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aol.com: How Steve Case Beat Bill Gates, Nailed the Netheads, and Made Millions in the War for the Web Hardcover – June 16, 1998

4.3 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 333 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; 1st edition (June 16, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812928962
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812928969
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,854,355 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gerard Kroese on April 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
Kara Swisher has covered AOL and the Internet for the business section of The Washington Post since 1994. Now reporting on Silicon Valley for The Wall Street Journal, she lives in San Francisco. This updated version, published in 1999, included an new epilogue by the author.
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?!?
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Format: Paperback
AOL.COM is a fascinating and well written documentation on the birth and growth of the giant company we know today. Kara Swisher did a wonderful job of presenting the history of AOL. I found particular interest in the integration of quotes from many different sources including investors, employees, and competitors of AOL.
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Still relevant today even though aol is old news on the startup/entrepreneur front. Tenacious guts and a story about survival - important for any business, at any time.

Just wish there was a kindle version.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a good book, detailing Steve Case's journey in building AOL. Roughly the first half of the book covers birth through the early 90s, and the remainder is devoted to extensive discussion of AOL's many changes in response to the growth of the Internet.
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book does an excellent job of telling the story of AOL's rise to the top while being knocked by absolutely everyone. It is a very compelling read - I could not put this book down. If you want to read about how the underdog won in the end - get this book.
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Format: Hardcover
It's impossible to describe the feeling I received whilereading AOL.Com. Here was the company I put so much of my heart andsoul into exposed completely for the world to see. The author makes it possible for her readers to sit back and observe the creation of a phenomenon the world now calls AOL.
It's as if the reader is really there. The authors ability to provide such vivid personalities of Steve Case and other executives amazed me. She unravels a tale which should leave readers spell bound regardless of their previous familiarity with AOL.
By far my favorite reference in the book is where the author describes Marc Seriff as "a young programmer" and continues to describe him as "only 33 years old". While I'm sure Marc, enjoyed this reference also I was disappointed they didn't provide more background on my own mentor. A book called AOL.COM deserves at least a chapter on how Marc led and inspired the technology development at AOL.
I would have also enjoyed reading more about the time I worked internally at Quantum/AOL. The 5+ years I spent in Virginia was condensed down to about 20 pages. It makes my contributions seem small when I look at the big picture. It's probably just as well since one of my best ideas at the time, the proprietary FDO(Form Definition Opcodes), is now considered a technical albatross.
As a devoted AOL'er I really enjoyed reading so many of the inside details of executive level dealing with the likes of Microsoft, CompuServe and others. The reaction of investors over the years was particularly enjoyable to me. For many years I've debated with industry insiders who proclaimed AOL to be dead. I could never fully convince them of the basic principles behind AOL's continued success.
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