Salon Intends to Sell Pioneering Online Hub
The Well, an eclectic online community whose profits haven’t quite measured up to its pioneering influence, is being put on the sales block by its current owner, Web publisher Salon Media Group Inc.
“We have really ambitious goals with Salon and didn’t want to dilute our efforts by trying to support two different brands,” said Elizabeth Hambrecht, Salon’s chief executive.
Salon plans to take its time to ensure the new owner is a good fit for the Well’s main asset -- its community of about 4,000 members. There were about 6,000 members when San Francisco-based Salon bought the Well for $5 million in stock 6 1/2 years ago.
Although its audience has shrunk since its heyday in the early 1990s, the Well still looms large in Silicon Valley because of its place in online lore.
The service started in 1985 as a quasi-social experiment by Stewart Brand, founder of the counterculture Whole Earth Catalog, and Larry Brillant, an entrepreneur trying to popularize the concept of computer conferencing systems. They called it the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, or Well.
Starting with just a few hundred people connecting over clunky telephone modems, the Well turned into a bustling online hub as high-tech geeks, iconoclasts, hippies, artists and journalists began to exchange ideas and share intimate details of their personal lives.
Before Salon took over in 1999, the Well was owned by Rockport Shoes founder Bruce Katz, who bought it in 1994 for $750,000. The Well currently generates $500,000 in annual revenue and is “marginally profitable,” Hambrecht said.