communities are amenable
to structural explanations, economic, social, and political forces are
often directly evident, explaining intentional communities requires an
inquiry into the motives of its participants.

Despite the ease with which the term is used, there is no single
characteristic that easily defines what a community is or identifies a
particular social formation as a community without ambiguity.  The
level of solidarity evident in a community, for example, can vary
greatly and communities can often be competitive rather than
cooperative.  While the term community is often associated with the
notion of cooperation and collective contribution to a common good,
exclusive focus on this aspect of community obscures the fact that
communities, even those clearly engaged in the construction of
collective goods, are frequently marked by conflict and divisiveness.
Nonetheless, the presence of cooperative action is indeed a
distinguishing mark of communities; a community can be said to have
failed when it is no longer able to foster any cooperation among its

Network theory, by providing useful tools for the illustration of the
structure of communities, may be able to provide more exact
definitions of community in the form of particular geometries of
social networks.  Communities might be definable as a set of
overlapping networks of communication that remain stable for some
duration and, in their intentional form, are capable of acting
collectively towards a particular end.  Strong communities might be
marked by high levels of interconnectivity and frequent interaction
along those network connections.  By contrast, networks that are
arranged in severely hierarchical forms along the lines of a formal
organization do not fulfill one of the commonly held conditions of
community: while communities may certainly have governing bodies and
be stratified, they are not normally rigidly or formally structured.
The dynamism of a set of social interactions and the autonomy of their
participants may help distinguish a community from other otherwise
similar social groups.  Most importantly, a network model may be able
to empirically illustrate what may be the single defining
characteristic of a community: boundaries.  The kind of boundary that
defines a community is a major determinant of the kind of community,
intentional or not, that it contains.  An unintentional community can
be defined as one that has externally enforced boundaries.  The
process of membership in a community, therefore, may be an active or
passive one.

Often, definitions of community include the existence of commonly held
ideas, perceptions, and understandings.  For Michael Taylor (1987),
for example, "... community... mean[s] a group of people (i) who have
beliefs and values in common, (ii) whose relations are direct and
many-sided and (iii) who practice generalized as well as balanced
reciprocity."  (p. 23)  This definition has many strengths.  It opens
up the question of the relationship between intersubjectivity and
community, makes explicit the range and richness of interactions with
a community, and suggests a potentially powerful criteria of
evaluation.  The first element is not as simple as it may seem.  While
in many communities members do indeed share common cognitive
processes, ideological homogeneity is not a necessary condition of
community.  It may be entirely absent in unintentional communities and
only minimal in intentional ones.  Nonetheless, many communities are
marked by their commonly held and constructed ideologies and it can be
argued that widely held and accepted ideas that explain, justify and
compel continued individual contribution to a collective's projects
often pay a critical and decisive role in community formation and
survival.  Ideas matter and their role should not be dismissed or
ignored.  Nonetheless, capturing their effect with precision has been
a notoriously difficult task, it is easy to get lost down the long and
rocky road of cultural studies and ideological critique.  The process
whereby an individual comes to perceive and embrace an idea, and in so
doing accept or reject a line of action, touches upon the central
questions of consciousness.

Taylor's last point is of special importance.  The presence of
generalized as well as balanced reciprocity is further illustration of
the diversity of community relations, but I assume that Taylor places
special value on the presence of generalized reciprocity.  Since one
of the defining characteristics of community is its comparatively long
duration, and given the advantages of credit systems, communities are
often able to support systems of generalized reciprocity.
Essentially, communities may provide resources for the redress of
infractions and forfeitures of debts that might not otherwise be
redeemable.  Social pressure, from insult to incarceration, to make
good on all debts helps communities maintain the essential collective
good of trust.  The benefit of maintaining a generalized accounting
system (one that allows for credit and does not demand intensive
monitoring) is supported by experimental research (Kollock, 1992) in
which it was found that generalized accounting systems yield much
greater mutual benefit than tight systems that demanded in-kind
exchanges at all turns.

Towards a definition of community
Cooperation, communication, duration, stability, interconnectivity,
structure, boundaries, intersubjectivity, and generalized accounting
systems, however inexact, are all certainly characteristics of
community and at worst are useful guides to their identification and
evaluation.  Nonetheless, even the unanimous presence of each of these
characteristics does not ensure the success of a community.  I noted
earlier that a community could be considered a failure when it is
incapable of fostering any level of cooperation among its members.
Such a community is perhaps one in name only.  A successful community,
by contrast, is capable of directing individual action towards the
construction and maintenance of goods that could not be created by
individuals acting in isolation.  There are many familiar collective
goods; common pastures, air and watersheds, and fishing groups are
common examples.  But, despite the existence of many notable
exceptions, collective goods are difficult to maintain and are often
short lived.  The continued production and availability of any
collective good depends upon the existence of a sufficient  level of
commitment of the community's members and the application of
appropriate systems of monitoring and sanctioning.  But every
collective good is plagued by some form of a collective action
dilemma, a situation in which actions that are rational for individual
members of the collective are irrational, that is either less
beneficial or even tragic, when repeated across a collectivity.  At
each moment of their participation in the production of a collective
good individuals face the, sometimes latent, choice to commit to some
aspect of collective action or to defect from participating.  This
choice is framed by the fact that the reward for defection is often
greater than that for cooperation.  The result is a pervasive
temptation to escape the demands of collectives while remaining within
them in order to reap their rewards.  As a result, communities can be
fragile things.  Collectives must exercise two forms of power to
maintain their common goods, first, they must restrain and punish
individual actions that exploit or undermine collective goods through
monitoring and sanctioning, and second, maintain the commitment of
members to continued participation and contribution through rituals
and other practices that increase the individual's identification with
the group and acceptance of its demands.  Since neither form of power
is easily achieved or maintained a number of theories have developed
to identify and explain the reasons some communities are successful
and others fail.

The Elements of Successful Community
While there is fairly wide-spread agreement that these two forms of
power are the definitive elements of successful communities, there is
far less agreement as to how to create and most effectively wield
these forms of power.  Mancur Olson, for example, stresses the
importance of group size on its likelihood of success.  He argues that
size is inversely related to success, as a group grows the costs of
communication and coordination rise threatening the existence of the
collective.  This is an idea that has attracted a great deal of
criticism.  Michael Taylor (1987) argues that "Olson's first claim in
support of the "size" effect... is not necessarily true.  It holds
only where costs unavoidably increases with size or where there is
imperfect jointness or rivalness or both.  Most goods, however,
exhibit some divisibility, and most public goods interactions exhibit
some rivalness." (p. 11)  As a result, Taylor believes that "The size
effect that I think should be taken most seriously is the increased
difficulty of conditional cooperation in larger groups." (p.13)  Small
groups do possess a special quality that enables them to maintain
themselves with greater ease than larger groups.  In particular, small
groups are usually able to provide high levels of communication
between each member of the group while maintaining high levels of
surveillance of each members activities, especially his or her
contributions and withdrawals to and from the group's resources.  This
"small group effect"  is a powerful one, but it does not exclude or
even explain the possibility of successful large groups.  One
significant aspect of virtual communication may be the way in which it
alters the economies of communication and coordination, thus making it
possible for larger groups to "succeed" with less effort and

If size is not a necessary determinant of success, what is?  Rosabeth
Moss Kanter, Michael Taylor, Michael Hechter, and Peter Kollock have
various answers.  Each focuses on a somewhat different aspect of the
organization and practices a group employs to explain the group's
likely success or failure.  Briefly, Kanter focuses on the
construction of commitment, identifying three broad methods for its
construction.  Hechter provides a schematic of the steps necessary for
a good to be effectively produced.  Taylor looks at the kinds of goods
to be produced, revealing that the character of a good in many ways
controls the ease with which it and those who produce and consume it
may be controlled.  Kollock, in contrast, looks at the systems of
monitoring employed by members of a collective and the effect of
distortion on communication between members to identify methods which
reliably yield more productive arrangements.

The Construction of Commitment
The availability of communication is not alone sufficient for
successful organization.  Those paths of communication must be used to
engender commitment and to enforce compliance.  Kanter (1972) examines
intentional communities to identify the mechanisms by which they
maintained sufficient levels of commitment in each of their members.
She recognizes that particular material practices have
phenomenological impact.  Some, in particular circumstances, can have
the effect of generating in their subjects self-restraint and willing
contribution to the production of collective goods.  The general
presence of such inclinations is often referred to as solidarity.  But
Kanter does not suggest that communities survive by goodwill alone.
She notes that the presence of practices that enable surveillance and
effective control over pay-offs, both sanctions and rewards, are the
real foundation of successful communities and provides a short catalog
of commitment mechanisms that were present in the successful examples
of the intentional communities she surveys, where success is equated
with the longevity of the collective.  Success in her study is defined
as the survival of a group longer than one 25 year generation.  She
examines data on 30 examples of historical intentional "utopian"
communities that flourished in the United States from 1780 to 1860,
seeking in each indicators of the presence of particular strategies in
each category of commitment maintenance.  Successful communities
fostered attachment, dependence, and obedience through the reduction
of individual difference, the provision of a common risk and share of
collective goods, and the maintenance of distinct boundaries with
everything not in-group.

Kanter identifies three elements of the process of producing
individual commitment to a community, the cognitive, cathectic and
evaluative.  Cognitive processes involve the evaluation of potential
profits and costs of participation in a collective labor, cathectic
process entail the emotional and affective bonds created between
coparticipants in a collective labor, and evaluative process entail
the use and acceptance of the collective's standards of behavior.  A
collective's success, according to Kanter, is directly related to its
capacity to foster and maintain all three forms of connection between
the individual and the collectivity.

Kanter further divides cognitive mechanisms into sacrifices and
investments.  The former increases the "costs" of membership, while
the latter increases the benefits of continued membership.  All
collectives make use of strategies to manage these forms of
contribution.  But commitment mechanisms need not necessarily involve
the evaluations of cost and benefit implied in these above categories.
Cathectic commitment involves emotional attachments to relations
within the collective and are thus not directly dependent on the
continued return on the investment of participation.  Emotional
involvement in a collective takes two forms: renunciation and
communion.  The former highlights the abandonment or diminishment of
relations outside the collective, the latter highlights the process of
incorporating group identification into individual identity.
Communion involves the positive construction of affective solidarity.
Ritual practices, sometimes woven into productive practices, restate
and reassert the ideological principles that justify membership and
commitment.  Evaluative commitment involves the use and acceptance of
the collective's schema of interpretation of their behavior and the
behavior of others.  This inevitably involves moral judgments of
proper conduct and contribution. To the extent that a collective is
able to capture central elements of identity within group practices of
validated meanings, the individual is bound more closely and tightly
to the group.

