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AOL (stylized as Aol., formerly a company known as AOL Inc. and originally known as America Online) is an American
web portal A web portal is a specially designed website A website (also written as web site) is a collection of web page A web page (or webpage) is a hypertext File:Douglas Engelbart in 2008.jpg, Douglas Engelbart in 2009, at the 40th annivers ...
and
online service provider In computer technology and telecommunications, online indicates a state of connectivity and offline indicates a disconnected state. In modern terminology, this usually refers to an Internet connection, but (especially when expressed "on line" o ...
based in New York City. It is a
brand A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. Brands are used in business Business is the activity of making one's living or making mon ...

brand
marketed by
Verizon Media Verizon Media is a division of Verizon Communications that focuses on media and online business. Verizon Communications acquired AOL in 2015. When Verizon Communications purchased Yahoo! Yahoo! (, styled as yahoo''!'') is an American web ...
. The service traces its history to an
online service An online service provider (OSP) can, for example, be an Internet service provider, an email provider, a news provider (press), an entertainment provider (music, movies), a search engine, an e-commerce site, an online banking site, a health site, an ...
known as
PlayNET PlayNet (or PlayNET) was an American online service An online service provider (OSP) can, for example, be an Internet service provider, an email provider, a news provider (press), an entertainment provider (music, movies), a search engine, an e-com ...
. PlayNET licensed its software to
Quantum Link Quantum Link (or Q-Link) was a U.S. and Canadian online service An online service provider (OSP) can, for example, be an Internet service provider, an email provider, a news provider (press), an entertainment provider (music, movies), a search en ...
(Q-Link), who went online in November 1985. A new
IBM PC The IBM Personal Computer (model 5150, commonly known as the IBM PC) is the first computer released in the IBM PC model line and the basis for the IBM PC compatible IBM PC compatible computers are similar to the original IBM PC The IBM ...

IBM PC
client launched in 1988, eventually renamed as America Online in 1989. AOL grew to become the largest online service, displacing established players like
CompuServe CompuServe (CompuServe Information Service, also known by its initialism CIS) was an American online service provider, the first major commercial one in the United States – described in 1994 as "the oldest of the Big Three information services ...
and
The Source ''The Source'' is an American hip hop Hip hop or hip-hop is a culture Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and Norm (social), norms found in human Society, societies, as well as the knowledge, beli ...
. By 1995, AOL had about three million active users. AOL was one of the early pioneers of the
Internet The Internet (or internet) is the global system of interconnected computer networks that uses the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to communicate between networks and devices. It is a ''internetworking, network of networks'' that consist ...

Internet
in the mid-1990s, and the most recognized brand on the web in the United States. It originally provided a dial-up service to millions of Americans, as well as providing a
web portal A web portal is a specially designed website A website (also written as web site) is a collection of web page A web page (or webpage) is a hypertext File:Douglas Engelbart in 2008.jpg, Douglas Engelbart in 2009, at the 40th annivers ...
,
e-mail upThe email_address.html"_;"title="at_sign,_a_part_of_every_SMTP_email_address">at_sign,_a_part_of_every_SMTP_email_address Electronic_mail_(email_or_e-mail)_is_a_method_of_exchanging_messages_("mail")_between_people_using_electronic_dev ...

e-mail
,
instant messaging Instant messaging (IM) technology is a type of online chat allowing real-time text transmission over the Internet or another computer network. Messages are typically transmitted between two or more parties, when each user inputs text and trigge ...

instant messaging
and later a
web browser A web browser (commonly referred to as a browser) is application software for accessing the World Wide Web. When a User (computing), user requests a web page from a particular website, the web browser retrieves the necessary content from a web ...

web browser
following its purchase of
Netscape Netscape Communications Corporation (originally Mosaic Communications Corporation) was an American independent computer services company with headquarters in Mountain View, California Mountain View is a city in Santa Clara County, Californi ...

Netscape
. In 2001, at the height of its popularity, it purchased the media conglomerate
Time Warner Warner Media, LLC ( traded as WarnerMedia, but stylized as WarnerMedia; formerly known as Time Warner from 1990 to 2001 and again from 2003 to 2018; from 2001 to 2003, AOL Time Warner and from 1972 to 1990, Warner Communications) is an Americ ...
in the largest merger in U.S. history. AOL rapidly declined thereafter, partly due to the decline of dial-up and rise of
broadband In telecommunications Telecommunication is the transmission of information by various types of technologies over , radio, , or other systems. It has its origin in the desire of humans for communication over a distance greater than that fea ...
. AOL was eventually spun off from Time Warner in 2009, with
Tim Armstrong Timothy Ross Armstrong (Timothy Lockwood Armstrong according to some sources) (born November 25, 1965) is an American multiple Grammy Award The Grammy Award (stylized as GRAMMY, originally called Gramophone Award), or just Grammy, is an a ...
appointed the new CEO. Under his leadership, the company invested in media brands and advertising technologies. On June 23, 2015, AOL was acquired by
Verizon Communications Verizon Communications Inc., commonly known as Verizon, is an American multinational telecommunications conglomerate and a corporate component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The company is headquartered at 1095 Avenue of the Americas in ...
for $4.4 billion.


