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America Online: A Cautionary Tale

The Nation $: On the rise and fall of the quintessential ’90s online service provider—and a warning about today’s social-media giants. “…America Online debuted in 1991, the same year that the World Wide Web opened to the public. With revenue from advertising and subscriber fees, AOL had a market cap that soared past $150 billion at its peak in 2000. Meanwhile, the World Wide Web, invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, then a researcher at CERN, was and is noncommercial and decentralized: Anyone with an Internet connection and a Web browser can visit a website. Its protocols and standards are maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which has been hosted by a consortia of universities since its founding in 1994. Together, these two Internet developments offered a taste of the social media we know today. The Web made it easy to create and share text and graphics; AOL familiarized users en masse with the Internet experience, which had earlier been an esoteric pastime. The World Wide Web populated the Internet with content, while AOL populated it with users…”

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