Each of these processes takes place within the WELL, albeit with
modification.  The communities in Kanter's study are all face-to-face
communities of people who have an economic dependence upon one
another.  This condition does not hold in the WELL where its members
come together to satisfy needs and wants beyond their immediate
material survival.  Nonetheless, interactions within the WELL do
exhibit these processes and are perhaps more important there since no
physical coercion is possible.  The costs of membership in the WELL
are primarily money and time, the payoff useful knowledge and
membership in a collectivity.  Attachment is generated quite strongly
at times, creating a condition known as "Well Addiction" in which
members find themselves participating in the WELL to the exclusion of
other activities.  The generation of communion effects will be taken
up again below.

Economies of Commitment
Hechter (1988) develops this theme further.  He notes that monitoring
and sanctioning systems have their own economies and their relative
costs determine whether groups can bring them into use and to what
effect.  Furthermore, there are a number of steps that must be taken
before these mechanisms can be put into use.  First, there is the
entrepreneurial task of organizational design, or production rules,
the costs of which can be prohibitive.  Second, collective acceptance
of a particular production scheme must be achieved.  It is here that
conflicting interests and preferences complicate the process of
collective organization.  Third, the production rules must be
maintained.  Individual commitment must be maintained and defectors
identified and punishment applied.  This involves the problem of
assurance, the conviction that committed contribution to the
collective good will be reciprocated by all interaction partners.
Hechter argues for the necessity of formal rules and controls:
"Whatever its specific causes, sub-optimal production of the joint
good leads the group to unravel.  In order to attain optimal
production, formal controls that assure high levels of compliance with
production (and distribution) rules by monitoring and sanctioning
group members must be adopted." (p. 18)  The dilemma facing groups is
that such systems of organization are themselves collective goods
which must be produced and maintained:  "Yet since these controls are
themselves a collective-good, their establishment has been difficult
to explain from choice-theoretic premises." (p. 18)

The construction of formal systems of regulation has been repeatedly
avoided by the members of the WELL, a point that offers some evidence
critical of Hechter's argument.  Members of the WELL have diverse
backgrounds but seem to share an unwillingness to construct
regulations and formal sanctioning systems for their interactions.
Nonetheless, a number of collective goods continue to be produced as
will be noted below.

The Character of Collective Goods Michael Taylor's work (1987) expands
on Hechter's system by describing the kinds of collective
organizations that are possible and their relations to the goods they
seek to control.  He examines the type of goods groups can produce,
categorizing them on the basis of the type of boundaries that can be
placed around them and the manner in which they are produced and
consumed.  For example goods can be excludable or not.  An excludable
good offers the collective the power of denying access to anyone who
does not contribute to its production.  Goods can be rival or not:
some goods are diminished by their consumption: two people can not eat
the same bite of food.  Further, some forms of consumption reduce the
value of the remaining resource (for example adding pollution to a
stream.) But not all goods are rival and some are even strongly
anti-rival: information can in some cases be like this.  [Ex: the more
widely accurate knowledge of AIDS is distributed the more developed
the common good.  Further, a newspaper, once read, is not necessarily
diminished in value.]  Similarly, some goods are divisible: it is
possible to quantize the good, electrical power is an example, while
others are not, public safety while expressible in terms of a crime
rate is not easily decomposed into units of safety.  Some goods are
exhaustible and others renewable.  Fossil fuels are a primary example
of the former.  But many goods have rates of sustainable use,
fisheries, pasture land, and pools of credit can regenerate
themselves.  Nonetheless, even a renewable resource can be exhausted
by overuse.  Some goods require active production while others require
regulated access.  Resources are not only collectively drawn from but
also collectively contributed to.  A common pool resource  can be more
than physical resources like fish or pasture-land.  CPRs can also be
social organizations themselves.  Markets, judicial systems, and
communities are all common resources.  These kinds of resources have
the added element that they must be actively reconstructed, where fish
will remain in the sea whether they are fished or not, a judicial
system will not persist without the continued contribution of all of
its participants.  Further, institutions are just one form of a social
common pool resources.  The far less formal settings that enable
particular kinds of interaction are also common goods.

The goods produced and maintained in the WELL are primarily the
product of on-going discussions and the relationships that they enable
and embody.  In Taylor's schema, the WELL's goods are not very
excludable, the contents of public conferences are open to all
members.  However, the existence of backchannels of communication,
such as email, and private conferences, allow for some goods to be
excluded.  Indeed, private conferences, as a result of their enhanced
capacity to exclude access to some other group of members, are able to
produces certain goods that could not otherwise be generated.  For
example, private conferences often contain discussions of sensitive or
personal issues that rely upon a high level of trust between
co-participants.  But, whether public or private, the goods in the
WELL are not rival, increased use of the information generated by the
WELL, as is the case with many forms of information, does not diminish
its value.  Furthermore, the goods derived from the WELL are not very
quantizable, although access to the WELL is.  These qualities mean
that the WELL is faced with a difficult task as a result of the
qualities of the goods it produces.  Without control over the
boundaries surrounding goods, Taylor suggests, the likelihood of
continued successful production is diminished. An illustration of this
is offered below.

Accounting Systems and Misunderstandings
Kollock (1992) extends Taylor's examination of the nature of the
collective goods a group seeks to produce by including the
communications environment.  Some environments allow for easy
communication between members of a collective or partners in a trade.
In such cases individuals are able to express and display their
intentions, either to cooperate or defect, and thus may be able to
create a situation of assurance.  Once assured of cooperation, members
may themselves be more inclined to cooperate.  However, many
environments make such communication and display difficult or
ambiguous.  In cases where communication can not be relied upon
coordination and thus cooperation becomes more difficult.  This is
especially true when the criteria of sanctioning is rigid and
retaliatory.  In cases when a defection is met quickly with a
counter-defection, cooperation quickly dissolves.  However, when
defection is met with a more relaxed accounting system, cooperation is
more likely to be maintained.  This is especially true when
communication, and thus certainty that a partner did in fact defect,
is ambiguous and capable of generating "false positives".

Moving from a restricted to a general accounting system is by no means
an easy task.  At the very least it is necessary that someone take on
the entrepreneurial task of creating a more relaxed system and drawing
a significant number of members into acceptance of these rules.
Members often have strong grounds for refusing to cooperate,
especially if they do not believe that others will abide by the rules
or if there are outstanding "debts" they would be required to abandon.
Creating a sense of assurance, then, requires a great deal of work and
public demonstrations of acceptance.  The frequent disputes that
emerge in the WELL have led some people to believe that a more relaxed
accounting system is necessary and they have started topics to garner
public acceptance of the system:

Topic 104:  THE SLACK COMPACT: A General Custom to Replace Rules
#  1: My other account is on the Internet (boswell)      Wed, May 20, '92
(11:04)      32 lines

In the name of Gopod, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal
Users of the WELL, by the Grace of Gopod, of Internet, of PCConnect, of CPN
and PacBell e&.

Having undertaken for the Glory of Gopod, and Advancement of the Universal
Connectivity, and the Honour of our System and Virtual Community, to create
the finest telecommunications colony in Cyberspace; do by these presents,
solemnly and mutually in the Presence of Gopod and one of another, covenant
and combine ourselves together into a civil Body swearing to cut each other
slack at all times, IN ALL CONFERENCES SAVE ONE, and in all manner possible
for our better Ordering and the Preservation of Online Peace of Mind, and
Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact,
constitute, and frame, this solumn compact of the STATE OF SLACK, that it
shall enable us to respond in a forthright manner or to create topics as we
so choose  and yet recall that the GIVING OF SLACK shall be held to be the
state as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of
the WELL and all other systems that we shall inhabit; unto which we promise
all due submission and obedience.

In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at
the Month of May, in the Reign of our Sovereign Sysop, fig of Mill
Valley,Sausalito, and California Anno Domini, 1992.

While some members embraced this effort,

Topic 104:  THE SLACK COMPACT: A General Custom to Replace Rules
# 13: Andrew L. Alden (alden)      Wed, May 20, '92  (14:22)       5 lines

As the descendant of a signer of the Mayflower Compact, I am honored to
affix my name and userid herebelow to the document hereinabove and for now
and hereafter.

     Andrew L. Alden               alden

Topic 104:  THE SLACK COMPACT: A General Custom to Replace Rules
# 14: Frank Miles (fhm)      Wed, May 20, '92  (14:25)       1 line

Slack, yes, by all means.

others reacted with a significant amount of resistance:

Topic 104:  THE SLACK COMPACT: A General Custom to Replace Rules
#  6: set phasers on scribble (axon)      Wed, May 20, '92  (13:00)      11

very amusing, gerard.  you want to rip off my words and ship them to
the worldnet, you want to drag a cadre of filthy camp-followers
through my parlor, you want to build your online reputation on the
creativity and effort of brighter lights than yourself, and then you
want me to give you *slack*?

i've got your slack right here, pal.  go fuck yourself, wheelock.  and
the horse you rode in on.

The move to institute this compact, like many other calls for the
reform of behavior on the WELL, yielded no formal rules or clearly
developed set of new normative standards.  But by bringing the issue
into public discussion, it may have served to highlight the problem in
the minds of the members and provide some standard by which
evaluations of behavior will be made in the future.

Collective Goods in a Virtual Space Despite the lack of physical
contact and the minimal exchange of material goods between members of
virtual communities, a number of goods are produced and consumed.

Topic  29:  What does the Well *do* for users?
#  1: another user  (gail)      Sun, Nov 17, '91  (14:59)      25 lines

When I started, I wanted information.
Then I wanted to play and frolic... using my theater background.
Then I wanted to be sincere and contradictory and fully human.
Then I wanted interaction, brilliant intellectual syntheses and paradoxes
and great collaborative problem solving.
Then I wanted community.
Then I wanted inspired group improvisation with emotion, spirit and
analytical thought all permitted and appreciated.
Then I wanted not to get in anybody's way.
Then I wanted to be able to sit at an ascii conf. table or firecircle or
whatever and chime in whether I was agreeing or questioning, and to be
confident that if it wasn't important, my remarks would be properly ignored.

The best to me is personal epiphanies and clarifications of different world
views, and perhaps best when actually serendipitous...  but this is a matter
of taste and trust, I've just grown up with disdain for the synthetic, and
had to learn to question as well as honor that disdain.

I'm still here out of a mixture of gratitude and a kind of rash bravado taht
if there's no reason for this, I'll be able to tell, and I'll stop posting.

