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The River

Frequently Asked Questions
about The River

As of January 01, 1999 (v1.3)

updated December 31, 2011 (v1.4)

The River was a service mark of The River Cooperative Corporation

Thanks for your interest in The River, aka

This FAQ contains information about The River, an online service devoted to conferencing. It was maintained by the members of The River.

FAQ Table of Contents

I. General Information About The River

II. The River User Information

III. Member Ownership of The River

IV. Conferences on The River

V. Technical Aspects of The River

VI. Costs for The River

VII. The River and Other Systems

VIII. Miscellaneous Information

I. General Information About The River

Q. What was The River?

The River was a self-governing, uncensored, economically sustainable computer conferencing system. The central mission of The River was to provide a medium for stimulating and interesting conversations among a diverse group of people, and to foster virtual communities which control their own destinies. The River was owned and governed by the members, people who created the conversations that were the source of the system's value. The River was open to experimentation and open to newcomers. Perhaps it also provided an economic and governance model for other communities of interest that wanted to build a convivial place to hold discussions in cyberspace.

Q. Who ran The River?

The River was a member-owned, member-governed co-operative business. Membership, and full participation in governance, was open to any user with a River account who wished to become a member. The members elected a Board of Directors, which in turn appointed system staff and management.

On a day-to-day basis, the staff and managers were responsible for operations of The River, and they were accountable to the Board, which was accountable to the members. We hoped to achieve a proactive, lively and whole-hearted cooperation and openness between staff, management, Board, members and users -- all the people who were in this venture together for their mutual benefit and enjoyment.

Q. Who used The River?

Anyone who wanted to join us.

Q. Why was The River established?

Our goal was to share what we have learned online in the past 30+ years, and then apply our collective wisdom to design something exciting and viable for ourselves. We decided to join together to create a new member-owned virtual community and commercial online service as an adventure for ourselves, an experiment in self-government and a place to gather old friends and new voices.

Q. Who started The River?

The River grew out of online conversations about virtual community, the drawbacks and benefits of existing services, and whether a member-owned cooperative could prove to be conducive to a stable and rewarding community and business, among a group of people who were to become the system's founders.

Collectively, these people had abundant experience in online communities: Plato, EIES, CompuServe, America Online, Apple-Link, Women's Wire, Usenet, ILink, RIME, the WELL, Prodigy, ARPAnet, the Source, Delphi, GEnie, the Internet, Grex, Echo, PC-Link, Viewtron, ProtoCall, Plink, The Meta Network and SOLO.

Q. What was at The River for me?

Some of the best conversation in cyberspace, fasincating people, challenging ideas, a new online adventure -- there were as many different answers to this question as there were people. And you won't know until you logged in and joined us!

Q. What was the business structure of The River?

The River was a corporation owned as a co-operative.

Our structure was as follows:

The River was a member-owned, member-governed co-op. Any River account holder could become a member by paying the annual membership fee of $50.

Members shall have three powers:

1. To adopt bylaws and amendments;

2. To elect the five-member Board of Directors;

3. Upon petition of two-thirds of the members, to call a special meeting to conduct any legal business, for example, adoption of new bylaws, recall and re-election of directors, approval of mergers, conversions, or dissolution of the co-op.

Directors shall be elected to a one-year term. [Go to Top]

II. The River User Information

Q. How did I log on and access The River?

You could telnet to The River from anywhere on the Internet.

First telnet to reach us.

At that point you could sign up (or login if you already had joined).

Q. What kind of information was required from me, and how was it kept secure?

We needed some biographical information from you: name, address, etc. All information collected from guests, users and members was strictly confidential.

Q. Did The River have direct dial-in access?

No. Internet access was globally inclusive, and The River dedicated its resources first to global access.

Q. How can I find local Internet access?

A list of major Internet providers can be found in the reference section of any good book on the Internet. Check with your local library or bookstore. If you are involved in a university, access to the Internet is normally provided for faculty, staff and students, so check with your campus computing center. Many businesses also offer their employees access to the Internet. Ask your MIS or Human Resources department. Major online services such as AOL and CIS are also beginning to offer telnet functions.

