Nov. 29, 2019

(Bonus) The Forgotten Online Pioneer, Bill von Meister

Since it’s a holiday week in the US, I’m going to do what I’ve done once before on Holiday weeks and give you an episode from the Internet History Podcast archives. This is a story about tech history that, if you’ve never heard it, will blow your mind. What if I told you there was a crazy entrepreneur who was the true founder of what would become America Online? He was the guy who hired Steve Case back before AOL was AOL. What if I told you that same entrepreneur invented true, networked, online gaming—not in the era of the Xbox 360, or Stadia, but back in the days of the Atari 2600? What if I then told you that same entrepreneur invented a Napster/Pandora/Spotify/Sirius-like music service, all the way back in 1981, before the compact disc was even widely available? That Man Is William von Meister And he is the subject of this episode. This is a crazy story, about a hard drinking, heavy-smoking, women-chasing entrepreneur, seemingly from the Mad Men cloth, who was “a pathological entrepreneur” with a “reality-distortion-field” that would give Steve Jobs a run for his money. It’s a story of about a dozen harebrained businesses, none of which were really successful (excepting of course that some or all of them lent their DNA to the company that would become AOL) but all of which were way ahead of their time, and in many ways, presaged technologies we take for granted today.


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