AOL Early History from 1983 to 2015

William 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, an early online service and CompuServe competitor, and Control Video Corporation, which only lasted one year, but became the main predecessor to AOL.

In 1978, Meister founded The Source, the first popular online services company. The Source was eventually sold to Reader's Digest and later acquired by rivals CompuServe.

In 1983, Control Video Corporation was founded by Meister. The company originally ran the GameLine dial-up service using a toll-free number for the Atari 2600, which Meister claimed to be able to handle up to 100,000 users. The GameLine was a modem that plugged into the cartridge slot. It allowed users to "download" games over a phone line connection. It became one of many smaller companies that went bust in the video game crash of 1983.
Click here for further details. Control Video Corporation kept its name until 1985.

Quantum Computer Services after 1985

Co-founder Marc Seriff born 1948

In 1974 joined Telenet Communications, an American commercial packet-switched network which went into service in 1975 with its first offices in downtown Washington D.C.
After it moved to McLean, Virginia it was acquired by GTE in 1979 (GTE is now Verizon), then moved to offices in Reston, Virginia.

Telenet was established by Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN), the original builders of the ARPAnet (Internet) in California who recruited Larry Roberts (former head of the ARPANet) as President of the company, and Barry Wessler. It was later acquired by Sprint and called "Sprintnet". Sprint migrated customers from Telenet to the modern-day Sprintlink IP network, one of many networks composing today's Internet.

In 1985, Marc co-founded Quantum Computer Services (later renamed as AOL) where he served as a Senior Vice President until 1996.

Seriff was responsible for building the technical infrastructure that allowed AOL to grow from a small online service into a massive network with millions of users. He oversaw the development of the company's software, servers, and network architecture, and he played a key role in designing the user interface and user experience that made AOL so popular.

Under Seriff's leadership, AOL grew rapidly, and the company went public in 1992. Seriff remained with the company for several more years, helping to guide it through a period of rapid growth and change. His contributions to AOL were instrumental in shaping the early internet, and his work continues to influence the way we interact with online services today.

Quantum Link

Quantum Link (or Q-Link) was an American and Canadian online service for the Commodore 64 and 128 personal computers (later the Apple 2 & PC) operated by Quantum Computer Services. It started November 5, 1985, in Vienna, Virginia.

The original Q-Link was a modified version of the PlayNET system, which Control Video Corporation licensed in 1985. Q-Link featured electronic mail, online chat (in its People Connection department), public domain file sharing libraries, online news, and instant messaging using On Line Messages (OLMs). Other noteworthy features included multiplayer games like checkers, chess, backgammon, hangman, and a clone of the television game show "Wheel Of Fortune" called 'Puzzler'; and an interactive graphic resort island, called Habitat during beta-testing, then renamed Club Caribe.

In October 1986, QuantumLink expanded their services to include casino games such as bingo, slot machines, blackjack and poker in RabbitJack's Casino; and RockLink, a section about rock music. The software archives were also organized into hierarchical folders and expanded.

In November 1986, the service began offering to digitize users' photos to be included in their profiles, and started an online auction service.

Connections to Q-Link were typically made by dial-up modems with speeds from 300 to 2400 baud, with 1200 being the most common. The service was normally open weekday evenings and all day on weekends. Pricing was $9.95 per month, with additional fees of six cents per minute (later raised to eight) for so-called "plus" areas, including most of the aforementioned services. Users were given one free hour of "plus" usage per month. Hosts of forums and trivia games could also earn additional free "plus" time.

Q-Link competed with online services like CompuServe and The Source, and with bulletin board systems (single- and multiuser), including gaming systems such as Scepter of Goth and Swords of Chaos. Quantum Link's graphic display was better than many competing systems because they used specialized client software with a nonstandard protocol. However, this limited their market, because only the Commodore 64 and 128 could run the software necessary to access it.

