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AOL’s Leonsis on the state of the Web

Though disdained my some, AOL and the Web are still one and the same for many. And despite some bumps in the road over the years, AOL and its 33 million subscribers continue to be a force to be reckoned with.

One of the leading lights of that force is Ted Leonsis, AOL’s Vice Chairman and its President of Core Services, who was the big draw at the Mass Software Council’s annual Fall Membership meeting last Friday in Newton, Massachusetts. The big question? How to attract, and keep, online attention at a time when users are getting connected in a variety of new and old ways.

“[The industry] misread some of the important issues around consumer behavior,” he said. “AOL was successful early on because we packaged up a lot of disparate technologies in a very simple, easy way.”

Using McDonalds’ Happy Meals as an analogy, Leonsis said that it’s important for the industry to learn from others, while keeping in mind the limitations of technology.

“America likes packaging, and we believed early on that that consumer behavior wouldn’t change,” he said, while noting that Web-based commerce was limited when most users were on dialup connections. “That narrow band really was a medium where it was just about text and communications and the like.”

Leonsis said that despite the spread of high-speed access, content providers still need to be sure that their products work at all levels.

“It’s really not about the mode of distribution, be it narrow band, broadband, wireless, it’s really about how can you exist in a multiband world so that the application [is] sized correctly,” said Leonsis, adding that, ultimately, individuals are still the ones who make the final decisions. “Consumers want choice, and they want to be in control.”

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