My doubts have to do with my lack of specific useful knowlege.

What keeps us here?

These goods can be categorized as various forms of capital.  Members
of the WELL produce two forms of capital in abundance, although not
every member of the community is able to make equal use of these
resources.  The first form of capital is social network capital, the
WELL expands the number of social relations available to an
individual.  This is also understood to be the primary mission of the
management and staff of the WELL:

Matisse Enzer - Tue 14 Apr 1992 in Topic 46:
WELL Customer Support Policy

The main thing that The WELL provides is a computer  conferencing
environment.  This is a place for people to meet each other and
exchange ideas and thoughts  in a conversational fashion.  After
access, our next priority is the maintainance of the conferencing
environment and helping people to use the basic features of that
environment: Reading conferences, Posting in conferences and Finding
material you are interested in.The main thing that The WELL provides
is a computer  conferencing environment.

Other organizations do this as well: churches, clubs, and associations
provide individuals with new contacts and expand their potential and
realized networks, but the WELL and other virtual communities provides
instant access to ongoing relationships with an even larger and more
diverse group of people than most face-to-face organizations provide.
Further, because virtual communities can rely on the structure of
computer software, individuals can quickly seek out and join groups
interested in exactly the same interests they hold.  While it is
impossible to pick up the phone and ask to be connected with a group
of people interested  in Jazz or comic books, or raising a child with
disabilities, that is exactly what virtual communities provide.  In
effect the segmented architecture of virtual communities can be
imagined as a vast convention with groups congregating around signs
that advertise their intended topic of discussion.  The result is a
kind of electronically maintained set of Schelling points, social
magnets for particular interests.  This is reflected in the statements
of members of the WELL who frequently cite access to other people as
one of the main purposes for their community:

Topic  28:  WELL's Mission Statement -- What Would it Be if it Existed?
#  1: Sharon Fisher (slf)      Mon, May  4, '92  (09:18)       2 lines

Bringing people in touch with each other, who might not otherwise meet, to
discuss all types of issues.

Topic  28:  WELL's Mission Statement -- What Would it Be if it Existed?
#  2: demontiki (jdevoto)      Mon, May  4, '92  (09:53)       3 lines

Providing ways to communicate.
Building communities.
Tying people into the world net.

Topic  28:  WELL's Mission Statement -- What Would it Be if it Existed?
#  6: Matisse Enzer (matisse)      Tue, May  5, '92  (19:26)      10 lines

Here's a "statement of core values" the staff came up with last July -
we felt that this was a good PRELUDE to a mission statement, but is
not a mission statement itself:

       The WELL's core values are building and maintaining
       RELIABLE, EXPANDING, COLLABORATIVE telecomputing systems
       that support and environment of stimulating conversation

Topic  28:  WELL's Mission Statement -- What Would it Be if it Existed?
# 42: Matisse Enzer (matisse)      Sat, May 16, '92  (15:51)       5 lines

The new version of the WELL brochure will say:


Topic  28:  WELL's Mission Statement -- What Would it Be if it Existed?
# 52: Larry Moss (lsm)      Wed, May 20, '92  (13:25)      12 lines

Ok, here's a sketch for a small piece of a statement:
 Bringing people together means more than just having them occupy the same
space at the same time.    In electronic communication, we find aspects of
*community* which are sometimes similar to, and somtimes different than,
the communities we are all part of.     For example,  politeness, anger, and
friendliness show up on the WELL, and by now there are norms (but not
hard-and-fast rules).   Also, the WELL tries to be a worldwide community
and still have a small-scale feel.  Part of our purpose is to
investigate "virtual community", to find out what works and what
doesn't.  As a self-conscious virtual community, we hope that our
experience will be useful in building others.

These networks established around particular subjects are themselves a
collective good, but they are also the foundation for two other goods,
knowledge capital and communion.  Other goods no doubt exist, but
these categories capture much of the goods the community produces.
The first is a feature of most communities but is especially
pronounced in the WELL and other virtual communities as a result of
the heavy presence of symbolic manipulators, a term for individuals
whose profession involves the creation, use, and modification of
representations.  The definition is clearly broad and perhaps does not
cut cleanly, there is a sense in which all humans are symbolic
manipulators, but the term seeks to highlight the fact that WELL
members are likely to be lawyers, teachers, musicians, programmers,
and writers.  They are typically professionals of one sort or another
who are at home with text and have a facility with ideas and their
manipulation.  As a result they are a population that is, perhaps,
more likely to value information and have a continuing demand for
unconventional information.

Topic  22:  Dealing With Strangeness
# 12: Not His Real Name (rbr)      Sun, Apr 26, '92  (15:32)       2 lines

Why would someone who didn't want to learn anything sign on to the WELL in
the first place?

For these people, the WELL serves as an information resource of a kind
that no collection of reference books can match.  In this "information
age", the problem many symbolic manipulators face is not a lack of
information but a glut.  Faced with vast quantities of information,
getting just the right piece can be a formidable task.  The WELL acts
as an organic knowledge filter; each of its thousands of users sift
through large amounts of  information, they often hold expertise on
one subject or another, and each can be drawn upon by others in the
community.  One of the most common phrases in the WELL is "Does
anybody know..."  This is best illustrated by a topic in the News
Conference entitled "Experts on the Well" which has the explicit
purpose of bringing the collective knowledge of the group to bear on
any individual's question or problem.

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
By: All The Fits That's News (phanson) on Mon, Sep 14, '92
	315 responses so far

    Continued from topic 1023 ... got a question or problem that only an
    expert can answer or solve?  Well, we got lots of experts right here
    on the WELL ... ask your question here, and watch the answers come
    rolling in ...

Questions range widely, from the technical:

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
#  3: Stephen David Fishman (sfish)      Tue, Sep 15, '92  (12:26)       2 lines

I have a Mac LC with a Seiko color monitor. All of a sudden the picture has
started shaking. What could be causing this? (It's very annoying.)

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
#  4: Will Work for Pay (chuck3)      Tue, Sep 15, '92  (13:19)       1 line

The blow dryer.  (Or any squirrel-cage motor like that.)

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
#  5: Call me Fishmeal (pk)      Tue, Sep 15, '92  (13:22)       1 line

An electric clock next to the monitor.

To the culinary,

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
# 15: Frag Botch (jpgordon)      Wed, Sep 16, '92  (10:49)       9 lines

Here's something that's been puzzling me for quite a while.

How is caviar removed from the sturgeon?
Now, obviously, the easy way is to kill the fish, yank out the eggs, end
of story. But that seems wasteful to me, since mama sturgeon could have
lots of years of caviar-making, so I wonder if some caviar is removed frothe
fish non-fatally?

Vegetarians who occasionally crave fisheggs want to know.

To the practical,

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
# 82: Steven Schiff (stevens)      Sun, Sep 20, '92  (22:17)       2 lines

Any Bay Area financial institutions that still offer free checking accounts,
no per-check charges, no minimum balance?

Replies are not guaranteed, however:

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
#157: Jordan S. Gruber (jordan)      Fri, Sep 25, '92  (17:13)       4 lines

I just wanted to say that this is the first time I've asked a serious
question of the "Experts" and felt like I've been totally blown off
by people who weren't very open, nice, or understanding.  You know who
you are.

In part this is due to the individual personalities of the members of the WELL:

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
#158: Howard Rheingold (hlr)      Fri, Sep 25, '92  (17:21)       1 line

He's a well-known asshole, Jordan. Don't let it throw you.

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
#160: Fewer Distractions (hudu)      Fri, Sep 25, '92  (19:04)       2 lines

Why struggle to answer a hard question when you can change the subject
instead?  It's the Expert Way.

Since in many cases the information passed up and back within the WELL
can have great value for the appropriate individual, the question that
comes to fore is why would anyone pay two dollars an hour to give away
valuable knowledge.  The answer does not lie within the technology: a
for-profit venture called the American Information Exchange (AMIX) was
founded in 1991 on the principle that information is a commodity that
should be exchanged for a fee.  Using the similar technologies as used
by the WELL, AMIX sells knowledge for prices that range from a dollar
to many thousands.  In contrast, the WELL operates on a kind of gift
economy.  The WELL offers a different good than monetary gain, it
offers status within a group.  Being knowledgeable in the WELL and
being free with your knowledge is a sure way to gain status, friends,
and visibility.  As with any community, the WELL's most effective
reward is recognition.  As a result visible reciprocity is a major
means of increasing status.  There is no requirement on the WELL that
answers be given however, or that members even read the Experts topic.
As a result, the topic must provide participants with some reason to
continue.  In the absence of tangible rewards, like payment, the
Experts topic relies on recognizing cooperative experts and
reasserting the purpose and order that should hold in the topic.  When
irritated, participants may act to disparage the topic or the
questioner.  Doing so calls the continued existence of the conference
into question:

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
#163: Mister Shotgun, exercising his rights (jeffreyp)      Fri, Sep 25, '92
(20:40)       1 line

Those who request free advice get what they pay for.

Reasserting the nature of the topic is often all that is necessary to regain its

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
#164: Howard Rheingold (hlr)      Fri, Sep 25, '92  (21:08)       3 lines

That hasn't been the spirit of this topic in the past. People have
often been able to get good answers here, along with all the
predictable smart-assery. I'd like to see that continue.

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
#166: Really Doddering Greying Dreadnaught (onezie)      Fri, Sep 25, '92
(21:56)       5 lines


It indeed has NOT been the spirit of this topic in the past. And
'twould be a real loss if jeffreyp's attitude prevailed in this
topic in the future.

Accusations of guilt provide a way of locating blame for a disruption, but they
do not return the topic to its
collaborative decorum.  Frequently, a call to solidarity and understanding does
the trick:

Topic 1050:  Experts On The WELL
#167: hope is an obligation (jdevoto)      Fri, Sep 25, '92  (22:39)       3

Well, sometimes no one knows the answer. When that happens, questioners
sometimes need to remember that answering is a gift, not a requirement,
and attitudinize accordingly. We all help in this topic when we can.

But failure to receive recognition for a contribution can be the source of some
irritation and disruption in a
discussion.  For example, in a topic about the extension of access to systems
like the WELL to low income
and other non-technical people a member of the WELL offered a pointer to a
system in operation in the
San Francisco area.  When another member gave credit for the pointer to a third
party, she was irritated
enough to create a new topic and post the following:

Topic  60:  What am I doing here?
#  1: Kathleen Creighton (casey)      Tue, Aug 11, '92  (22:39)      22 lines

Something I've posted in this conference has been (again) blatantly ignored.
This is the third or fourth time this happened *in this conference*.  It
happens to women all the time, but it's the first time that it's happened
systematically and repeatedly *to me*.

