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John Coate

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John Coate
A casually dressed, middle-aged white man with wavy gray hair sits in an overstuffed chair in a living room
John Coate, date unknown.
Born (1951-01-17) January 17, 1951 (age 73)
OccupationMedia executive
Known forThe WELL, SFGate
Notable work"Cyberspace Innkeeping"

John Coate (born January 17, 1951) is an American media executive and advocate for online communities. He was one of the original members of The Farm, an intentional community founded in 1971, and brought lessons learned from building that community to bear in his work online.[1]

He helped create The WELL, one of the earliest online communities in America, and is the author of "Cyberspace Innkeeping,” an essay on best practices for moderators. He later helped create and operate SFGate.



Coate is described in journalist Gal Beckerman's book The Quiet Before as an early bridge between the countercultural movements of the 1960s and online activism.[2] Coate joined The Farm as a teenager, after hearing Stephen Gaskin speak at the Straight Theater on Haight Street in San Francisco, living on a bus with as many as seven other people before the group bought property in Tennessee.[3]

Coate later became the original marketing director and conference manager of The WELL, one of the oldest virtual communities in continuous operation.[4][1][5] He was hired by another Farm alumnus, Matthew McClure, in 1986. Even though Coate had never used a computer before, McClure told him his experience with community and as an auto mechanic would help him pick up the necessary skills quickly.[6] Coate and a third Farm alumnus, Cliff Figallo, were called "process queens" by some WELL members for the methodical way they handled disputes among members, but in general were respected as fair moderators, according to Katie Hafner's book about the early years of The WELL. One user told Hafner that with Coate and Figallo in charge, "[t]he WELL treated its dissidents very well."[7]

By the early 1990s, Coate became interested in moving beyond the technology available on The WELL. "For example, at a WELL music conference, you could talk about music, but you couldn't play a clip of it," he told Editor & Publisher. He was also curious about what conversations could be like if they were surrounded by "actual data and reporting."[8] After leaving in 1991, he spent a short stint at Minitel, promoting its online network by demonstrating its terminal at raves.[9] He then became the first general manager of SFGate, originally a joint website for KRON-TV, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner, whose launch was sped up by the 1994 San Francisco newspaper strike.[10] He served in that role for seven years. Under his leadership, the site was said to "def[y] more staid newspaper conventions with smart-alecky headlines, spicy chat rooms Coate allows to go R-rated [...] and cyber columnists, including The Betting Fool, a sports gadfly perhaps best known for the time he matched wits on the site with his pothead cousin."[8] It was also known for its "really crazy" design choices, such as changing color schemes from day to night, and for taking an "irreverent and sometimes controversial" tone toward reporting the news.[10][11][12] When he stepped down in January 2001, the Chronicle reported SFGate had 55 employees and a million visits a day, "making it one of the earliest and most popular sites for newspapers on the internet."[11]

In 2008, Coate became general manager of public radio station KZYX in Mendocino County. He was credited with nearly eliminating that station's debt, but was also one of the targets of a 2014 FCC complaint by a board member who was unhappy with station hiring and programming decisions.[13] The Federal Communications Commission renewed the station's license on September 15, 2015, after reviewing the complaint.[14]

From 2016-2021[15] Coate was an advisor to a European consulting group, Edgeryders, a think tank and "open consulting" company.[16]



Coate summed up what he learned at The WELL in an essay, "Cyberspace Innkeeping: Building Online Community," that has been cited in various discussions of how to grow and manage audience participation online. In this essay, Coate described logging on as using "new tools for an ancient activity" and discussed how members had used the WELL to make business connections, get medical advice, and organize pot-luck parties. For the term "electronic village" to apply, he wrote, "this blending of business and pleasure must be present. Because that's what a village is: a place where you go down to the butcher or the blacksmith and transact your business, and at night meet those same neighbors down at the local tavern or the Friday night dance."[17] Dennis M. Weiss, professor of philosophy at York College of Pennsylvania, cited Coate's essay in arguing that "small town" was one of the central metaphors for online communities.[18] Susan Greenberg, a lecturer at Roehampton University, quoted Coate in discussing how online discourse blends elements of both oral and written communication.[19] Social media consultant Vanessa DiMauro described hearing Coate's keynote as one of the highlights of the VIRCOMM Summit of 2013, and said his essay "still serves as an up-to-the-minute guide to online community best practices."[20]

