March 19, 2015
AOL Founder: Now is the ‘Pivotal Point’ of the Internet
Speaking to a crowd of thousands of tech junkies and industry entrepreneurs at the annual South By Southwest (SXSW) music, film and interactive technology festival, keynote speaker and former AOL CEO Steve Case stated that the world is at a “pivotal point” of the internet as the Web enters its third wave.
The first wave, of which Case’s AOL was at the forefront, ran from 1985 through 2000 or so and consisted of the internet’s rise in popular culture from a closed-off network used by governments and educators to a utility-like commodity billions depend on every day. When the internet hit its second wave around the turn of the millennium, large companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and eBay rose to power, further incorporating the Web into everyday life.
Now we are at a crossroads, Case says, as the third wave begins. This new era will be characterized by new disruptive companies tackling more areas of daily life: food, healthcare, transportation and energy, among others. Those entrepreneurs who are successful will need to “understand the battle ahead.”
Fueling the transition will be a greater access to capital than even in Silicon Valley’s high-flying “bubble” days. Crowdsourcing platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have democratized the funding of new tech companies and products, allowing developers to connect directly with those interested in a new idea. Meanwhile, venture capitalist firms and large companies have embraced the idea of activist investing, using the commercial sector toward the public’s greater good. Case used the examples of Toms and Etsy as two cutting-edge for-profit companies who have managed to help communities worldwide through activism and giving back.
Finally, Silicon Valley, today’s worldwide center of the tech world, will no longer have a monopoly on the brightest minds and most promising companies as new regional hubs in the United States and elsewhere pop up to serve an expanding industry. In Kansas City, Pittsburgh and the North Carolina coast, as well as regions in the Middle East and Africa, this process has already begun. A decentralized tech industry will encourage innovation, competition and a reformatting of tech culture that has become somewhat dysfunctional, Case says.
AOL took 10 years to reach 1 million users, a feat today’s most-successful social networks and smartphone apps accomplish in a period of days or weeks. The Web as a communication medium has come a long way since the U.S. government legalized its commercial use in 1992, and Case says the new era is just getting started.