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NEW: Origins of Online Community as told to the 2013 SWARM Conference in Sydney, Australia.
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I'm John Coate.

email tex@well.com

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   John_9-07.jpg  John Coate

"John is the guy who made the WELL into a community"

-Howard Rheingold

I am the Executive Director of Mendocino County Public Broadcasting and the General Manager of FM radio station KZYX and KZYZ in Philo, CA. We're a community-supported public radio station for Mendocino and neighboring counties. We're a hybrid of locally produced music, news and public affairs and NPR, PRI, BBC, Pacifica and other national radio programming.

I have spent more than twenty nine years developing and managing innovative new media projects, most notably the WELL, and SF Gate.

While based on computer and network technology, my work is really about strengthening community, developing culture, advancing public knowledge and helping people use communication technology for personal empowerment. I was, along with a few other people, the founder of SF Gate and I was its General Manager from January 1995 through January 2001. SF Gate was my attempt to help professional journalism maintain its relevance as the digital peer-to-peer revolution advances. SF Gate was the first big city news website in the world. While there my crew and I pioneered a number of innovations, some of which are now standard features at most news web sites.

I was employee #2 at the WELL from 1986-1991. I was instrumental in creating the online community that Wired! magazine called, "the world's most influential." Because of this work, I am one of the four guys on the cover of the May 1997 issue of Wired!. I'm the one on the left. The others are Larry Brilliant, Stewart Brand and Cliff Figallo. My nominal title was Marketing Director, in truth I am the first person to make my living as an online community manager.

This cover story was later published as a book: The WELL: A Story of Love, Death and Real Life in the Seminal Online Community by Katie Hafner. I am also prominent in Howard Rheingold's classic, The Virtual Community. Most recently I am profiled (with a full page picture of Cliff and me) in Fred Turner's 2006 book, From Counterculture to Cyberculture.

 Wired Cover 1997 The Virtual Community From Counterculture to Cyberculture  WELL Book

Here is a photo of Cliff Figallo and me taken in 1987 at the WELL office in Sausalito. This picture appeared in the New York Times. And here is another from that same day that appeared as a full page photo in the Fred Turner book. (Both photos by Kevin Kelly)

If you are interested in how people interact socially online, check out my essay, revised in 1998: Cyberspace Innkeeping: Building Online Community. I wrote Innkeeping towards the end of my time at the WELL as a way to capture the essence of what I learned there. There is a lot of good advice in there if you want to understand the online social environment better. Since that time I have worked at two chat-based companies and founded a BBS-style conferencing service at SF Gate.

In 2002-3 I was the Development Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In August, 2003, I was in an EFF ad that ran as a full page in Rolling Stone and Spin. I'm second from the left.

criminals

In 2004 and 2005, I set up the US edition of Habbo Hotel, where I was "brojo."


In January 2008 I did a standup storytelling bit at the Porchlight Storytelling Series hosted by my good friends Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte. The theme was "The new Me: Stories of Reinvention." Here is a transcript of my rap.

Before I got involved with networked computing and new media I was a carpenter, an auto mechanic, an interstate trucker, and a farmer. I also played in a few rock and roll bands. I came to the online world through working and living in various communities, most notably the Farm in Tennessee. The Farm was a unique and unforgettable experience. Back in 1987 I wrote some stories about my experiences there. Excerpts of these stories were printed in Whole Earth Review magazine.

From 1978 through most of 1982 I lived with my family in an urban version of the Farm collective in a big house in Washington DC. This was a very successful urban commune. I also lived for a time in the south Bronx as part of a group that started a free ambulance service as part of the Farm's Plenty organization. My daughter Jennifer was born in that house, which is now a halfway house for unwed mothers. These experiences taught me the dynamics of community and the social attributes of human nature. In many ways, this was the basis of my subsequent career in community networking and public knowledge.

Here are a couple of pictures from the old Farm days:

Playing in the Homegrown Band in 1972 when I was 21.

With the Farm Motor Pool, in about 1974. We called ourselves the Golden Bolts.

Here is a drawing that was used in an article about the Farm and the WELL from a 1988 issue of Whole Earth Review. I'm the guy on the right, age 23. I had just started up the first truck motor I rebuilt.

Next is a picture of the "Sausalito Bus," my home for much of 1970-72. We were part of the bus Caravan that later went to Tennessee and founded the Farm. As many as ten people at a time lived on this great old 1946 Aerocoach. An incredible odyssey that took us to New England and back before its final parking place in Summertown, TN.

Sausalito Bus 1946 Aerocoach

Here are two views of the interior,front and rear.

Also, a snapshot of my old truck, a 1972 Mack cabover. Drove it 200,000 miles a year with different partners from the Farm Trucking Company - Bossman, Limey, Grease Monkey, Buddy and Wildman.

I've been in a few rock and roll bands. In 2005 I recorded (multitrack on a Sony laptop) this song by Brojo and the Squabblers, "Ignore", for the teens at Habbo Hotel as a way to help them not be bothered if someone bugs them. Kinda silly, but it has its moments. To all you Habbos out there who remember Brojo, I enjoyed it just as much as you did!

And a guitar riff from a reunion gig with one of my old bands, the Wild Dogs, recorded at Camp Winnarainbow in 1993.

My email moniker is "tex" but I'm not really from Texas..I'm from the Bay Area. I went to high school here in San Francisco. "Tex" was my CB handle when I was driving 18-wheelers around the country back in the mid-seventies.


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