More about Playnet
PlayNet (or PlayNET) was an American online service for Commodore 64 personal computers that operated from 1984 to 1987. It was operated by the PlayNet, Inc of Troy, New York. PlayNet was founded in 1983 by two former GE Global Research employees, Dave Panzl and Howard Goldberg, as the first person-to-person, online communication and game network to feature home computer based graphics. The founders launched the business initially with their own money. They then raised over $2.5 million from a variety of investors, including the venture capital funds of the Town of North Greenbush NY, Key Bank, Alan Patricof & Associates, and the New York State Science and Technology Foundation, and a group of individual investors through a limited R&D partnership led by McGinn Smith.

In 1985, PlayNet licensed their system to Control Video Corporation (CVC). The modified version of the PlayNet software (Quantum Link or Q-Link) was ported by Quantum to the PC (in 1989) to create the first version of the AOL software. As recently as 2005, some aspects of the original PlayNet communication protocols still appeared to be used by AOL.

The PlayNet offices were initially located in the J Building on Peoples Avenue in Troy, NY part of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute incubator program. It subsequently moved to RPI's Technology Park in North Greenbush NY. PlayNet declared bankruptcy in March, 1986 and ceased operations in 1988 after Quantum stopped paying royalties. The service had two membership options: an $8/month service charge plus $2.75/hour connect time charge, or no service charge and $3.75 per hour connection charge. File downloads were charged a flat rate of $0.50 each

The Quantum service was different from other online services as it used the computing power of the Commodore 64 and later the 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 launched AppleLink Personal Edition for Apple II and Macintosh computers. In August 1988, Quantum launched PC Link, a service for IBM-compatible PCs developed in a joint venture with the Tandy Corporation. After the company parted ways with Apple in October 1989, Quantum changed the service's name to America Online in 1991. Steve Case promoted and sold AOL as the online service for people unfamiliar with computers, in contrast to CompuServe, which was well established in the technical community.

More details on that (pretty brief) (1987-1989) link up with Apple.

Control Video Corporation had hired Case as a marketing executive in January 1983. Unfortunately, the crash in the video game market that began in that year put considerable stress on the finances for Control Video, and by May 1983 the company was near bankruptcy. The CEO and other remaining employees worked on ideas to try to keep the company going, but by 1985 von Meister had left. In May of that same year the company was reorganized under a new name, Quantum Computer Services. They made use of the company's dial-up service and created and launched Quantum Link, a dial-up service focused on the Commodore 64 and 128 computer platform. The software used its own take on point and click, using the cursor keys to select options from a colorful screen. It was a popular way for Commodore users to get online with a world larger than a dial-up BBS.

Meanwhile, Apple Computer had created its own online network that went live in July 1985. Called AppleLink, its target audience was not the general public, but was exclusively for Apple employees and certified dealers, and later for software developers. It made use of a graphic user interface, looking different from that of the Macintosh but utilizing the same concept of files and folders, with the addition of bulletin boards and email (within the system).

To operate this on the server end, Apple contracted with GEIS (General Electric Information Services), that ran their text-only GEnie service, using their Mark III timesharing computers. The software that ran on the local computer to connect to the system was written in Pascal, on contract by Pete Burnight of Central Coast Software. GEIS charged a high price for use of their system, about $30 million per year, which translated to $15 per hour during business hours for users of AppleLink, and provided no income to Apple.

Steve Case of Quantum wanted to expand his Quantum Link service beyond the Commodore market, and Apple wanted something like AppleLink to connect with its customers. It took months of meetings with Apple before Case could get the company to agree to let Quantum handle the project, but by 1987, they were ready to start what was known internally as "Project Samuel". Quantum would create and operate the online system, and Apple would help with development of the client software. This software had to meet Apple's requirements that it look like an Apple product, have screens designed the way Apple wanted them, and Quantum was required to make available adequate customer service. Apple promised to help promote the product, and would get a royalty of ten percent on all subscribers. It was designed initially to be used with the Apple II, but its ultimate target was the Macintosh market. However it wound up in October 1989.

AOL Timeline 1989-1996


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