Steve Case talks his game

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One thing I love about being in the Bay Area is that there are so many interesting events related to my industry going on all the time. Just up the street MacWorld is going off as Steve Job’s counterpoint to the CES show in Las Vegas last week. A lot of us at Six Apart are Mac fans so it’s not surprising that one of our developers went on record to gush about Apple’s latest.

Last night I headed down to Stanford to catch Howard Rheingold’s Literacy of Cooperation class and ran into Niall Kennedy who told me about a Walt Mossberg/Steve Case event over at the Computer History Museum. The format was an interview and Steve retold stories from the early days all the way up through the AOL/Time Warner merger.

Steve got his early training in marketing at P&G and one of the first lessons he learned was the value of the “free sample” in the consumer market -now we know the origin of those giveaway CDs. We also heard about his first foray at running online forums in which his strategy was to bundle access with the computer manufacturers and also make the “peripheral” modem part of the standard PC bundle. Apple was first, Tandy (Radio Shack), and then IBM. It was only when “the Apple deal blew up in our face” that Steve was forced to remove the Apple brand from the service that the AOL brand was born. Apple basically pushed Steve into the consumer business.

As someone who built a business on member-generated content and later the Chairman of a traditional media company, I was curious on Steve’s opinion of weblogs. There was a Q & A segment at the end and I took the opportunity to ask Steve this question. He was strongly in favor of this explosion of new voices and predicted that the media brands of tomorrow will rise up out of these new voices. When I followed up to ask about the role of editors in this new world, he noted that, “once you give the tools for everyone to be a publisher, you find out that not everyone is a very good publisher. There will always be a need for editors.”

[picture by Niall Kennedy]

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