A timely shapshot
"It was clearly the first social network," says Larry Brilliant, who co-founded the online community.
Dr. Brilliant, a physician and entrepreneur who more recently headed Google Inc.'s philanthropic arm, teamed up in April 1985 with his friend Stewart Brand, a counter-culture impresario known for ventures that include the Whole Earth Catalog. At that time, personal computers were a novelty, communications through dial-up modem were even rarer and most software required typing in arcane text commands.
The Well provided some of the first evidence that online communities could become as powerful as real-world varieties, says Mr. Kelly, who went on to co-found Wired magazine and was its first executive editor. But Dr. Brilliant, now president of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, a social-entrepreneurship organization, laments that Well-style conversations about societal problems remain hard to find on the wider Web.
"We need the Well, or something like it, much more than we ever did before," he says.