I don't understand what the problem is.

Perhaps I don't have any credibility in this field?  WELLbeings who've
been involved in telecomm issues on the WELL for some time know better.
In fact, it generally has not been old-timers who've been doing this to
me because they know that I have researched these issues in certain venues
for quite some time.

Perhaps it's because my user id isn't "hlr"?  Well, these are issues near
and dear to Howard's heart, but I know he's working his rear end off for
this book and like anyone else, he's having to *research*.  He didn't
wake up one morning knowing everything there is to know about this subject.

I could repeat my "credentials" (which I have to do occasionally) but I
have a feeling it wouldn't make any difference.

I will say this, though.  I'm sick to death of it.

The collected intelligence and memory to be found in virtual
communities has led some to speculate about their power to amplify
mental capacity and there is some evidence to support the idea: a
collective mind is a powerful force.  But participation and
contribution in such exchanges are not uniform or of equal quality.
The exchange of information in the WELL is a form of commodity, and as
with any valued good, it is not distributed equally.  However, while
not every question is or can be answered, once answered any member of
the WELL has equal access.  Most of the WELL is "public", it is
accessible to all users .

Despite the frequency with which WELL-members make use of their
community as an information resource, it is by no means limited to an
information market.  The kinds of relations maintained within the WELL
are diverse, as diverse, or nearly so, as found within a face-to-face
community.  While relations that depend on the copresence of bodies
are clearly impossible, this does not mean that relations within the
WELL are impersonal or dehumanized.  Far from it.  The third
collective good in the WELL is communion.  By this I mean to capture
the sense of membership that is found in more traditional communities.
Membership is, along with community, an ill defined term.  At minimum,
membership involves rights, obligations, and some modification of
identity. Communion also suggests a non-instrumental contact with the
group, an emotional bond.  But can people come to have emotional
attachments to one another without ever facing each other?  As the
history of romantic correspondence shows, the answer is emphatically
yes.  And this can be seen again in the WELL.  WELL-beings, or
WELL-ites, often turn to one another for more than information that
can be parlayed into other forms of capital.  Within the WELL people
turn to each other for support during crises and camaraderie during

Topic  29:  What does the Well *do* for users?
#  3: Woody Liswood (woody)      Tue, Nov 19, '91  (20:05)       4 lines

Because the WELL is my personal support group.  A place for ideas about what
I'm interested in, where everyone is equal, where ideas count more than
the person putting them forward, and besides, its fun.

A conference on the practical and the emotional challenges of
unemployment opened on the WELL at the beginning of this summer,
on-going discussions and grieving for the death of loved-ones
continue, and an on-line funeral followed the death of a prominent
WELL-member.  The capacity to organize and focus the energies of a
widely scattered group is one of the most powerful aspects of virtual
interaction, a power that is frequently applied to the emotional and
personal needs of members of the community:

Topic   9:  WELL as Collaborative Tool
# 79: Gail Williams (gail)      Thu, Oct  1, '92  (16:35)      12 lines

A collaboration for which the Well is a tool-to-make community is going on
in topic 401 in parenting.

Bunch of well folks got together to make bright colorful tie-dies lab coats
for lhary who's undergoing hospitalization for leukemia.  And they decided
to buy him a wall hanging as well, for the most colorful room on the floor.
People joined in online to raise trhe money for th egift.

Should anyone doubt for a moment that the tool can work wonders...  or want
to join in the support network, g parenting.

Obstacles to the provision of collective goods

For all the positive goods virtual communities like the WELL are able
to produce there are equally challenging obstacles to their continued
production.  The obstacles to the continued existence and development
of the WELL involve maintaining membership, expanding that membership,
socializing new members, maintaining the infrastructure of the
community (the computer's hardware and communications systems), and
dealing with the potentially disruptive actions of its members.  If
members find the cost of participation, for whatever reason, is too
great, and subsequently withdraw, the community and the goods it
produces will collapse.  Alternatively, if members find that they are
able to enjoy the benefits of the collective good without contributing
to its production, then, too, the community may collapse for want of
active participants.

Virtual communities are no exception to this dilemma.  The continued
existence of the web of social networks, upon which the other
collective goods are built, depends upon a number of factors.  First,
members must come to the WELL.  The WELL is a quintessential
intentional community.  Unlike communities that form as an accident of
place or circumstance, individuals must take a series of complex and
very intentional steps to go to the WELL.  It is unlikely that anyone
would arrive there even accidentally.  Therefore, individuals must
find something of value in the WELL.  Given the wide availability of
other virtual communities, this challenge is even greater: no borders
constrain nor does any personal influence or sanction compel
individuals to participate in the WELL.  Indeed, at $2/hour, a fairly
effective fence blocks casual access.  And while technical advantages
may draw some users to some systems, for example America On-line, a
competing information system, offers an elegant, appealing and
intuitive graphical interface to its community and its information
services, the WELL, by comparison, offers no windows, mouse support,
icons, or graphics, only pure ASCII .  The continued success of the
WELL can be explained only by the one thing that it has exclusively:
its members.  Individuals may not come to the WELL because of the
people who are already there (although personal referral is a common
route for newusers and the reputation of the WELL is widely known in
the on-line community) but they often stay (and leave) because of
them.  Many of the subjects discussed on the WELL (although not all)
can be found elsewhere, but the discussions often merely act as a
structure around which lasting relationships are built.

Population Pressures While attracting members is a significant task
for communities, retaining members and socializing new members is even
more so.  Currently the WELL is undergoing a massive immigration.  As
the population of computer-literate people who have access to
telecommunications resources has grown, so has the size of the WELL.
Starting with a mere 150 users in 1985, the WELL grew to 1,500 users
by 1987, 3,000 users by 1989, and has exploded to over 6,000 members
currently.  The recent connection of the WELL to the much larger
Internet promises to bring even more newusers into the community.
Currently 300 newusers signon each month.  However, population
pressures have transformed what was once a small village into a
burgeoning town on the verge of becoming a city.  The change has not
thrilled some members who have decided to leave the community.  About
150 users signoff the system each month, although it is not clear how
many do so because of growth nor how many are old versus recent users.
The result is a net growth of 150 users.

Despite the influx of new users, most users of the WELL do not
actively participate in its construction.  Recent statistical analysis
shows that 50% of all postings in the WELL are generated by 1%, some
seventy people, from the larger 7000 person population.

Topic 880:  WELL posting stats
#100: Jim Rutt (jimrutt)      Tue, May 26, '92  (08:23)      13 lines

Well Posting has gotten a little bit more concentrated since January 1991:

                          Top N% of WELL subscribers produced
   % of total postings        January 1991    May 1992

        50			  1              1
        80			  4              3.3
        90			  6.5           5.8
        95			10              8.5
        99			16            15.4

Members who do not post (commonly referred to as "Lurkers") do help
support the community.  Access to the WELL requires payment and even
inactive use of the WELL helps maintain it.  However, the WELL has
suffered to some extent because of the limited participation and steps
have been taken to expand member's activity.  However, these efforts
have not had any great effect on participation.

Transgressions and Sanctions Much research on violations of community
standards stresses the importance of sanctions.  In these works,
sanctions are seen as a form of boundary, a fundamental condition of
successful communities and collective goods.  Sanctions are necessary
to lock out transgressing members from the good they are disturbing.
This has been a particularly difficult task for the WELL because of
its ideological tenets.  Virtual communities, however, have a number
of technically facilitated tools at their disposal to provide various
kinds of sanctions.  Members of the community can be denied their
right to enter the community, either temporarily or permanently.
However, the same individual might be able to enter the community
using a different identity.  The value of virtual identities
(sometimes referred to as on-line persona) provide some restraint on
this practice while always offering the possibility of new-beginnings.
Alternatively, a member may be denied the right to continue to
contribute to the community, their ability to write to the discussion
can be cut-off.  However, since continued contribution is actually the
good being produced, doing so can be counter-productive.  As a
temporary sanction however, this can be useful.  In addition,
humiliating stigma can be added to the user's identifying markings, or
a public repudiation of their activities can be made.  Each of these
techniques is unilateral, the owners/operators/governing bodies of
virtual communities can decide to enact any of these sanctions without
regard to the actions of their subject.  By comparison, public
apologies require some cooperation.

Since continued participation in the various discussions that make up
the WELL is the main form of contribution individuals make to the
collective (in addition to their hourly fee and, in some cases,
technical and administrative contributions) the right of individuals
to remove or withdraw their contribution is of central concern to the
collective.  The WELL's policy concern contributions has been worked
out through a long and intense process.  The resulting policy is that
the WELL recognizes the ownership of all contributions by their
contributor.  This policy is often referred to as YOYOW (You own your
own words).  The YOYOW policy has resolved many problems that face
virtual communities, especially concerning the quotation of
contributions found in the WELL in outside services or publications.
The YOYOW policy encourages continued contribution by protecting and
retaining all external uses to their contributor.  The policy
contrasts starkly with that of other, often larger, commercial
services, such as Prodigy and Compuserve, which claim ownership of all
contributions made within their systems.

The YOYOW policy is extended in private conferences.  A private
conference is an option open to all members of the WELL.  On request a
member can create a conference that is both invisible and inaccessible
to all other users unless they are informed of its existence and
invited to participate.  There are a number of private conferences on
the WELL, and the number has grown recently as the influx of newusers
has created a strain on the public conferences.  This strain is
related to the problems of socializing newusers to the history and
norms of interaction in the WELL.  Private conferences are used as a
kind of "virtual suburbs" where old users can relax with other
hand-picked members.  Private conferences are used for other reasons
as well.  The Men on the WELL and Women on the WELL conferences
require permission to enter them from their hosts.  This is intended
to screen out all members of the opposite gender from participation.
In addition there are a number of private conferences geared to the
discussion of sensitive issues.  For example, private conferences
exist for the discussion of sexual abuse and substance dependency,
although these by no means exhaust the topics of private conferences.

A widely held norm coupled with technical limits to access form the
boundaries of private conferences.  No one who has not been added to a
special list (called a ".ulist") can access a private conference and
participants to such conferences are granted access on the basis of
their willingness not to discuss or repost messages exchanged within
private conferences.  These restrictions are important for private
conferences to engender a sufficient level of trust to allow
participants to express otherwise embarrassing or sensitive or just
personal information to one another.  Therefore, it makes sense that
violations of this trust are grounds for the application of sanctions.
However, as the following case illustrates, the WELL has been
unwilling to implement formal sanctioning systems.  This has led to a
number of problems.