Q. Was The River limited by geography?

As little as possible. The River was conceived as existing in cyberspace. Anyone with Internet access could access The River as easily as anyone else. We had active members in Japan, Europe, Canada, the US, and participation in the conversations cost the same for each. As much as possible we tried to remove geography as a hurdle to participation. You could step into The River anywhere.

Q. Did The River restrict what people could post? What were your usage policies and terms of service?

You were required to pay your bills on time, refrain from doing things that cause technical problems for the system, and avoid making posts that break the law. You, and not The River, were responsible for what you post. Each of our conferences had policies set by its host, but The River had no overall restrictions on subject matter or language. Some conferences were very focused; others had no rules at all about what you could post. You were free to find and participate in whatever conferences you found most congenial.

Q. What services did The River offer other than conferencing?

The River offered UNIX shell access and electronic mail, but was primarily dedicated to supporting online conversations.

Q. Could I use a name other than my own? Use a "handle"? Get an anonymous account?

No, The River required that you use your real name and biographical information when registering. You can then choose a screen name, a short name that appears when you post, but it was possible for other users to then get your real name from your screen name. We believed in accountability for what you wrote on The River, and that means backing it up with your real name.

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III. Member Ownership of The River

Q. Who owned The River?

The River was member-owned and member-governed. Its owners were a self-selecting group of people who used and cared about the system. Any user could become a member and participate in the ownership and governance of the system. That way, the same people who owned The River provided it with its source of value -- high-quality online conversation.

Q. What did member-owned and member-governed really mean?

It meant that any user could become a member, and that all members had an equal stake in the governing of The River. It meant that the Board of Directors was directly accountable to the membership. It also meant that system staff and management attempted to give a high level of customer service and responsiveness, and members were highly motivated to volunteer time and talent to whatever needed to be done.

Q. What was the difference between a user and a member?

A user was a person who registered with The River to use the service and paid the monthly access fee. A member gained a larger voice in the governing of The River by casting a vote for the Board of Directors and gained a stronger connection to The River by supporting it economically.

Q. Did I need to be a member to join The River?

No. You were welcome to participate in The River as a user for as long as you liked. Membership was not required, although you were welcome to become a member at any time.

Q. Why should I have become a member?

Over time, we'd found that many of the contributors to an online community come to want a direct voice in its governance. Becoming a member of The River gave you that direct voice. Since each member had one vote, and only one vote, becoming a member of The River put you on an equal basis with every other member, from the people who had been members from the very beginning of the system to the newest of the newcomers. And since the board was elected by and accountable to the members, your voice was a very real one.

It's an unfortunate fact that in our society, and especially in the online world, individuals seldom feel they have a real and individual voice in their communities and businesses. Becoming a member of The River gave you exactly that chance. There's a lot of satisfaction to be gained by knowing that you are one of the owners of a place you like, especially when the other owners are people that like the place, too!

Q. How long did my membership last?

Your membership was renewable yearly as soon as your annual fees are paid.

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IV. Conferences on The River

Q. What was the conferencing software, and why did The River choose it?

The River used YAPP, which was very similar to the Picospan program used by the WELL and Grex. We chose this conferencing software because it provided the best environment we knew of for ongoing, connected, thoughtful computer-mediated conversations between many people, and because it is accessible to anyone with a computer and modem, not just those with new fast modems or state-of-the-art graphics capability.

Q. What were some of the conferences on The River?

There were a wide variety of conferences and topics: everything from politics to literature to media to technical matters.

Q. Could I start a conference?

In general, the ideas for all River conferences come from the users -- users just like you. However, The River did exercise some control over starting new conferences -- so you couldn't just start a new conference by yourself. A three-person committee, the Group of Three, was in charge of helping people start new conferences. This oversight was necessary to avoid duplication, to ensure the new conference has effective hosting, and to avoid proliferation of pointless, frivolous conferences.

Q. Could I start a topic in a conference?


Q. What was the policy on private conferences?

Members were permitted to have as many private conferences as they like, space permitting.

Q. Could anyone open a private conference? How did you go about it?

Youd sent email to the general manager, and received information about how to create a private conference on The River.

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V. Technical Aspects of The River

Q. What was the hardware/software architecture of The River?

The River was housed on a PC Pentium, using FreeBSD Unix.

