It’s hard to adequately describe the mystique that the Well has to old-school Internet users. It was founded on a shoestring way back in 1985 by some of the same people who published the crunchy Whole Earth Catalog, long before the Web existed. The Well (which stands for Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) grew rapidly to become a feisty, quirky virtual hangout populated by an odd mix of intellectuals, digerati, journalists, Deadheads and fringe characters of all sorts. Accessible only to paying customers (access costs $10 a month), it's divided into hundreds of "conferences," where members discuss topics ranging from circumcision to tax advice to Proust.
The online magazine Salon stunned netizens worldwide yesterday when it announced its purchase of the venerable online community known as the Well. It's a match made in heaven: The hippest brand in online journalism married to the closest thing the Internet has to an aristocracy. But will all that high cyberculture pay the bills?