Some background is necessary to illustrate this case.  Over the past
year the WELL has suffered from a series of technical problems.  As
the membership of the WELL has expanded the hardware and staff needed
to maintain it have been strained beyond their limit.   The result is
frequent system crashes which make the WELL inaccessible to all users,
sometimes for an extended period of time.  The frequency of these
service failures has generated a substantial amount of irritation and
criticism and led some of the most frequent users of the WELL to be
concerned about its future.  A group of concerned members, a
significant number of which were hosts of various conferences, created
a private conference to discuss the future of the WELL.  Proposals
were put forth about the potential need to resite the WELL community,
either on another system like GEnie, or in a new set of hardware owned
and operated by the hosts themselves.  This discussion at times became
heated and confrontational.  Given the importance of the topic, some
members suggested that a private conference was an inappropriate forum
for the discussion.  It was decided that more people be invited to
participate in the existing private conference and that it would then
be made public.  However, because of the kinds of heated contributions
to this conference, the group decided that the existing conference
would be deleted and a new public one created in its place.  However,
prior to its deletion, one of the participants copied the entire
conference to a file in his personal directory.  While it was stored
there another user was able to copy the file to his directory.   He
then proceeded to email a number of members of the WELL who had not be
party to the private conference alerting them to the existence and
contents of this file.  This transgression was quickly discovered and
a new topic was created to discuss the infraction.  The topic revealed
that there was consensus that a norm or rule of the WELL had been

policy.111.29: Cliff Figallo (fig)  Mon 22 Jun 92 12:07

I was informed of this episode on Saturday.  I chose not to take any action
since to begin using root privilege at this point to delete files contained
in a user's home directory is not the sort of precedent I want to set in my
last month here.

I will say, though, that on the face of it, making private conference
material publicly readable is unethical given our understing of the nature
of private communication in this medium.  We all know that people will say
things privately that they would not say publicly.  We all know that to dash
the expectations of privacy ruins trust not only in the system but in each
other.  We have a loose system here because we want it to be that way.  We
could all move to other more secure commercial systems if security was our
main concern.  But we have to be able to trust each other to some extent to
have what the WELL has.

If the perpetrator feels betrayed by the existence or methods of the
Backroom conference, that is one thing.  To hold private discussions hostage
as a sort of punishment is not the way to make things right.

But while private conferences are recognized as private, there exists no formal
sanction for transgression
of this norm.  Given the potentially sensitive nature of any private conference,
a number of users called for
a sanction to be applied to the offending member.

policy.111.32: Kim L. Serkes (kls)  Mon 22 Jun 92 12:16

Cliff slipped in...

And the question still is: how do we deal with someone who's committing
such a grave breach of our ethical standards?

It's clearly wrong, the violation is clearly willful.  Suspend the account,

Suspension of the user's account is functionally equivalent to excommunication
and is the most serious
sanction available to the WELL.  Perhaps for that reason and the WELL's
libertarian  philosophy, it is
also the least commonly imposed.  In the history of the WELL only two people
have been banished and
then only after extensive and long-term disruptive behavior.  However, the
appeal to norms without
sanctions was recognized as a problematic solution:

policy.111.39: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl)  Mon 22 Jun 92 12:59

> As long as private conference hosts make it clear that copying the private
> material outside of the conference is verboten, we should have no problems.

But at the moment we do have a rather serious problem, and it's not so
much the specific act as what the response should be. I'm not sure that
suspension is the answer, but if there's a serious breach, there should
be a consequence. Determining the consequence is going to be tough if
work case by case according to context, perhaps what we really need
is a set of rules and a clearly stated sanction for particular breachers:
e.g.: if you port private conference material to a public forum without
permission, the result will be [fill in the blank, I'm not good at

policy.111.43: Kim L. Serkes (kls)  Mon 22 Jun 92 13:26

Damn right, Scott!

The stolen files are copies of material that the present holder was never
intended to see.  The topics were removed from the conference before this
person was added to the ulist.  This person has no right to the material.
This person has no right to make the material public, as was done several
times over the weekend by posting it.
Further, this person has not merely _failed_ to preserve the privacy of
this material, but has actively made it available to others, and to any
curious person who knows where to look.

I feel that when there is an egregious violation such as this, the WELL has
a duty to take action.

While some blame may attach to the person who originally copied the files,
that was simple (near unto simple-minded, but let the pern who hasn't
locked himself out of his own WELL account cast the first synapse...)
negligence.  The present holder of those files is acting with evident
malice.  Since this is persistent and wilful, and since other, innocent
parties, are being harmed, compulsion is called for.

This is an example of what Hechter identified as the first step of the
organization necessary for the creation of a collective goods
producing organization: the entrepreneurial construction of rules and
a system to enforce them.  However, Hechter assumes that this process
must be successful for a collective to continue to produce their
goods.  The members and management of the WELL show a strong
reluctance to produce such formal controls, despite the fact that
transgressions of this norm do threaten the collective good.

policy.111.51: Howard Rheingold (hlr)  Mon 22 Jun 92 17:41

I think Cliff's caution is well-founded. Do we REALLY want to give the
WELL the power -- and the responsibility -- to police what people keep
in their private file areas?

We could solve some problems by encrypting private conferences, but
who has the responsibility to prevent members of the conference, who
legitimately have the decryption keys, from printing out the plaintext
and leaving it on their desks? Either physically or virtually?

I don't think that rules are going to cover this. Trust has to be a
norm, not a rule. And communities need to be informed when there are
untrustworthy people about.

And I don't think we are ever going to achieve the kind of privacy
we thought was possible here before the duck incident. Clearly, he is
an example of the kind of person who strongly believes that the ends
justify the means. You can't stop people like that. You can, however,
let it be known that you have reason not to trust them. Ultimately, I
think that's our only recourse.

Nonetheless, some members of the WELL felt strongly that a already existent rule
or norm had been
violated and demanded formal sanctioning from the management of the WELL, the
only agent with the
power to deny member's access to the community.

policy.111.55: Bob Ulius (rebop)  Mon 22 Jun 92 19:30

What kls said. Exactly.

Either distributing contents of a private conference is wrong, or it isn't.
Either posting private email is wrong, or it isn't. I tend to think both go
against what the majority of users here would like to see. And if true,
someone needs to do more than ignore transgressors. Like jstraw, I believe,
said above, without any rules and teeth here we have a field day.

Faced with the possibility that WELL management would not impose a sanction,
members turned to forms
of  sanctioning that were within their control:

policy.111.62: Andrew L. Alden (alden)  Mon 22 Jun 92 20:54

Why don't we do what we did to whats-his-name who lifted some gab from
politics and posted it elsewhere without permission?  That is, expose him to
full public opprobrium.  Isn't anyone ready to name names and use our only

policy.111.63: Michael Newman (jstraw)  Mon 22 Jun 92 21:15

that was a public conf

if TPTB , who offer private confs as part of this system's service are not
willing to create an enforce a rule that simply states "distribute the
contents of a private conf and you're outta here" then they are gutless in
the extreme

this isn't such a case specific incedent, allowing duck to get away with
this calls into question the viability of all private confs

there is only one way to counter the scenario in Scotts #42

I think the hosts of any private conf duck is on the ulist of should
boot him at once

The topic quickly polarized along the lines of formal - informal
sanctions.  Those who supported the idea of informal sanctions argued
in part that the media in which their interactions took place ruled
out the possibility of effective sanctions, at least in part because
the variety of transgressions could not be codified sufficiently to
allow for a just application of sanctions.

policy.111.65: pseud (hank)  Mon 22 Jun 92 21:28

I feel about as uninvolved in this as it's possible to get, for a
longtime WELL user/host -- I wasn't aware of or invited to the
private conf, nor sent any copies or pointers to files, nor even
reading often enough to see much of what`s been posted and scribbled.

It seems to me to be yet another iteration of the old old WELL
argument -- do we want rules, and thereby create a higher power
than ourselves responsible to enforce them, or can we use this
tool to become neighbors if not friends?

In real neighborhoods people chop down one another's trees, drain
stormwater into one another's basements, ding one another`s cars,
break one another's windows, keep one another up all night or early
in the morning ... how is this different?  Do we call the cops every time?

Seems to me the people who didn't invite me to get all upset about this
in the first place did me an honor.  I recommend scolding, tsking, and
relaxing about the whole thing -- and that people with private conferences
forbid any copying of material by anyone, member or not, of the material
if they want control of it and think they can somehow, someway enforce that.
I don`t see any hope of such control working in cyberspace, and think we
may have to get used to it or be supplanted by people who don't freak out
when it happens.

Through backchannels of communication (email) the management of the
WELL contacted the offender and encouraged him to delete the illicit
files.   While it is not clear what forms of sanction had an effect,
the offender left the system of his own accord within a week of the
discovery of his actions.  In the process, he deleted many of his
contributions to the WELL.

policy.111.230: Michael Newman (jstraw)  Tue 30 Jun 92 06:56

duck has deleted almost all of his directory

policy.111.233: Pete Hanson (phanson)  Tue 30 Jun 92 11:54

He also hasn't logged in since Jun 24.

Following his departure the discussion continued with some members expressing
regret at his absence and
others partially satisfied but still calling for formal rules and sanctions.

Fundamental to any community is the maintenance of a decorum that
encourages the continued membership and participation of all
participants.  If some members become hostile, abusive, or visibly
violate the system of reciprocity, other members may become reluctant
to continue to participate.  The problem exists in the WELL as much as
in physical communities, perhaps more so for its acorporeality.
Without the threat of physical sanction, some participants in the WELL
find that they are more free to vent their frustrations or give free
reign to their more hostile inclinations by attacking, mocking, or
disrupting conversations and interactions.  In some cases this can be
tolerated within institutional bounds.  The WELL, as most other
virtual communities, has special locations for "flaming", the term
used to describe excessively aggressive or abusive interactions.  Some
sections are marked as "free-fire" zones where people interact at
their own peril.  Surprisingly, these areas attract a great deal of
attention and participation.  A problem arises when such behavior
occurs in unmarked areas.  Inappropriate behavior has been the source
of much discussion and conflict in the WELL where the community has
been founded on principles of maximum individual freedom.