Q. What kind of computer did I need to access The River?

Any computer equipped with a modem and software that enable it to dial in to an Internet access provider. You could navigate The River on an XT clone, a Sun Sparcstation, or a Mac. You may find that you get more out of the Internet if your computer software allowed you to make a PPP connection to the Internet and to view graphics files. At present, however, The River was set up to work for anyone who can get online.

Q. How much did The River cost?

Users paid a flat fee of $10/month for unlimited use of the system. Users were allowed 5 Megabytes of free disk storage. Additional storage was charged for at the rate of $1 per meg per month.

You could pay by check or money order.

Q. How did your fee structure compare to the monthly fees of other online services?

The River charged one flat fee for unlimited use. Most other online services charged a flat fee plus an hourly charge after the allotted monthly hours are used -- and some did not give any allotted hours for the base charge. The River was a member-owned start-up. It was entirely paid for by fees from users and members.

Q. How would I have been billed?

You could send payment by check or money order for two or more months in advance.

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VII. The River and Other Systems

Q. Why would I want to join when I can choose from the WELL, Prodigy, CIS, AOL, local BBSs, Usenet, etc.? What made The River distinctive?

We hoped and expected you would participate in more than one online service. At The River, you would find, we hoped, the highest quality of conversation, involving a community of users from around the globe who gather for no other reason than to converse, entertain, enlighten, and hang out with each other. We hoped we would be your favorite community in cyberspace.

Q. What was the relationship between the Well and The River?

The WELL was one of The River's main inspirations; the model for conferencing and many of the ideals of online community that The River espoused evolved on the WELL. Many of The River's founders met each other there, and much of the early brainstorming for The River took place on the WELL. Many River members maintained accounts on both systems. However, The WELL, Inc. was not involved in The River. Although there was no business relationship between the two services, The River owed a spiritual debt to Stewart Brand, Matthew McClure, Cliff Figallo, John Coate, and a large band of fellow pioneers who created, on the WELL, one of the first true international online communities.

Q. How was The River different from other online services?

The River focused on conferencing among its users. The River was not a full-service Internet provider. The WELL, America Online, Delphi, and other mainstream online systems offered a range of services beyond what The River offered. The River focused on online conversation. And we hoped that by sharpening our focus we could help cultivate a new era in virtual community.

All online systems differ from each other in tone, partly because of the system's rules and tools and partly because of the people who gravitate there. It was our hope that, in being member-governed, The River would be lively, empowering, diverse and welcoming.

Q. If I joined The River, could I stay on the WELL?

Of course! Being a member or user of The River did not preclude any other online affiliation. Many of us were long-time members of the WELL as well as other online venues.

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VIII. Miscellaneous Information

Q. Why did you call it "The River?"

Imagine a river with many sources that come from all over. The River draws its strength from these converging tributaries. Unlike ordinary ordinary coffeehouse conversations, the River lets everyone get a word in edgewise. Each contribution makes the River grow. And, yes, we occasionally would have virtual waterfights!

Q. Do you have files there?

While The River may have some files that were convenient for its users or programs that have been developed as free/shareware ways to use The River, it was not a file server or depository.

Q. Did you have chat rooms or chat areas?

No, but we had standard UNIX features such as "send" and "talk." You could use them to talk to another person online at the same time you were online.

Q. Did you have news and information services?

No, The River was purely a conferencing system. But it was our experience that you stay informed on what is happening in the world because our users brought that news to The River daily (and sometimes hourly!). In fact, many times our users found that they have learned about something going on in the world that had not yet been broadcast on TV or radio in their area.

Q. How could I meet other people from The River? Were there organized meetings or parties?

Where and when was up to you. The River had no geographic "home" so it's sort of like the universe: its center is everywhere and its borders are nowhere. If you can get Riverpudlians and potential Riverpudlians together, we would provide you with a (spartan but useful) River Party Kit including, in some special cases, some refreshment money from our River Bank. You just had to promise to bring some of the energy of your party online.

Q. Who would I contact about a billing problem, a support question, a press interview, etc.?

Billing matters:

Help and support:

Conference matters:

Press inquiries

Unsure of who to contact? Send your message to: [Go to Top]

The River Home Page || Frequently Asked Questions || Conferences on the River (users area)
Leased Conferences || A list of The River Conferences

last update 12/31/2011
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