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Last Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
Pioneering net community sold off
John Perry Barlow, EFF
Well member and Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow co-founded the EFF
The pioneering electronic community known as The Well is being sold off.

Set up in 1985 before the net was widely used, The Well helped to define the basic ethic and etiquette of online life.

Many of the early members of The Well have gone on to become the guiding lights of net as it has risen to its current level of prominence.

The community was bought in 1999 by the Salon Media Group which now wants to concentrate on eponymous magazine.

Talking shop

The Well, or Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link, was started by Stewart Brand - one of the key members of the counter-culture movement in the 60s that, among many other things, spawned the personal computer and the first virtual communities.

The name was inspired by the Whole Earth Catalog which Brand published and which became a bible for the civil libertarians, activists and hippies swept up in the 60s radical movement.

When it started The Well was a bulletin board that swiftly became the place to hang out for those inspired by the potential of cyberspace and the online world. As it grew and moved to the web, it attracted tens of thousands of members.

Organised around discussion groups or "conferences" on any and every subject, The Well initially helped people find and chat to those who shared their interests in a way rarely possible before.

It was also on The Well that many of the first discussions about online privacy, civil rights and freedom were held.

Early Well members included Mitch Kapor and John Perry Barlow who went on to found cyber-rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Well was bought by the Salon Media Group in 1999 for $5m (2.79m) in stock when it had about 6,000 members.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, in which it says it is starting to look for a buyer for The Well, Salon said the community is expected to generate about $500,000 in revenue to March 2006 from its 4,000 subscribers and advertising.

Salon said it would not sell the online community to the first buyer that made an offer, instead it said it would look for a "good match".

There was speculation that remaining members of The Well would set up a non-profit group to buy the assets and keep the community going.

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