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If you like James Kimsey's story, you might also like:
Frederick Smith,
Stephen Case,
Lawrence Ellison,
Pierre Omidyar
and David Petraeus

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring James Kimsey in the Achievement Curriculum section:
The Information Age

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James V. Kimsey
James V. Kimsey
Profile of James V. Kimsey Biography of James V. Kimsey Interview with James V. Kimsey James V. Kimsey Photo Gallery

James V. Kimsey Interview (page: 5 / 6)

Founding Chairman,
America Online

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  James V. Kimsey

You're really dealing in a field that's new territory every 24 hours.

James V. Kimsey: Most companies are involved in high technology, whether they like it or not. And to the extent that they ignore high-tech innovation is at their peril. Technology inundates everything we do, and will be more of a pervasive influence in years to come. Technology affects us at an exponential rate as we go forward, and I think all of industry has begun to understand that.

America Online has created a new medium. And we -- deliberately at the outset, because we were not sure what technologies would prevail -- did it in a very modular way. So, we don't care what the pipes are to get to the consumer, whether they're wireless, whether they're ISDN, whether they're cable, whether they're twisted pair. We've been premature in our anticipation of consumer behavior habits. We put a lot of resources into the Newton, thinking that a lot of people were going to carry those things around with them, and you haven't heard or seen a Newton in a long time.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

We've made mistakes, but we'd rather make mistakes of commission, rather than omission. The Newton was a mistake of commission.

We put a lot of resources into the Newton thinking that people would carry a hand-held device around. We clearly were premature in that regard, the Newton came and went. We learned a lot. Although some would say we wasted those resources, I think we learned a lot. I think the hand-held device will be with us. I think we need to understand how people are going to use it, how we can provide the service that we provide through hand-held devices. I think at some point you'll walk into a room, there will be a flat screen on the wall and you will say, "Turn on," and it will recognize your voice and turn on. Say "Show me my bank account," it'll do that. It will show you your mail; it will show you your stockbroker's account.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

And where will AOL fit into that?

James V. Kimsey: We want to be the purveyor of these services. We want you to be our customer. We want to provide all of these kinds of services to you. Our raison d'etre is that we are easy and affordable. That's why we have moved so aggressively into advertising and transaction-driven revenue streams, so that we can provide this service for less, and make it affordable to people. But the key thing is we want to make it relevant, and we want to make it very easy to use. We want the technology to come to you.

James V. Kimsey Interview Photo
It's sort of like the early days of cars, when people had to know about carburetors, and they had to turn a crank. Now you just get in and turn a key, and there's probably more computing power in that car than there was in many of the early computers, but it's invisible to the user, and this is the way we want this technology to be. We want it to be very easy to use.

People talk about their technophobia, or say that they're computer illiterate. We want that to be irrelevant, as we go forward. It will recognize your voice; it will be as easy as turning on a light switch.

You were talking about the Vietnamese and their view of the Internet and control of content. There has been the occasional criticism of AOL for providing content that may not be suitable for children. How do you deal with criticism like that? How do you deal with criticism of the business in general?

James V. Kimsey: We've certainly had our share of well publicized difficulties, when we changed our pricing structure, and the inability of people to get on the service and access it. The very thorny question about censorship and pornography is one that we've taken a pretty firm stance on. I've given talks about what the role of on-line services should be. People are concerned about Big Brother and censorship and we don't think we should be like the telephone company. We should not -- nor can we -- monitor the traffic and the content. We do, however, think that we can play a large role in providing parents with tools that restrict their children's access to material that they would find objectionable.

Every new medium has this difficulty. The second book off the Gutenberg press was an erotic book. Parents have the primary responsibility for teaching their kids how to deal with objectionable material, because they will come in contact with it. To think that a child will not be exposed to these kinds of things is very, very naive. It's more important to give the child the kind of values that help them deal with this kind of stuff, because it's everywhere, and they will be exposed to it sooner or later.

As a business person, do you think criticism itself is helpful because it does help you think about the next wave?

James V. Kimsey: In an interactive medium we have to be very sensitive to criticism. That's the feedback that you get to help you improve your product and do the kinds of things that you're supposed to do.

One of our very strong initiatives is to make America Online one of the world's most respected companies. It has had maybe a reputation of being somewhat too slick by half. Cleverness might have been a core value because you've got a lot of bright kids that want to show how smart they are. And, we've taken a different tack now in that we started a foundation that I chair. We want to take the highest sort of moral ground on all issues, so that we get the trust and respect of people, and don't find ourselves in a Microsoft position, being favorite targets of legislators and regulators.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

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This page last revised on Mar 03, 2008 15:59 EST
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