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5 Hybrid Assignment 11


% Dree-el Simmons completed

In this chapter, Turner talks about the WELL (a computer system, that was a predecessor of modern social media platforms).  The “self-governing system”, Turner ascribed to Brand when he set up the subscription service for the membership of the WELL, would seem to work in a manner that we have become use to now in our daily interactions on the Internet.  The goal was to create a forum where like minded people could come and part take in discussions and posts on topics of interest.  However, the point of the subscription fee was to help deter domination of discussions by members who were likely to do so, if given the chance; while at the same time, encourage greater interaction and participation by members in general.  This would make for a richer environment to/for everyone.

One of the interesting examples turner used to illustrate how this self-governing system worked, was the connection McClure, Coate and  Figallo had to the Farm (a 1,750 acre commune in Tennessee).  They hoped to create a community of interpersonal/shared openness.  “Members were encouraged to challenge one another, to make it possible to drop their defenses and become part of a transcendent collective”.  This was important because, as the commune had to change to be remain solvent (“its members voted that year to stop pooling all their resources communally and to reorganize as a cooperative to to which individual members paid dues”).  This change in the way communal resources were used, made the transition to the cyber world, which was becoming the place that New Communalists were migrating to.  “The communal imperative – the need to build and maintain relationships between people and to preserve the structure that supported those relationships;” this way of thinking is evident within the system Brand put into place.

The WELL was basically a cybernetic experiment, where the perimeters were set and then left one to see what it would become.  As explained by Figallo: “Principles of tolerance and inclusion, fair resource allocation, distributed responsibility, management by example and influence, a flat organizational hierarchy, cooperative policy formulation and acceptance of a libertarian-bordering-on-anarchic ethos were all carryovers from our communal living experience.”  Figallo also said that, “in perserving and supporting the exercise of freedom and creativityby the WELL’s users through providing an open forum for their interaction,” was of vital importance to the WELL’s evolution.


% Yesenia Williams completed

The Well was one of the first online websites created by Stewart Brand in 1985. This came from the already existing Whole Earth Catalog, which featured stories, news, and articles online. The Well allowed the users to have discussions in real time. Brand’s motive behind the site was to have it run in a nonhierarchical manner, giving the users the power. This two-way conversation was ground-breaking and the system of self-governing, the users producing and writing was unlike anything before.

The site was ran by managers that had small interactions and rarely intervened. Users were producing meetings and a community that they felt proud to be a part of. In doing so, the site has the ability to grow in value. Not only producing a monetary gain for the user, but also giving the users the control to create the environment they are engaged in. This also placed most of the liability on the users making them responsible for their own actions online.

Brand had goals in mind when creating this site, one that mirrored the New Communalist model of self-governing. With it, he envisioned a cyber space where as the users contribute, the site will change and evolve and he planned on learning and changing along with it. His intent was to have a more step back approach and observe. This type of management increased involvement and revenue. The community online discussed many topics forming longtime friendships and professional relationships.


% Deborah Markewich completed

Fred Turner devotes chapter 5 to the history, philosophy and community of the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, known as the WELL. The WELL began as an expansion of the Whole Earth Catalog and as with the catalog, Stewart Brand “hoped to allow the system’s users to converse with one another and to market that conversation back to its participants.” (142) But the catalog was published only a few times a year so while its subscribers contributed by writing letters or reviewing products, they were not actually communicating in real time. The WELL gave users a chance to collaborate and “meet” one another instantaneously. The team that designed the WELL in 1985 had seven design goals, one of which was that it would be self-governing. The plan was a text-based forum that would combine a business and a community and would do away with the hierarchical model of business but still make a profit. The conditions would be such that the users, who were both the contributors and readers, (producers and consumers) would subscribe to the WELL by paying to participate. The subscription model was one that Brand thought worked best but he set the subscription rates much lower than the rates of commercial competitors as a way “to shape interpersonal relations on the WELL.” (145)

In his design of the WELL as a self-governing system, Brand was bringing the New Communalist’s vision of community to an electronic forum. The WELL’s first managers were veterans of the FARM, a commune in Tennessee that was founded by San Francisco hippies. They brought their experience building and supporting relationships with members of the commune to the participants of the WELL. Turner compares the proposed structure to a homeostat, where the manager would set the original conditions and then stand back and observe. “Once set in motion by its creators, it was to learn as it went, to find its ideal temperature, so to speak, through the actions of its constituent parts.’” (146) The users would supply and monitor the text that would determine the direction of future conversations.

A self-governing system, such as the WELL, operates on the belief that the users will take more responsibility for their contributions in a system where there is less direct involvement with a manager. Since they have more control in deciding the direction the work will take, they have more at stake in the outcome. They are thus likely to create the environment they want to be a part of, and in doing so will continue to be an active part of it. So managers, by ceding control to the users, increase the likelihood of the continued participation of the users. Businesses that have changed from the traditional organizational structure to a “Holacracy”, or self-governing structure, claim that their employees are more likely to contribute more, be happier and to stay at their jobs longer.


% Jessie Salfen completed

By interpreting the descriptions given by Turner, the self governing system operates by being completely inclusive and dependent of itself. While it is not exactly self-perpetuating, it does, for lack of better phrasing, grow of its momentum – generating growth from the efforts put forth by the users but at the same time those efforts are the product consumed by the users. The act of the product being consumed creates more product, as well as increases the value of the product. And in the case of the WELL, what is the product? The product is a user community developed through forum based interaction AND the information that is shared through the conversations and relationships created on the WELL, which are both archived by the system and individually user managed.

The ability of the system to grow and evolve is made possible by the WELL managers who are equally uninvolved observers and involved as observers. They enable the system to operate in the model of a homeostat, that is being capable of adapting to its environment. The system is able to evolve because the managers make the boundaries pliable. The users themselves can manipulate the platform as they explore and test its boundaries, making the WELL develop as the users develop as individuals and not by direct involvement by managers. That is, the more the users experiment the more the platform will reflect those efforts. The managers do not push or suggest changes, they monitor the needs of the users and act accordingly by allowing the system to be manipulated.

The self governing system, using the WELL as a model, can be interpreted as an operating system in which the users have a great amount of control and create the world (platform, system, product) in which they want to interact (or consume). The more efforts put in by the users means more capabilities granted by the system moderators who are otherwise hands-off, which then cycles back to the users wanting to interact even more with the system as it improves (evolves). The cycle encompasses interpersonal (user community), electronic (user platform), and economic (user subscription) spheres so it, as a cyberculture, can perpetuate.


% elizabeth completed

Due by midnight Tuesday, December 1st (350-400 words).

When outlining the subscription process at WELL, Turner (2006:145-146) argues that Brand “lay down boundary conditions for a self-governing system.” Drawing on details from chapter 5 which describe the virtuality and community on the WELL, explain how you think a self-governing system operates.