- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Three Rivers Press; First Edition edition (September 15, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0812931912
- ISBN-13: 978-0812931914
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #758,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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AOL.com Paperback – June 29, 1999
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AOL's story--from its origins in a doomed gaming service through its early appearance as a much-dismissed startup to its current status as an often-maligned giant--is as irresistible as a heroic comedy. Kara Swisher chronicles the surprising growth of the world's largest online service, an organization for which everything apparently went wrong.
The company has run into obstacles at every step of the way--partners who failed to give necessary support or who even turned hostile, and competition from a multitude of corporate Goliaths (including Bill Gates, who declared that he could either buy AOL or bury it). Worst of all, AOL has created a cascading sequence of operational and technical blunders, often offending or infuriating the people they most need to survive; yet the company still manages to dominate the online service industry.
Swisher speculates that one main factor enabled AOL to succeed against overwhelming odds: the superior vision of marketing executive Steve Case. While other online services focused on games, shopping, and business, AOL worked on building community and interpersonal contacts. This service proved valuable enough to outweigh the company's mistakes and misfortunes.
However, it is this same focus that has also brought on many of AOL's problems. Swisher describes AOL's struggles with the seamier side of online life--people who use the service for criminal activities and for discussing raunchy sexual issues. Swisher also discusses the problems that come with too much success, such as the overload of users that routinely slows down or completely crashes the system, the backlash on the Internet when masses of netiquette-challenged AOLers appeared in cliquish newsgroups, and the national outrage when a technical problem brought down the entire service for many hours.
With its cast of fascinating and quirky characters, including Steve Case, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Alexander Haig, aol.com is a captivating look at all the human, cultural, and sometimes just plain quixotic factors that created this unlikely giant. --Elizabeth Lewis --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Through tenacity and brilliant marketing, America Online bested competitors like Prodigy and CompuServe to become the way most Americans reach the Internet, according to Wall Street Journal reporter Swisher's gripping cyber-saga. The author, who has also covered AOL and the Internet for the Washington Post since 1994, conducted interviews with AOL's top executives, among others, and divulges details of AOL's rebuff of a 1993 buyout attempt by billionaire stakeholder Paul G. Allen, a cofounder of Microsoft. Microsoft famously waffled during the Net's infancy, and Allen's better-known partner, Bill Gates, predicted AOL's demise that same year. Then, paradoxically, Gates angled to buy or at least control the floundering company, but AOL bounded back. Chief executive Steve Case relentlessly focused on building "community" (via chat rooms and message boards) and unleashed a risky but inspired mailing campaign, a "carpet-bombing" of the U.S. with over 250 million free AOL disks for going online with AOL software. Swisher frankly reviews AOL's questionable accounting and billing practices, such as switching customers to higher rates without their consent, as well as customers' manifold grievances, yet he maintains that AOL has mended its ways. Although she admits that "Steve CaseAand by extensionAAOL, is so middle-of-the-road, so bland, so vanilla," Swisher's account makes the computer wars seem as seductive, treacherous and unpredictable as the Web itself. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book starts with the now legendary meeting between the world-richest man Bill Gates (founder and chairman of Microsoft) and Steve Case (now chairman of AOL) in May 1993. In this meeting, Gates makes the following proposal to Case: "I can buy 20 percent of you or I can buy all of you, or I can go into this business myself and bury you." In hindsight, we now know that Gates did not buy America Online and did not bury them either. With this conversation in the background Swisher discusses the roots, the lack of business plan, the strategy changes (through which AOl got the nickname cockroach: "... a bug you couldn't kill no matter how hard you tried."), the people involved, the battles with Microsoft, Prodigy and CompuServe, the financial problems, the legal problems, the acquisitions of Netscape and various other companies, and Steve Case's vision (the three C's - "communication, community, clarity"). Most of the information comes from inside the company itself, where Swisher has interviewed the numerous people involved, but as a Washington Post-journalist there is plenty of external information.
Although this excellent book is about one of the best-known brands in cyberspace, it is perfectly readable for non-Internet geeks (like me). Yes, yes, I know, there are plenty of names and Internet terms around, but that doesn't even make this a bad and difficult read. I see this book as the first part in the history of America Online (AOL), from pre-startup through to late-1998. But plenty has happened since 1998 and I do expect the author to write another book on those events?!?
I am impressed with AOL as a company. Although Steve Case made most of the important decisions, everyone was important to the success of the company. What a great strategy by Jan Brandt on blanketing the country with AOL diskettes, and the idea to make the software user friendly and easy to use was right on. Both of these features lured me to join the AOL customer family.
AOL as a company, along with the aid of this book, is a great encouragement to those who dream for the stars.
Often described as a cockroach in cyberspace (in more ways than one), America Online has repeatedly defied critics by sustaining its growth and success through repeated hard times. In going from a distant third (behind Compuserve and Prodigy) to becoming the undisputed top proprietary service, the story of AOL takes the reader through a variety of issues which are still very relevant to the Internet in general (e.g. AOL has been dealing with online pornography, first amendment issues, spam, etc. for years).
This book is well-researched, well-written, and very interesting. Whatever your own opinions of AOL, if you are at all interested in the past and future of the online world, you owe it to yourself to learn about AOL and why it is so hugely successful.
Just wish there was a kindle version.