Magazine article Management Today

Just Keep Me Connected

Magazine article Management Today

Just Keep Me Connected

Article excerpt

The giant of B2C internet business has finessed its merger with Time-Warner. But can AOL evolve as effectively in the future as it has in the past?

Why focus on a single company this month rather than on a theme?

Because AOL is such a gorilla in the business-to-consumer (B2C) internet space. As AOL-Time Warner, its market cap is more than $200 billion - not far off Microsoft, and probably as great as all other B2C businesses in the world combined. The AOL subscriber base of 30 million consumers dwarfs any other ISP or paid-subscription portal.

AOL has been key to the evolution of mass consumer internet usage and of profitable internet business models, and it will continue to be.

What was AOL's role in the early days of the internet?

AOL has been around for 15 years, but it took off in 1997-98, as the internet broke through into the mass consumer market, It took on the role of gateway to the internet for the general consumer. Steve Case always described AOL as a consumer marketing company rather than a technology business. For Geoffrey Moore, AOL was key to the internet 'crossing the chasm' from a niche to a mass market.

Three or four years ago, consumers needed basic help on all four Cs of the web: Connectivity, Communication, Content and Commerce. AOL's brilliance was to provide a bundled, easy-to-get-started solution to all four: an ISP plus e-mail plus portal, with a help desk that actually answered the phone, and an idiot-proof CD installation mailed out monthly to every household in the Western world. Early-adopter geeks scoffed at AOL's inelegant technology and sneered at the high ISP prices, but the general consumer didn't care - AOL got them wired.

How has AOL's role evolved?

It has dramatically expanded its offer, and its value for consumers in Communication and Connectivity. Buddy Chat (instant messaging) is live e-mail - plus you know when buddies are online, you can create chat-room conference calls', it's more functional than mobile phone SMS, and it's cheaper than long-distance phone calls. AOL Anywhere lets you access your e-mail from any online connection, without an AOL installation. In October AOL launched AOL-by-Phone in the US, which for $5 extra per month lets you interact with the web via voice. AOL local access numbers cover 99% of locations in the world where you might go on holiday or work away from your office. …

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