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WELL chief departs software arm

Maria Wilhelm, the president and prospective buyer of The WELL, is stepping down as president of sister business WELL Engaged.

Maria Wilhelm, president of The WELL, is stepping down from her position as president of The WELL's sister business, WELL Engaged.

The move helps clear the way for Wilhelm to purchase the 11,000-member WELL community, but not WELL Engaged, a software conferencing system used by the likes of Playboy, Electric Minds, and the Wall Street Journal.

While WELL Engaged certainly is popular, critics have at times called it a complicated and difficult system that needs a lot more work.

Wilhelm's move, however, should come as no surprise to those who pay attention to The WELL's inner workings. "I have never been interested, nor have I ever made an offer to buy WELL Engaged," Wilhelm said. "My primary interest has always been The WELL. I am actively negotiating for the purchase of The WELL."

A journalist by training and vocation, Wilhelm has always said she intended to step down as president once the business got established. "I spent the bulk of the last 13 months working on WELL Engaged and not The WELL," she said.

It was never her intention to run a software company, she added.

Wilhelm's passion always has resided with The WELL's online community, which she frequently describes fondly as "cantankerous."

Meanwhile, she's working on deals that help draw members into the $10-per-month subscription-based community. Last week, for instance, the WELL signed an agreement with PBS to hold conversations on its site about content it produces, beginning with its Hong Kong '97 site.

While the deal helps bring WELL members to the PBS site and shows, it also helps The WELL gain new members. PBS would share in revenue from new memberships, Wilhelm said. "You're seeing the beginnings of an emerging Internet strategy where sites house their conversations."

Unlike Electric Minds, which helps companies launch their own communities, The WELL simply will be allowing companies to participate in the "rich conversations that are already on The WELL," Wilhelm said.

Camilo Wilson, the executive vice president of WELL Engaged, will take Wilhelm's place.