Monday, May 05, 2003

Good Experience Live VI

Rick Robinson: Connecting People

Rick Robinson is vice president of AOL Community Products. The former editor in chief of BBS Magazine, Robinson joined AOL in 1996 as the founding managing editor of Digital City Philadelphia. In 1998, he became director of the Digital City network. Here is a rough transcript of his talk at Good Experience Live:

I have a couple of rules. If you have a phone, please turn it on. Feel free to communicate. I'm OK with that. The other thing is that I'll be reading a little bit. I'm sorry if that deters your attention, but I can't remember everything. Lastly, I get a little nervous when I speak, so if someone wants to come up and sit on stage with me, feel free. Mark? Thank you.

What is this AOL community thing? It's hard to pin down, but here are some examples. In the '90s, before I went to work for AOL, I read about people who would get married in chat rooms. At the time, that crystallized my thinking about what the possibilities online were. There are no boundaries. It's the people.

Shortly after I joined AOL in 1996, there were people spending $300 a month to communicate with other people. That was when people paid by the minute not by flat rate. And these weren't basement dwelling people. They were people like you and me.

We try to empower our members. We give them an easy to use platform of tools and get out of the way. What you find is not professional-looking screens, not poetry, but real human emotions. We also try to zipper our experience. We make it one experience, taking all of the member-contributed content and zipper it together. One of te benefits of having such a large membership is that we can connect people in a lot of different ways.

People stay online for that companionship. Those connections. Despite all the gloom about AOL and Time Warner, the community is still flourishing. Connecting people is really what we do. When people discover that people are as reachable as information online, they're hooked.

Over the last couple of decades, several devastating events have really connected people online. 911. The current war. We take member-contributed content and package it with other news and content.

Connecting is more an art than a science. But suppose it could become a science. Suppose that through some co-optation of quantum theory you can create an online persona who acts in your stead while you're offline. We feel that we can match all interests, desires, fears, and hopes. This is the experience that we're striving for and perhaps the perfect example. The one to one.

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