Swisher, Kara Times Business, 1998
Price: $99.


During the last decade of the 20th century, an entirely new medium - online communications via the personal computer - was born, and the preeminent brand of this emerging new medium has turned out to be America Online (AOL). Since its founding a decade ago, the company has grown from an insignificant computer-games service aimed at teenage boys into a huge enterprise with more than 11 million subscribers worldwide and more than $1 billion in revenue. In 1978, entrepreneur Bill Von Meister hit upon the idea of delivering information via a service combining least-cost telephone routing technology, cheap computer time, and existing databases to transmit just about any kind of information, such as airline reservations, restaurant reviews, banking data, etc., into individual homes. With CompuServe already focusing on the business market, CBS, Sears, and IBM announced a joint venture, in February 1984, to create a popular consumer online service (Prodigy) for users of personal computers. Suddenly, major companies were willing to get involved in the home market. Needing a replacement for AppleLink, Quantum created America Online. The new service, which began in October 1989, included games, e-mail, chat, news, travel, and other information. In October 1991, Quantum officially became America Online, Inc., and although there were less than 150,000 users and only a modest profit on revenues of $20 million, AOL was now a brand.Although AOL had far fewer members than either Prodigy or CompuServe, its simple and lively service, with the easy-to-use point-and-click interface anyone could install on a personal computer, intrigued Paul Allen, cofounder of Microsoft Corporation. Living up to its moniker, "the cockroach of the online world," AOL has managed to continue to evolve into whatever shapes were needed for its survival. For the second quarter ending December 31, 1997, AOL earned $20.8 million on revenues of $592 million. In early 1998, it hit the 11-million-member mark.