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The Well celebrates 20th birthday

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Founded in 1985 as a humble computer conferencing system with six dial-up modems, The Well soon blossomed into a "literate watering hole," luring tens of thousands of artists, technologists and writers.

"It's really something that you're not going to see anywhere else," said Gail Williams, director of communities. "It seems to have a tremendous momentum, no matter what happens."

The Well was the creation of Stewart Brand, publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, who squirreled away the original VAX server in a corner of Whole Earth's decrepit offices in Sausalito, Calif. Before long, The Well's conferences became known for intelligent conversation and were attracting luminaries like Kevin Kelly (a Wired Magazine editor) and Mitchell Kapor (the founder of Lotus Development Corporation).

Some of The Well's discussions marked turning points in the history of the Internet. A post from John Perry Barlow, a former Grateful Dead lyricist, prompted Kapor to jet to Wyoming where the two created the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In another, Barlow famously invoked science fiction writer William Gibson's term "cyberspace" to apply to the Internet of the present.

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