I’ve spent the past couple of years in a hybrid role of sports consulting and teaching at Georgetown.   I’ve also been fortunate to do a fair amount of traveling, primarily to Brazil, Europe and Asia.   And, one of the reasons I can travel so easily is because I’m always connected to my Blackberry.  Recently, I was in Europe — and doing a flurry of email exchanges with business associates in Rio de Janeiro and Beijing (we are working on a 3-way project).  I was in Germany at the time.  I don’t think I knew what time it was in Brazil or China but the three of us were going back and forth, including sending documents.  As I took a step back, it just made me appreciate the beauty and power of  email.   As I thought about the ease of email and community, it made me think of one of the pioneers of this space, Steve Case, the former Chairman and CEO of AOL and then AOL Time Warner.

In the past couple of years, Steve Jobs has been lauded over and over for his brilliance in leading Apple.  And, of course, Mark Zuckerberg receives great praise for the amazing work he’s done at Facebook.   And, Bill Gates is regarded as one of the great business leaders for building and leading one of the great companies of all time, MicroSoft.  But, I think Steve Case deserves more recognition for his incredible vision and drive.

I don’t know if I have these details correct, but as the story goes, Steve was working for the Pizza Hut corporation in Kansas back in the early 80’s when he got very interested in exchanging bulletin board messages (the pre-cursor to email).   He was then recruited by his older brother, an investment banker, to join Control Video Corp around ’83.   Steve then founded Quantum Computer Services in ’85, which evolved into several different firms and names before being named America Online  in the early 90’s.   After a 10-year run, AOL finally took off in ’94 and ’95 and went through a meteoric rise into becoming a leading global brand.

But, just think.  How did Steve Case have the vision and audacity way back in the early 80’s to think that he could connect people through this new form of messsaging?  And, it wasn’t just in the US, but globally.  Talk about being way ahead of the game.

I joined AOL in the Spring ’95.  At the time, we had email and chat rooms.  But, then the Buddy List and instant messaging launched on the AOL service.  Talk about another game-changer!  In fact, if you look back, the foundation of social media was launched on AOL — email, chat rooms, instant messaging, polling, pictures, etc.  We called it Community back then but it’s really what Facebook, Twitter, etc is now.

I still remember about 5 years ago when I got a Facebook friend request from Steve.  Since I teach at Georgetown, I’ve had an .edu address for some time.   I didn’t join FB in the mid 00’s since I thought it was primarily for students.  So, when I got the FB request from Steve, I thought it might be spam.  But, in fact, it was at that time that FB decided to open up to people outside the education space.   My first two friends on FB were Steve and his wonderful wife, Jean.

It is simply incredible to see the growth of Facebook over the past few years — nearly 800 million users around the world.  And, Twitter is another remarkable tool.   If you go back 10 years, the darlings of the internet space were AOL, Yahoo and MySpace.  It’s now all about Google, Facebook and Twitter.

But, in going to back to the beginning of this blog, I’m still fascinated with how emailing how impacted and changed the way we communicate — not just in the business world, but also socially.  Personally speaking, I am so much more productive — not just interacting with my Sports clients but also with the 100+ students I teach / advise  at Georgetown — as well as the many friends I have here in the US and internationally.

And when I think back to how emailing changed the game, I think back to the vision of Steve Case.   He got this going back in the early 80’s — when cable TV was fairly new and satellite tv, internet, mobile phones, etc were barely existent.  So, yes, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, etc deserve great praise, but I think Steve Case should also be more prominently lauded for his vision and leadership in changing the way we communicate.

I’m sure a number of friends and former colleagues can add much more to this topic.   Cheers.