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Minor correction: There are no ads on The WELL. (Unless a member puts an ad on their own well pages, and then that's not revenue to The WELL. Sell to the RNC? Now there's a sci fi plot line! yowch.

I know the Republican National Committee example was a bit extreme, but I wanted to illustrate that, although the Well might be for sale, the users aren't likely to accept just any purchaser. If the wrong company or person were to buy the Well, I reckon it would simply disappear, the users re-emerging somewhere else a bit like many users of ElectricMinds migrated when Howard Rheingold left that community. Don't worry - I haven't heard any rumours that Bush and his gang are looking to buy the Well! ;-)

(Disclaimer: I'm a Well member.)

Where did the idea that there is "advertising on the Well" come from, anyway?

Also, on "free accounts given to influential oldtimers to try to keep them as users," this is probably not a very big number. Many such oldtimers are Well "hosts," which means they get a free Complete account in exchange for overseeing a particular area. As with any online community, the number of highly active users is relatively small compared to the total userbase. Those "influential" people tend to stick around because they like it, not because of a $15/mo subsidy. It was also common back in the day to comp journalists. I don't know how many of those are still around. But between hosts, old comps, and the preponderance of new users who are at the $120/yr level, I think the discrepancy you're seeing is probably accounted for.

Hi Paul. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I was, briefly, a Well member in around 1995 or 1996. I tried it out but it wasn't for me. Anyway, I don't remember there being any ads on there, as both you and Gail point out. The SEC filing states that "The assets of The Well are predominately $0.2 million of goodwill." My guess is that the BBC journo who wrote the article that alerted me to the sale saw this line and assumed it meant "advertising" because, in his article, he wrote: "Salon said the community is expected to generate about $500,000 in revenue to March 2006 from its 4,000 subscribers and advertising." (What on earth is "goodwill" in an SEC filing anyway?)

The point of my blog entry wasn't that something fishy was going on. I do, however, find it just a tad bit strange that, when you work out the possible annual revenue generated by the Well, the total, FOR ONE YEAR, is equal to what Salon expects to get from it's sale.

So someone buys the Well, hopes nothing breaks for a year, keeps the current user base, and they've made money. There are plenty of 4000 member communities that have little, if any, overhead other than some server hosting / bandwidth costs. That seems like a good purchase - practically a no brainer even. Or is it? Are users likely to stick around if the scenario I wrote about above (acquisition by the RNC or an evil corporate) buys the Well? I doubt they are.

And that's exactly the problem with trying to sell an online community. It only exists so long as it's users continue to call the place home and, when they move away, investors are left with something of little or no value. That's why I reckon the users of the Well and Salon would be wise to sit down around a table and do some business together - and after they've bought it, Well users can add some google ads and amazon associates links to help pay for their shiny new (actually, rather old) purchase. ;-)

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Robin Hamman

  • During my 13 years of professional experience, I've had the pleasure of devising, implementing and managing digital and social media propositions for some of the World's most important organisations and brands.

    I joined Edelman's London office as Director of Digital in July 2010. Here I've worked with clients across a variety of sectors and for clients ranging from small technology start-ups to multi-nationals in the FTSE 100 and Fortune 500. I've also worked for both National and International Governmental bodies.

    I joined Edelman from Headshift, part of the Dachis Group, where I was the Social Media practice lead.

    Prior to that, I was the Head of Blogging (Acting Editor) at the BBC, where, over an 8 year period, I played a pivotal role in the roll out of every social media proposition of the Corporation, as well as the underlying processes and training that supported them.

    I also spent a few years at Granada Media (ITV) and a mobile start-up, Talk Cast.

    I hold a BA in Education, MA with Distinction in Sociology, MPhil in Communication Studies and a PgDip in Law. 

I'm also Visiting Fellow in the Department of Journalism at City University and was previously a Non-Residential Fellow at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society.

    Interested in working with me? Feel free to add me on LinkedIn.

    The thoughts and words expressed here are my own and are not necessarily shared by my employer, colleagues or clients.

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