Part of the problem is that boundaries remain somewhat undefined in
the community and in most cases are not backed by publicly recognized
norms or sanctions.  This is especially problematic when the
collective goods produced require the maintenance of a decorum that
encourages continued contribution.  Since most of the goods produced
in the WELL are generated through a process of discussion, maintaining
the tone of discussion becomes a major requirement for the continued
success of the collective.  This is problematic for a number of
reasons.  Discussions are fragile things.  They are susceptible to
disruption from misinterpreted messages, from a failure to stay on
topic, and from interruption.  Furthermore, disruption can be highly
context dependent.  The WELL has a number of conferences, most notably
the Weird conference, in which no rules of order are claimed to exist.
This makes Weird a particularly rough-and-tumble place in the WELL.
Character assignation, ridicule, parody, and invective are common
features of discussion in Weird.  However, so long as this behavior
remained bounded by the limits of the conference, the content of Weird
did not often interfere with the interactions found in other

However, early this summer, a group of Weird members invaded a
conference entitled Misc.  While Misc shares the somewhat unfocused
nature of Weird, it is not intended to be as confrontational.  Members
of Weird added new topics to the conference that had no relevance to
the flow of the discussion so far and added new posts to existing
topics that sought to derail the flow of the topic.  The raid
immediately generated a new topic to discuss the policy about
conference disruptions.  As is common for incidents like this one in
the WELL, the discussion quickly polarized between those calling for
the creation of new rules and those who wanted to keep conflict
resolution in the realm of informal sanctions.

Topic  99:  Policy regarding deliberate disruption of conferences
#  1: Kim L. Serkes (kls)      Tue, Apr 21, '92  (13:34)      23 lines

I'm opening this with an (edited) repost of a response from hosts, my
apologies to those who read it there.

I, for one, want to get the message across that other people have different
goals and visions of what can be done here, that you cannot disrespect them
and disrupt their pursuit of those goals.

The space addressed by  "g weird" is, practically speaking, infinite.  If the
shape of that space doesn't suit what you want to do, you can create another.
But attacking, to use Boswell's own metaphor, someone else's space is not

There are no limits on what you can do in "weird."  There are limits
on what can be done in other conferences.  The fact that some people want
to spend their (online) lives in free-fall, that they (claim) to have
dissolved their egos and don't care about anything, doesn't affect the
fact that others want to spend some time in a space where up and down
are defined, where there is gravity, where boundaries exist.

I believe that it should be established that the hosts and users of a
conference have a reasonable expectation that they will not be subjected
to intentional disruption.

While at first glance it seems that such rules are essential for the continued
existence of order in the
community, the problems of monitoring and enforcement of such rules are
significant.  Because the
WELL is constructed out of symbolic messages, it is subject to the same problems
as the task of defining

Topic  99:  Policy regarding deliberate disruption of conferences
#  2: Cliff Figallo (fig)      Tue, Apr 21, '92  (13:42)      16 lines

How do you define a "deliberate disruption of conferences"?
If someone has a good train of conversation going in a topic and
another user deliberately changes the subject or pronounces the
topic "bogus" or "assinine", would that qualify?  Would a Reagan
Republican entering the Environment conference qualify?  What if
the Weird Raid had been less gross but was nevertheless planned to
subtley drift every topic in another direction?

How was the Weird Raid of more consequence than the sum total of
certain individuals' disruptive effects on other individuals' posts
spread out through many conferences over time?  Do conferences have
more rights than individuals?

I'm just pointing out here that formal enforcement is, once again,
full of pitfalls and could lead to unwanted results in the wrong

Nonetheless, there is reason to accept that disruption is a problem for the
community and that the lack of
protections or recourse creates limits on the kinds of interaction possible in
the WELL:

Topic  99:  Policy regarding deliberate disruption of conferences
#  7: Kim L. Serkes (kls)      Tue, Apr 21, '92  (16:00)      29 lines

Fig's points are good ones, of course.  Those concerns are the reason
that I'm not trying to codify what constitutes "disruption," but to
leave those questions open.  I think that a gang descending on a conference
and posting off-topic or hostile responses in many topics constitutes
disruption.  A lone nut (to coin a phrase) zapping through a conference
doing the same thing would be distruptive, too.

The thought in my mind, as I started this topic, was not to "legislate"
a precise definition of "disruptive," but to discuss whether such is
an acceptable part of life on the WELL.

I don't think that an _a priori_ definition is essential to the discussion.
Conduct that would be disruptive in one conference might be acceptable in
another.  The question comes down to, in my view, is there any point to
having defined conferences, with hosts and users allowed to shape them,
or is the WELL a place where anyone can do anything, anywhere, any time?

Of course, this discussion is formed in the context of the present incident.
I believe that what happened in Misc would be regarded as disruptive in
any conference, at any time.  The perpetrators admit that their intent
was disruption.  It might stand as an example of disruption, not to
exclude less serious incidents, or ignore the possibility of more serious ones.

Likewise, I don't want this to be a "trial," or to be a forum calling for
imposition of sanctions.  That can be dealt with on a case by case basis,
as it should be.

The motive here is to determine what the underlying principle is, to attempt
to indicate in a general way what's expected.

Despite such arguments, the WELL is very reluctant to impose rules.  However,
they may be reason to
believe that informal sanctions do work:

Topic  99:  Policy regarding deliberate disruption of conferences
# 10: Jeanne DeVoto (jdevoto)      Tue, Apr 21, '92  (16:06)       6 lines

Well, it seems to me that the underlying principle is that you shouldn't
fuck around with what other people are trying to do unless the entertainment
and/or educational value outweighs the annoyance and disruption.

This is not something that should require a policy statement; it should be
intuitively obvious to anyone with enough of a forebrain to learn to type.

Topic  99:  Policy regarding deliberate disruption of conferences
# 11: Howard Rheingold (hlr)      Tue, Apr 21, '92  (16:17)       8 lines

It seems that way, doesn't it? I wonder why it isn't?

I think there is a strong temptation to blow off steam here, whether
it is in a mean-spirited, cranky, or fun-loving way.

I think the way norms are enforced are by endless braindeadening,
increasingly hostile discussion. The punishment for transgressions is
to have it expand to fill your attention.

Nonetheless, this incident resulting in no formal rules or consensus
on informal rules.  The WELL remains subject to these disruptions.

These episodes illustrate some of the problems facing a virtual
community.  First, many of the kinds of actions that are considered to
be violations are only defined after the fact:  too much of the
environment is new and many actions can not be predicted.  Second, the
range of sanctions available to the community are not fine-grained
enough to deal with minor infractions.  Banishment, either from a
conference or from the WELL as a whole is the only punitive sanction
available and is often considered to be too severe for most
transgressions.  Informal sanctions in the form of ridicule, diatribe,
and denunciation do have an effect but while they are capable of
punishing offenders they are not very effective means to resolving
conflicts.  The WELL is armed with tools of repressive sanctions but
not well stocked with restitutive sanctions.  In part this is due to
the nature of the media.  In the transgression in question, the files
that were "stolen" could have been stored anywhere on the system.  To
locate every copy would require that the management of the WELL scan
every file it has stored.  While technically feasible, this line of
action is considered to violate the privacy of the community's members
and is not a sure method of recovering all the copies of the files
since it is possible to store them in a completely different system
with little effort.

The absence of a formal conflict resolution systems leaves the WELL
vulnerable to the inevitable clashes that emerge between its members
and the discovery of new ways to violate community norms.
Nonetheless, the existing system seems to provide adequate resolution:

" ` I mentioned that the WELL had a method of online dispute
resolution which did not involve throwing people off the system,'
Kapor  said. 'I didn't mention that this works by endless rehashing of
issues intermixed with invective until everyone is too tired to go
on.' ("Socialising in Cyberspace",  New Scientist, 16 May 1992)

While this form of resolution through exhaustion can be said to work
to a certain extent (the WELL continues to exist and grow) it is not
the optimal form of organization.  The conflict resulted in the
departure of a regular and active member of the community and with him
the withdrawal of his frequent contributions to the collective goods
produced in the WELL.  But, as Mancur Olson noted, the potential for a
more efficient form of organization does not mean that such a form
will be instituted.  It has been argued in the WELL that formal rules
are inappropriate to the medium in which the WELL exists.  With the
nearly limitless (un)real estate of cyberspace at their disposal it
makes no sense to regulate behavior and impose limits on what remains
a nascent form of interaction.  Nonethless, as these examples make
clear, challenges await those who wish to settle this terrain.

The most interesting questions about virtual spaces are not directly
related to technology.  Despite the intimate relationship between the
tools and the actions built from or with those tools, it is the social
understanding of a tool that determines its use.  The distinction
between tools and their use is sometimes not apparent, when tools
become complex, and their name shifts to technology, the role of
social interaction is often overlooked.  The result is technological
determinism, an unwarranted focus on the tool in place of its user.
Therefore, it is important to locate a discussion and study of the
ways in which new tools create new terrain for social interaction in
the realm of social knowledge and interaction.  Despite the unique
qualities of the social spaces to be found in virtual worlds, people
do not enter new terrains empty-handed.  We carry with us the
sum-total of our experience and expectations generated in more
familiar social spaces.  No matter how revolutionary the technology,
our use of virtual spaces is evolutionary.  The point of greatest
interest, then, is that at which an old expectation collides with a
new material force and new social structures are born through
improvisation and negotiation.  The medium is not the message, but it
does shape and channel the kinds of messages it carries.
 But when a medium is very flexible and capable of some complexity,
the ways in which a medium effects its contents can become less fixed.
New technologies are sites of rapid creation, the event horizon of the
social.  Furthermore, the act of creation is rarely an individual one,
without a collective effort the task of creation is often an
overwhelming task.

Suggestions for Future Research
There has been so little research on virtual interaction that much
basic work remains to be done.  First, no census of virtual
communities has taken place nor have there been any analyses of usage
patterns or growth.  Virtual communities offer unique opportunities
for generating and collecting data on social interaction.  The
amenability of computer systems to searching, relating, and collecting
data on processes they manage means that greater empirical rigor can
be ensured in all forms of studies.  However, it also raises some
important ethical questions that connect social science research to
the ethical and moral debates in the computer and information
industries.  I think the most promising path for further research
involves the application of network analysis methods.  These methods,
which focus on the patterns of connections between individuals,
promise to provide rigorous empirical maps of sets of social
interactions.  A process that is enhanced and improved by the presence
of the phenomenon in a virtual environment.

