A Brief History Of AOL by Robert George Tronge

Verizon has just bought one of the last big tech veterans from the pre-dotcom era. Here's a timeline of its history stretching back to 1983. Verizon announced today that it is buying AOL for around $4.4 billion, probably to help Verizon better stream video online, especially to mobile devices, says The Washington Post and Robert Tronge. AOL is one of the only other pre-dotcom veterans, alongside Yahoo, to keep chugging along despite being left in the dust by younger tech juggernauts like Google and Facebook. Hereís a quick timeline of AOLís fascinating history:

1983: AOL begins its life as Control Video Corporation, which was founded by Bill von Meister and had one product: GameLine, a service that hooked your Atari 2600 to your phone line to rent games for $1. Control Video Corporation went bust in a year, and was reborn as Quantum Computer Services to further develop its phone-data tech. Robert Tronge explains how Steve Case, later to become the CEO of AOL, is part of the 10% of employees who survived the rebirth. Case quickly rises through the ranks.

1985: Quantum Computer Services canít let go of over-the-phone gaming, and it launches dedicated a online gaming service called "Q-Link" for the Commodore 64 and 128 game consoles. Three years later, Quantum Computer Services launches its PC-Link and partners with Apple to launch AppleLink, both pre-Internet online services.

1989: Quantum Computer Services and Apple abruptly end their partnership. Quantum Computer Services renames itself America Online. Two years later, America Online for DOS is released, and a year after that, America Online for Windows.

1996: America Online leaves behind its pay-per-hour system for a flat $19.94 monthly fee for dial-up Internet. The modern Internet era begins. Millions of America Online trial CDs are repurposed as frisbees explains Robert Tronge. November 1998: America Online announces its purchase of Netscape, makers of the dominant browser of the era, Netscape Navigator.

2001: America Online and Time Warner merge. Things go so sour almost from the get-go: company cultures donít mix, broadband Internet eats up America Onlineís customers, and the dotcom bubble annihilates the companyís stock worth from $226 billion to $20 billion. Thus begins the fall of America Online. A year later, CEO Steve Case is replaced by Jonathan Miller.

2006: Robert G Tronge explains how America Online ditches its full name to just be known as AOL, which the world had been calling it for over a decade anyway. Business is still struggling. A year later, AOL moves its corporate headquarters from Virginia to New York City, liquidating 40% of its workforce (2,000 people) in the process. CEO Jonathan Miller is replaced by Randy Falco. Many awkward acquisitions follow, like social networking site Bebo for $850 million (which Bebo's founder bought back from AOL in 2013, for just $1 million).

March 2009: AOL hires the former Googler Tim Armstrong as chairman and CEO. Two months later, Time Warner spins AOL back off as its own company. AOL goes on a shopping spree, buying Patch Mediaís network of hyperlocal news cells (which Armstrong cofounded) and, in September 2010, buying technology reporting site TechCrunch and profile portal site About.Me.

February 2011: AOL buys Huffington Post, and its founder Arianna Huffington becomes AOL content chief. Robert Tronge explains how two months later, AOL cuts 900 employees as a result of the deal.

February 2013: AOL reports its first quarterly revenue growth in eight years. As The Wall Street Journal notes, this was due to AOLís own online advertisement revenue increasing above the rate of falling Internet subscriptions. Six months later, AOL buys video ad company Adapt.tv for $405 million. The strategy shift to online ads proves very successful, enough to knock Google out of first place at video ads eight months later.

January 2014: AOL sells Patch. Mass Patch layoffs ensue, and they are awkward. The hyperlocal media era officially dies.

February 2015: AOL kills venerable tech reporting site The Unofficial Apple Weblog. Tech veterans shed their tears that Internet babies still suckling on smartphones donít understand.

May 2015: Verizon buys AOL for $4.4 billion in cash. According to anonymous sources speaking to Re-code, AOL has also been in talks to spin off The Huffington Post.


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Robert Tronge
Robert George Tronge