History


1983–1991: Early years

AOL began in 1983, as a short-lived venture called Control Video Corporation (or CVC), founded by
William von Meister William F. von Meister (February 21, 1942 – May 18, 1995) was an American entrepreneur who founded and participated in a number of startup ventures in the Washington, D.C., area. These included The Source (service), The Source, an early online s ...
. Its sole product was an online service called
GameLine GameLine was a dialup game distribution service for the Atari 2600, developed and operated by Control Video Corporation (CVC). Subscribers could install the proprietary modem and storage ROM cartridge, cartridge in their home game console, accessin ...
for the
Atari 2600 The Atari 2600, originally branded as the Atari Video Computer System (Atari VCS) until November 1982, is a home video game console A home video game console is a video game console that is designed to be connected to a display device, suc ...

Atari 2600
video game console A video game console is an electronic device that output Output may refer to: * The information produced by a computer, see Input/output In computing, input/output (I/O, or informally io or IO) is the communication between an information pro ...
, after von Meister's idea of buying music on demand was rejected by
Warner Bros. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (commonly known as Warner Bros. and abbreviated as WB) is an American diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate headquartered at the Warner Bros. Studios complex in Burbank, California ...
Subscribers bought a
modem A modulator-demodulator, or simply a modem, is a hardware device that converts data from a digital format, intended for communication directly between devices with specialized wiring, into one suitable for a transmission medium such as telep ...

modem
from the company for US$49.95 and paid a one-time US$15 setup fee. GameLine permitted subscribers to temporarily download games and keep track of high scores, at a cost of US$1 per game. The telephone disconnected and the downloaded game would remain in GameLine's Master Module and playable until the user turned off the console or downloaded another game. In January 1983,
Steve Case Stephen McConnell Case (born August 21, 1958) is an American entrepreneur, investor, and businessman best known as the former chief executive officer and chairman of America Online (AOL). Case joined AOL's predecessor company, Quantum Computer Se ...

Steve Case
was hired as a marketing consultant for Control Video on the recommendation of his brother, investment banker Dan Case. In May 1983,
Jim Kimsey James Verlin Kimsey (September 15, 1939 – March 1, 2016) was the co-founder of AOL AOL (stylized as Aol., formerly a company known as AOL Inc. and originally known as America Online) is an American web portal and online service provider ...
became a manufacturing consultant for Control Video, which was near bankruptcy. Kimsey was brought in by his West Point friend
Frank CaufieldFrank J. Caufield (1939 - November, 2019) was a co-founder and named partner of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, based in Menlo Park, California. From 1973 to 1978, Caufield was a general partner and manager of Oak Grove Ve ...
, an investor in the company. In early 1985, von Meister left the company. On May 24, 1985, Quantum Computer Services, an online services company, was founded by Jim Kimsey from the remnants of Control Video, with Kimsey as
chief executive officer A chief executive officer (CEO), chief administrator officer, or just chief executive (CE), is one of a number of corporate executives A corporation is an organization—usually a group of people or a company A company, abbreviated as c ...
, and
Marc Seriff Marc S. Seriff (born May 5, 1948 in Austin, Texas) is best known as the Chief Technology Officer, CTO and co-founder of America Online, along with Jim Kimsey (CEO), Steve Case, and William von Meister (as Control Video Corporation). Biography Serif ...
as
chief technology officer A chief technical officer (CTO), also known as a chief technology officer or chief technologist, is an executive-level position in a company or other entity whose occupation is focused on the scientific and technological issues within an organiza ...
. The technical team consisted of
Marc Seriff Marc S. Seriff (born May 5, 1948 in Austin, Texas) is best known as the Chief Technology Officer, CTO and co-founder of America Online, along with Jim Kimsey (CEO), Steve Case, and William von Meister (as Control Video Corporation). Biography Serif ...
, Tom Ralston, Ray Heinrich, Steve Trus, Ken Huntsman, Janet Hunter, Dave Brown, Craig Dykstra, Doug Coward, and Mike Ficco. In 1987, Case was promoted again to executive vice-president. Kimsey soon began to groom Case to take over the role of CEO, which he did when Kimsey retired in 1991. Kimsey changed the company's strategy, and in 1985, launched a dedicated online service for
Commodore 64 The Commodore 64, also known as the C64 or the CBM 64, is an 8-bit In computer architecture In computer engineering, computer architecture is a set of rules and methods that describe the functionality, organization, and implementation ...

Commodore 64
and
128128 may refer to *128 (number) 128 (one hundred ndtwenty-eight) is the natural number following 127 (number), 127 and preceding 129 (number), 129. In mathematics 128 is the seventh power of 2. It is the largest number which cannot be expressed as ...