Governance and control: Herding mice The incidents described here
provide evidence to dismiss the idea that interaction in virtual
spaces is fixed, determined, and easily controlled and directed.
Control over the physical technology of a virtual space is no
guarantee of control over the social actions that occur within it.
Intractable communities often defy the rule of their owners in many
ways.  Nonetheless, the power over the physical hardware along with
the legal right to exercise that power, endows owners and managers of
virtual spaces almost god-like control over individual users.  Users
can be banished, silenced, or publicly denounced with no chance of
resistance.  However, despite the existence of these powers, as shown
here, it is often the case that they cannot or will not be used.
These sanctions are often to coarse and too extreme for normal use.
More subtle sanctions are needed and available to the community.  If,
as would seem to be the case, more social interaction will soon take
place within virtual spaces, the question and challenges of social
organization must be faced.  The form of organization in place in the
WELL is a kind of benign anarchy.  It is questionable wheather this
method can or will be applied to other virtual communities.  While
other systes, such as Prodigy and GEnie, operate with an absolutist
regime, it may be possible that the economies of interaction and
organization in virtual spaces makes a more anarchic form of
organization a realizable and effective alternative.  The history of
the WELL provides empirical evidence that a mixture of public and
private control over a collective good can effectively sustain the
production and distribution of that good.  In addition, it illustrates
the fact that the character of a collective good is an essential
element of the kinds of organizations that can be constructed to
produce and maintain it.  The peculiar qualities of information and
interaction make the collective goods produced in the WELL sustainable
in the absence of any significant formal sanctioning system.  The
exciting potential of virtual communities is that this capacity may be
extendable back into the real-space of face-to-face interaction.

Appendix A:
The Structure of The WELL

Appendix B:
The WELL Conferences

       Best of the WELL - vintage material     (g best)
       WELL "Screenzine" digest                (g zine)
       Index listing of new topics in all conferences (g newtops)

               Social Responsibility and Politics

Amnesty International   (g amnesty)     Liberty                 (g liberty)
Current Events          (g curr)        Non Profits             (g non)
Environment             (g env)         Peace                   (g peace)
Firearms                (g firearms)    Politics                (g pol)
First Amendment         (g first)       Telecom Law             (g tcl)
Gulf War                (g gulf)        Veterans                (g vets)
                                       Socialism               (g workers)

       Electronic Frontier Foundation          (g eff)
       Computers, Freedom & Privacy            (g cfp)
       Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (g cpsr)

                       Media and Communications

Bioinfo                 (g bioinfo)     Periodical/Newsletter   (g per)
Computer Journalism     (g cj)          Photography             (g pho)
Info Age                (g boing)       Radio                   (g rad)
Media                   (g media)       Technical Writers       (g tec))
Microtimes              (g microx)      Telecommunications      (g tele)
Mondo 2000              (g mondo)       Usenet                  (g usenet)
Muchomedia              (g mucho)       Video                   (g vid)
Netweaver               (g netweaver)   Virtual Reality         (g vr)
Networld                (g networld)    Whole Earth Review      (g we)
Packet Radio            (g packet)      Zines/Factsheet Five    (g f5)

                       Business and Livelihood

Agriculture             (g agri)        Legal                   (g legal)
Classifieds             (g cla)         One Person Business     (g one)
Consultants             (g consult)     The Future              (g fut)
Consumers               (g cons)        Translators             (g trans)
Entrepreneurs           (g entre)       Work                    (g work)
Investments             (g invest)

                       Body - Mind - Health

Aging                   (g gray)        Jewish                  (g jew)
AIDS                    (g aids)        Men on the WELL*        (g mow)
Buddhist                (g wonderland)  Mind                    (g mind)
Christian               (g cross)       Philosophy              (g phi)
Dreams                  (g dream)       Psychology              (g psy)
Emotional Health**      (g private)     Recovery***             (g recovery)
Erotica                 (g eros)        Sexuality               (g sex)
Fringes of Reason       (g fringes)     Spirituality            (g spirit)
Health                  (g heal)        Women on the WELL#      (g wow)
Holistic                (g holi)        Drugs                   (g drugs)
*    Private conference - mail  flash  for entry
**   Private conference - mail  wooly  for entry
***  Private conference - mail  dhawk  for entry
#    Private conference - mail  reva   for entry


Archives                (g arc)         Spanish                 (g spanish)
Buddhist                (g wonderland)  Pacific Rim             (g pacrim)
German                  (g german)      Tibet                   (g tibet)
Irish                   (g irish)       Travel                  (g tra)
Italian                 (g ital)        History                 (g hist)
Jewish                  (g jew)         Virtual Communities     (g vc)


Berkeley                (g berk)        Northwest               (g nw)
East Coast              (g east)        Oakland CA              (g oak)
Environment             (g env)         Pacific Rim             (g pacrim)
Geography               (g geo)         Peninsula               (g pen)
Hawaii                  (g aloha)       San Francisco           (g sanfran)
Midwest                 (g midwest)     Southern USA            (g south)
North Bay               (g north)       Tibet                   (g tibet)


Couples                 (g couples)     News                    (g news)
Disability              (g disability)  Nightowls##             (g owl)
Gay                     (g gay)         Parenting               (g par)
Gay (private)#          (g gaypriv)     Scams                   (g scam)
Interview               (g inter)       Singles                 (g singles)
Kids 91                 (g kids)        True Confessions        (g tru)
Miscellaneous           (g misc)        Unclear                 (g unclear)
Weird                   (g weird)

#  Private Conference - mail  hudu  for entry
## Open from Midnight to 6 am

                           Arts and Letters

Art Com Electronic Net  (g acen)        Photography             (g pho)
Art and Graphics        (g gra)         Poetry                  (g poetry)
Band**                  (g band)        Radio                   (g rad)
Books                   (g books)       Science Fiction         (g sf)
Comics                  (g comics)      Songwriters             (g song)
Design                  (g design)      Bay Area Siggraph       (g siggraph)
MIDI                    (g midi)        Theater                 (g theater)
Movies                  (g movies)      WELL Writer's Workshop* (g www)
Muchomedia              (g mucho)       Words                   (g words)
NAPLPS                  (g naplps)      Writers                 (g wri)
On Stage                (g onstage)     Zines/Factsheet Five    (g f5)

*  Private Conference - mail  sonia  for entry
** Private Conference - mail tnf or rik for entry (for working musicians)


Bicycles                (g bike)        Gardening               (g gard)
Boating                 (g boat)        Motorcycling            (g ride)
Cooking                 (g cook)        Motoring                (g car)
Flying                  (g flying)      Pets                    (g pets)
Games                   (g games)       Sports                  (g sports)


Audio-videophilia       (g aud)         Movies                  (g movies)
Bay Area Tonight#       (g bat)         Music                   (g music)
CD's                    (g cd)          Restaurant              (g rest)
Comics                  (g comics)      Star Trek               (g trek)
Fun                     (g fun)         Television              (g tv)
Jokes                   (g jokes)

#  Updated daily

                        Education and Planning

Apple Library User's Group (g alug)     Science                 (g science)
Brainstorming           (g brain)       Indexing                (g indexing)
Design                  (g design)      Network Integrations    (g origin)
Education               (g ed)          Transportation          (g transport)
Energy                  (g power)       Whole Earth Review      (g we)
Homeowners              (g home)        Earthquake              (g quake)
Co-Housing              (g coho)

                              Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead           (g gd)          Deadplan*               (g dp)
Deadlit                 (g deadlit)     Feedback                (g feedback)
GD Hour                 (g gdh)         Tapes                   (g tapes)
Tickets                 (g tix)         Tours                   (g tours)
Grapevine**             (g grape)

*  Private Conference - mail  tnf  for entry
** Private Conference - mail rebop or phred for entry


AI/Forth/Realtime       (g realtime)    NAPLPS                  (g naplps)
Amiga                   (g amiga)       NeXt                    (g next)
Apple                   (g apple)       OS/2                    (g os2)
Art and Graphics        (g gra)         Printers                (g print)
Computer Books          (g cbook)       Programmer's Net        (g net)
Desktop Publishing      (g desk)        Bay Area Siggraph       (g siggraph)
Hacking                 (g hack)        Software Design         (g sdc)
Hypercard               (g hype)        Software/Programming    (g software)
IBM PC                  (g ibm)         Software Support        (g ssc)
Lans                    (g lan)         Unix                    (g unix)
Laptop                  (g lap)         Virtual Reality         (g vr)
Macintosh               (g mac)         Windows                 (g windows)
Mactech                 (g mactech)     Word Processing         (g word)
MIDI                    (g midi)        CP/M                    (g cpm)
Mac System7             (g mac7)        Scientific computing    (g scicomp)

                            The WELL Itself

Deeper                  (g deeper)      Hosts                   (g host)
Entry                   (g ent)         Policy                  (g policy)
General                 (g gentech)     System News             (g sysnews)
Help                    (g help)        Test                    (g test)
                                       Users                   (g users)

Appendix C:
The Virtual Communities Conference

Welcome to Virtual Communities!

Topic - Number of responses - Header

 2   0 Conference Announcements
  <topic is frozen>
 3 144 Introductions
 6   9 Pointers to Relevant Topics Elsewhere in the WELL
 7 177 The WELL as a community
 8  64 Communities within the WELL
 9  78 WELL as Collaborative Tool
  <linked topic>
10 109 Public Internet Access
  <linked topic>
11 199 AMIX - American Information Exchange
  <linked topic>
12 254 MUDs and MUSEs
  <linked topic>
13  61 You and your individual relationship with the WELL Community
14  51 Science and The Net
  <linked topic>
15  28 Habitat - a virtual community in Japan
16 151 Are you a *LURKER*???
17  10 The NSF's Internet Resource Guide
18 179 The WELL of the Future
  <linked topic>
19   1 Hosts, Moderators, Fair-witnesses...  Those Who Commit to Being There
20  71 Online Personae: Boon or Bete Noir?
21 120 Oldtimers and Newusers
22  56 Dealing With Strangeness
23   9 The Roots of Computer Conferencing
24  42 The WELL in transition
25  70 Private conferences....the new virtual suburbs?
26  70 What are the characteristics of "community?" What makes one?
27  21 Using Metaphors to Describe Online Culture -- what are the limits?
28  52 WELL's Mission Statement -- What Would it Be if it Existed?
29  10 What does the Well *do* for users?
  <linked topic>
30   6 Online Community and Shared Work
31  31 What makes the Well special?
32  30 Those darn ineffable variations of virtual place
33 182 Online Governance
34  10 Control, Responsibility, and Commitment
35  33 WELLness
36  36 WELL Diaspora
  <linked topic>
37  12 On-Line Suicide
38 148 Online Metadiscussion as a Source of Irresolvable Conflict
  <linked topic>
39   6 The Salon, the Show, the Festival as Community
40 432 Designing an Electronic Democracy: What Does It Really Mean?
  <linked topic>
41  13 Businesses in the Virtual World
42  20 Other Virtual Communities
44  20 Communities, affinity groups, cliques, gangs: degrees of affiliation.
45   5 Usenet and Newsgroups as Virtual Communities
46   9 Realtime Communities? Chatlines, CB, IRC
47  21 College and identity, real and virtual community
48  16 The Wired Society and Crime Reduction
  <linked topic>
49  65 Metaphors for the WELL Experience
  <linked topic>
50 107 Zen and the Art of the Internet
  <linked topic>
51 206 Oral History of Bozo Filters on the WELL
  <linked topic>
52  21 Online Addiction/Obsession
53  17 Virtual Community vs. Christian Community
  <linked topic>
54  33 Online conversation--what do *you* like?
  <linked topic>
55 324 GEnie censorship
  <linked topic>
56  27 Picturing the Well: Numbers that tell the whole story.
57  45 Can Non-virtual Intentional Communities Be Developed "On-line"?
  <linked topic>
58  25 What do you know about radical right nets and BBSes?
  <linked topic>
59  34 Networks for Neighborhoods - encouraging digital diversity
  <linked topic>
60  68 What am I doing here?
61  97 Rules for fighting fair
62  20 Mindell & VCs
64   8 IRC basics
  <linked topic>
65   3 The Compassionate Party
66  89 Re-design the sdc conference?
  <linked topic>
67  80 Early Impressions of the Well
  <linked topic>
68  16 Living in a Virtual Tourist Town
69  20 Respect and Disrespect, Perception and Reality
70  16 From Virtual to Actual
71  26 I'm famous (on the WELL)
72  45 Sex in virtual communities
  <linked topic>
73  32 A Look At On-Line Relationships.
74  53 The Feeling of 'Place' on the WELL
  <linked topic>

