Kara Swisher: "I love my job making content on the Recode Decode podcast, but it is a particular pleasure when I get to talk to two of the best reporters who truly are impacting the world: Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor of the NY Times whose book on Weinstein 'She Said' is now out. Buy it, I command."
In 1996, Kara Swisher, then a reporter at The Washington Post, was granted unprecedented access to one of the hottest and most closely watched companies in the world, America Online, Inc. In aol.com, Swisher has written a book that captures the secrets of how AOL beat the competition and became the world's biggest online company. Swisher also reveals the company's behind-the-scenes dealings with Microsoft cofounders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, CompuServe, Prodigy, Netscape, and the Christian Right.
Throughout its existence, AOL has repeatedly been written off by the media and the high-tech world. Bill Gates threatened to buy it or bury it. Deep-pocketed competitors such as CompuServe and Prodigy thought little of their smaller rival. And AOL made matters worse by committing a series of public-relations and technical blunders that became front page news and enraged its subscribers.
In telling the story of AOL, Swisher also conveys the fascinating history of the online business, which has its origins in the dreams of an eccentric and little-known entrepreneur named Bill Von Meister, whose grand ideas and big spending spawned the fledgling company that would become AOL. But it fell to a young marketing executive named Steve Case to build AOL while fending off an onslaught of wealthier competitors and suitors.
Ultimately, as Swisher vividly illustrates, AOL gained supremacy because Case possessed the best vision for his company, establishing AOL as a vibrant virtual community rather than an online shopping center or business tool. Included in that community is an array of enthusiasts, activists, and deviants who at times clash in battles over freedom of expression and family values, a flash point best illustrated here by AOL's fight against the Communications Decency Act.
Re-creating all of the major moments in AOL's frenzied history, aol.com is a fascinating and important inside story about the birth of a new medium, the enterprising innovators who are leading it, and the way it is changing our culture.
In an always lively, sometimes glib style, Swisher, writing with Dickey, recounts the forces that led to the biggest media deal in history and then traces the downward spiral of the combined AOL Time Warner.
In the late 1990s, executives of AOL, led by Steve Case, were looking to capitalize on AOL's sky-high stock price by completing a transforming acquisition with a major media company. At the same time, Time Warner, burned by several failed online ventures, was looking for a way to make sure it didn't become an anachronism in the new age of the Internet. So when Case met Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin, the combination seemed like a sure winner. A preliminary merger agreement was announced in January 2000 with great fanfare, but within a year, and before the deal was even officially completed, there were signs of the problems that would lead to the ouster of nearly every one associated with the merger.
The Internet bubble, which had driven up AOL's stock price to unsustainable heights, burst, dragging down its share price. And the skidding price exacerbated what was already a difficult task of meshing AOL's corporate culture with that of Time Warner.
Swisher (AOL.com), a columnist with the Wall Street Journal, doesn't take sides in deciding who is to blame for the merger's failure, but provides the perspective from both AOL and Time Warner on why the merger failed to click. Swisher uses her access to most top AOL executives and Levin to deliver a story that races along in Internet time about one of the seminal events in media history.