128
computers, originally called
Quantum Link Quantum Link (or Q-Link) was a U.S. and Canadian online service An online service provider (OSP) can, for example, be an Internet service provider, an email provider, a news provider (press), an entertainment provider (music, movies), a search en ...
("Q-Link" for short). The Quantum Link software was based on software licensed from PlayNet, Inc, (founded in 1983 by Howard Goldberg and Dave Panzl). The service was different from other online services as it used the computing power of the Commodore 64 and the
Apple II The Apple II (stylized as apple ] '') is an 8-bit home computer">8-bit.html" ;"title="'') is an 8-bit">'') is an 8-bit home computer and one of the world's first highly successful mass-produced microcomputer products. It was designed primari ...

Apple II
rather than just a "dumb" terminal. It passed tokens back and forth and provided a fixed price service tailored for home users. In May 1988, Quantum and Apple Computer, Apple launched
AppleLink AppleLink was the name of both Apple Computer Apple Inc. is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Cupertino, California, that designs, develops, and sells consumer electronics, software, computer software, and onlin ...
Personal Edition for
Apple II The Apple II (stylized as apple ] '') is an 8-bit home computer">8-bit.html" ;"title="'') is an 8-bit">'') is an 8-bit home computer and one of the world's first highly successful mass-produced microcomputer products. It was designed primari ...
and Apple Macintosh, Macintosh computers. In August 1988, Quantum launched PC Link, a service for
IBM International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Armonk, New York, with operations in over 170 countries. The company began in 1911, founded in Endicott, New York, as the C ...

IBM
-compatible PCs developed in a joint venture with the
Tandy Corporation Tandy Corporation was an American family-owned leather goods company based in Fort Worth, Texas, United States. Tandy Leather was founded in 1919 as a leather supply store. By the end of the 1950s, under the tutelage of then-CEO Charles Tandy, ...
. After the company parted ways with Apple in October 1989, Quantum changed the service's name to America Online. Case promoted and sold AOL as the online service for people unfamiliar with computers, in contrast to
CompuServe CompuServe (CompuServe Information Service, also known by its initialism CIS) was an American online service provider, the first major commercial one in the United States – described in 1994 as "the oldest of the Big Three information services ...
, which was well established in the technical community. From the beginning, AOL included
online game An online game is a video game#REDIRECT Video game A video game is an electronic game that involves interaction with a user interface or input device such as a joystick, game controller, controller, computer keyboard, keyboard, or motion s ...
s in its mix of products; many classic and casual games were included in the original PlayNet software system. In the early years of AOL the company introduced many innovative online interactive titles and games, including: * Graphical chat environments
Habitat In ecology Ecology (from el, οἶκος, "house" and el, -λογία, label=none, "study of") is the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment. Ecology considers at the ...
(1986–1988) and
Club Caribe ''Habitat'' is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) developed by LucasArts. It is the first attempt at a large-scale commercial virtual community that was graphic based. Initially created in 1985 by Randy Farmer, Chip Morning ...
(1988) from
LucasArts Lucasfilm Games is an American video game licensor that is part of Lucasfilm Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC is an American film and television and a subsidiary of , which is a business segment of . The studio is best known for creating and producing th ...
. * The first online interactive fiction series
QuantumLink Serial The QuantumLink Serial is a work of episodic online fiction by the American writer Tracy Reed (writer), Tracy Reed. It is considered the first such project ever. The series ran from 1988 to 1989. It was also known as the ''PC-Link Serial'' and t ...
by Tracy Reed (1988). * Quantum Space, the first fully automated
play-by-mail game A play-by-mail game (also known as a PBM game, PBEM game, or a turn-based game) is a game with separate sliding drawer, from 1390–1353 BC, made of glazed faience, dimensions: 5.5 × 7.7 × 21 cm, in the Brooklyn Museum (Ne ...
(1989–1991).


1991–2006: Internet age, Time Warner merger

In February 1991, AOL for
DOS DOS (, ) is a platform-independent acronym for disk operating system which later became a common shorthand for disk-based operating systems on IBM PC compatible IBM PC compatible computers are similar to the original IBM Personal Computer, IB ...

DOS
was launched using a
GeoWorks GEOS (later renamed GeoWorks Ensemble, NewDeal Office, and Breadbox Ensemble) is a computer operating environment In computer software Software is a collection of Instruction (computer science), instructions and data (computing), data t ...
interface followed a year later by AOL for
Windows Microsoft Windows, commonly referred to as Windows, is a group of several proprietary {{Short pages monitor * {{Coord, 40.7308, -73.9914, type:landmark_region:US-NY, display=title AOL, 1983 establishments in the United States 2015 mergers and acquisitions Companies based in Dulles, Virginia Companies based in New York City Companies formerly listed on the New York Stock Exchange Companies in the PRISM network Former WarnerMedia subsidiaries Internet properties established in 1983 Internet properties established in 2009 Internet service providers of the United States Internet services supporting OpenID Pre–World Wide Web online services Telecommunications companies established in 1983 Telecommunications companies established in 2009 Verizon Media Web portals Web service providers