A key early member of the most influential early online community remembers the site, which is now up for sale.
In the late 1980s, decades before the term "social media" existed, in a now legendary and miraculously still living virtual community called "The WELL," a fellow who used the handle "Philcat" logged in one night in a panic: his son Gabe had been diagnosed with leukemia, and in the middle of the night he had nowhere else to turn but the friends he knew primarily by the text we typed to each other via primitive personal computers and slow modems.
By the next morning, an online support group had coalesced, including an MD, an RN, a leukemia survivor, and several dozen concerned parents and friends. Over the next couple years, we contributed over $15,000 to Philcat and his family. We'd hardly seen each other in person until we met in the last two pews of Gabe's memorial service.
Flash forward nearly three decades. I have not been active in the WELL for more than fifteen years. But when the word got around in 2010 that I had been diagnosed with cancer (I'm healthy now), people from the WELL joined my other friends in driving me to my daily radiation treatments. Philcat was one of them. Like many who harbor a special attachment to their home town long after they leave for the wider world, I've continued to take an interest -- at a distance -- in the place where I learned that strangers connected only through words on computer screens could legitimately be called a "community."