Works Cited

Bullock, Kari, and John Baden. 1977. "Comunes and the Logic of the
Commons." Pp.  182-99 in Managing the Commons, edited by Garrett
Hardin and John Baden. San Francisco:  Freeman.

Curtis, Pavel. 1991. "Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-Based Virtual
Realities", Unpublished manuscript.

Gibson, William, Neuromancer, 1984. New York: Ace.

Hardin, Garrett. 1968. "The Tragedy of the Commons." Science

Hechter, Michael. 1990. "The Emergence of Cooperative Social
Institutions." Pp.  13-33 in Social Institutions: Their Emergence,
Maintenance, and Effects, edited by Michael Hechter, Karl-Dieter Opp,
and Reinhard Wippler.  New York: Aldine.

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss "Commitment and Social Organization: A Study of
Commitment Mechanisms in Utopian Communities," American Sociological
Review 33:4 (August, 1968): 499-516.

Kiesler, Sara "The Hidden Messages in Computer Networks," Harvard
Business Review, January-February 1986.

Kollock, P. 1992. "The Social Construction of Exchange," Advances in
Group Processes, Vol. 9, 1992, Pp. 89-112.

Kollock, P. 1991. "The Emergence of Cooperation in an Uncertain World:
The Role of Generalized and Restricted Accounting Systems."  Paper
presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological

Kollock, P. 1992. "The Emergence of Markets and Networks: An
Experimental Study of Uncertainty, Commitment, and Trust."  Paper
presented at the Fourth Annoual International Conference of the
Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, Irvine, 1992.

Licklider, J.C.R.  Robert Taylor, and E. Herbert, "The Computer as a
Communication Device," International Science and Technology, April

Messick, David M., and Marilynn B. Brewer. 1983. "Solving Social
Dilemmas." Pp.  11-44 in Review of Personality and Social Psycology
(Vol. 4), edited by L. Wheeler and P. Shaver.  Beverly Hills, CA:

Morningstar, Chip and F. Ranfdall Farmer. "The Lessons of Lucasfilm's
Habitat" in Cyberspace, ed.  Michael Benedickt, 1991, Cambridge: MIT

Oldenburg, Ray "The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community
Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They
Get You Through The Day," New York:  Paragon House, 1991.

Olson. Mancur, Jr. 1965. The Logic of Collective Acton. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.

Orbell, John, and Robyn Dawes. 1981. "Social Dilemmas." Pp. 37-65 in
Progress in Applied Social Psychology (Vol. 1), edited by G.M.
Stephenson and J.M. Davis. New York: Wiley and Sons.

Ostrom, Elinor, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions
for Collective Action. New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Quarterman, John S. The Matrix: Computer Networks and Conferencing
Systems Worldwide, Bedford Massachusetts: Digital Press, 1990.

Rheingold, Howard "Tools for Thought," Simon & Schuster 1986.

Schelling, Thomas C. The Strategy of Conflict.  1960.

Stone, Allucquere Rosanne, "Will the Real Body Please Stand Up?:
Boundary Stories about Virtual Cultures", in Cyberspace, ed. Michael
Benedickt, 1991, Cambridge: MIT Press.

Taylor, Michael. 1987. The Possibility of Cooperation. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. (pp. 125-79).

Zuboff, Shoshana. In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work
and Power, New York: Basic Books, 1988.

 Gibson, Neuromancer, p. 51.  As a newly (re-)revealed territory,
cyberspace evokes in many the visionary zeal created by previous
frontiers.  Utopic visions of new Albion, dreams of vast potential and
wealth, and hopes for freedom and self realization abound in
discussions of cyberspace.  There is no doubt that cyberspace is a
frontier, one that has opened up within the existing territorial
bounds of society, and that it is one that may invalidate some of
those bounds.  It is a special kind of frontier: in this frontier
there are no indigenous populations to displace, and with that absence
the need to construct ideological justifications of manifest destiny
and white-man's burden are also absent.  But the fact that cyberspace
is currently only sparsely populated does not mean that it is morally
neutral.  Far from it.  What already exists in cyberspace, the vast
collections of data and technologically instantiated systems of human
organizations, are replete with human interest and ends.  We should no
more expect cyberspace to be exclusively a site of emancipation and
self-realization than we should have expected the new world to be.

 Stone (1991) reports that the first Bulletin Board System (BBS), the
CommuniTree, went online in May of 1978 in San Francisco. A  BBS is
often a fairly simple system, composed of a computer managed by
special software connected to one or more modems (telephone
interfaces) and phone lines.  Typically a BBS will allow people to
connect to it via a computer, modem and phone line, and, once
connected, to leave messages for other users, upload (send) and
download (receive) software, text files, and high resolution pictures,
and even connect to one or more of the larger networks such as the
Internet.  BBS's are often run as a hobby, allowing access for little
or no fee.  In many cases, these systems are the site of the
grass-roots growth of technologically mediated communities.  BBSs
range in size from a few users to hundreds.

 There are other objects that can be exchanged through virtual spaces.
Software is perhaps the most common.  Many systems allow software to
be stored for later retreival by members of the community, and
contribution to the collective's library of software is a common form
of exchange.  Images, often of photographic quality, along with
computer generated artwork is also a common object of exchange.  A
significant minority of these images are sexually explicit, but they
are also often of scientific or technical interest.  As networks are
increasingly refined they will be able to carry larger loads of
information at greater speeds.  As a result, the forms of
representation will undoubtedly expand beyond the current text and
limited graphics.  Speech, music, moving images, and complex models
will likely pass through networks with ease.  How this will effect
virtual communities based on text is an open and interesting question.

The WELL has recently connected to the INTERNET, widening the scope of
affordable access to encompass anywhere in the world with an INTERNET
connection.  The INTERNET currently serves 76 countries on 7
continents and is accessed by over 15 million people.  [Current data
has been requested from John Quarterman of Matrix Industries, a
company that specializes in network connectivity in general and the
Internet in particular.]

 An alternative form of the header is generated by a program called
"extract".  This program creates a single line header like the
following:  policy.111.65: pseud (hank)  Mon 22 Jun 92 21:28

  THE WELL HOST'S MANUAL, section 1.3, number 2.  IRC stands for
 Internet Relay Chat.  It is a multichannel text "CB" system in which
 users of the Internet are able to send messages to all others who
 have logged into the same "channel" at the same time.  The IRC draws
 users from all over the planet.

 The term MUD (Multi-User Dimension) is used as a generic description
for a multi-person virtual space in which users are able to perform
textual equivelants of interaction in "real-time", that is
synchronously.  It differs from the IRC in that user are also able to
construct and manipulate a wide variety of objects.  As a result MUDs
may provide a more complex environment for interaction than IRC.

 The term "bandwidth" is used to describe the carrying capacity of a
communications medium.  While bandwidth is often used in terms of
quantifyable units like bits-per-second, even narrow bandwidth lines
can carry nuanced and expressive messages.  However, a narrow
bandwidth line does sometimes preclude the exchange of various kinds
of symbols.  For example, most computer networks are currently
incapable of exchanging full-motion video images.

 John Perry Barlow, Mondo 2000, Issue #1, p. 24

 A userid is a unique lable each member of the WELL community selects
to identify their contributions to the community.  Userids, however,
need not have any relation to the individual's given or legal name.
As a result, while the participant's on-line identity collects the
results of their interaction, no connection is necessarily made to the
"real" person.
  Defining what is sufficient can not be accomplished in the abstract,
but it is clear that certain collective tasks do not require as much
commitment as others.  Where the economies of monitoring and
sanctioning systems are favorable it may be possible for a collective
to produce a common good with minimal self-generated commitment.  In
place of commitment effective coercion ensures sufficient contribution
and regulated consumption.

 This term is introduced by Elinor Ostrom to describe collectively
produced resources.

 However, there are private conferences, which are accesible only to
those whose names are added to a list (called a .ulist) by the
conference's creator.  Private conferences have recently grown rapidly
in number in the WELL, a point I will take up again below.  ASCII
stands for the American Standard Code for Information Interchange.
Pronounced "Az-key", the term means that only letters and numbers are
displayed within the Well, no facility is available for presenting
graphics, pictures, sounds, or images.  The result is a minimal
environment that, nonetheless, supports a wide band of expression.

 Files on the WELL, like most UNIX-based systems, can be protected in
various ways.  Files can be public and readable and writable by anyone
on the system, or read-only, or completely private.  The file in
question here was initially written as publicly read and writeable and
later made private.  It was in the intervening time that the file was

 I use the term libertarian here loosely to denote a distinct
disinclination to formal control systems and a reluctance to create or
accept a higher authority and not to associate all members of the WELL
with the Libertarian party or its specific platform or philosophy.
Nonetheless, there is a visible segment of the WELL that does identify
itself as Libertarian.

 Acronyms are a common form of expression in the WELL.  TPTB = The
Powers That BE.

 Mitchell Kapor, founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
and member of the WELL.

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