In a review of Beckerman's book, The Economist magazine called Coate the "godfather of social media."[21]


  1. ^ a b Turner, Fred (2006). From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. University of Chicago Press. pp. 146–148, 155, 159. ISBN 0-226-81741-5.
  2. ^ Beckerman, Gal (2022). The Quiet Before: On the Unexpected Origins of Radical Ideas. Crown. pp. 150–157, 161–162. ISBN 978-1524759186.
  3. ^ Rheingold, Howard (31 March 2008). "Counterculture Origins of Cyberculture". Internet Archive. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  4. ^ Hafner, Katie (May 1997). "The Epic Saga of The Well". Wired. Retrieved 15 September 2022.
  5. ^ Turner, Fred (July 2005). "Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community". Technology and Culture. 46: 485–512.
  6. ^ O'Keefe, Patrick (9 March 2020). "When Your First Day as an Online Community Manager is Your First Day at a Computer". Community Signal. Retrieved 12 March 2022.
  7. ^ Hafner, Katie (2001). The Well: A Story of Love, Death and Real Life in a Seminal Online Community. Carroll & Graf. p. 53. ISBN 978-0786708468.
  8. ^ a b Davis, Joel (7 February 2000). "Keeper of the Gate: S.F.'s John Coate Manages One of the Country's Best Newspaper Web Sites, So Why Do Some Say His Future Is In Doubt?". Editor & Publisher. pp. 20–24. Retrieved 17 January 2023.
  9. ^ Mailland, Julien (16 June 2017). "Minitel, the Open Network Before the Internet". The Atlantic. Retrieved 17 January 2023.
  10. ^ a b Hartlaub, Peter (28 October 2014). "SFGate.com Began 20 Years Ago, With a Floppy Disk and a Dream". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 15 September 2022.
  11. ^ a b Fost, Dan (30 January 2001). "Chronicle Online Chief Resigns". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 15 September 2022.
  12. ^ Kershner, Vlae (24 December 2000). "How SFGate Complements The Chronicle". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 15 September 2022.
  13. ^ Anderson, Glenda (20 January 2014). "Mendocino County Radio Station Board Member Says He'll Challenge License". The Press Democrat. Retrieved 15 September 2022.
  14. ^ Anonymous (22 September 2015). "FCC Renews KZYX's License". Ukiah Daily Journal. Retrieved 15 September 2022.
  15. ^ "John Coate's Website". John Coate. Retrieved 2023-06-01.
  16. ^ "Wizards Among Us: John Coate Joins the Edgeryders Team". Edgeryders. Retrieved 13 March 2022.
  17. ^ Coate, John (1997). "Cyberspace Inkeeping: Building Online Community". In Agre, Philip E. (ed.). Reinventing Technology, Rediscovering Community. Ablex Publications. ISBN 978-1567502589.
  18. ^ Weiss, Dennis M. (Fall 1998). "Community, Democracy and the Metaphors of Cyberspace". Humanities and Technology Review. 17: 4–25 – via WorldCat.
  19. ^ Greenberg, Susan (2012). "Slow Journalism in the Digital Fast Lane". In Keeble, Richard Lance; Tulloch, John (eds.). Global Literary Journalism: Exploring the Journalistic Imagination. Peter Lang Inc. pp. 381–393. ISBN 978-1433118661.
  20. ^ DiMauro, Vanessa (19 March 2013). "John Coate and The WELL: Looking Ahead by Looking Back at an Early Online Community". Social Media Today. Retrieved 19 September 2022.
  21. ^ "How Do Radicals Find Each Other -- And Get Heard?". The Economist. 12 February 2022. Retrieved 19 September 2022.