Prodigy takes a trip back in time

Tech Culture

The more things change for Prodigy Communications, it seems, the more things stay the same. The capital equity firm handling its sale by AT&T, for example, said last week: "We're exploring the market for the brand and anticipate there will be strong interest, particularly in Asia." In 1997, the company's strategy was characterized this way: "Prodigy is focusing on two things: early investments and long-term growth markets, China specifically."


So other than eight years and roughly $1 billion in investments, not a whole lot appears to have changed for the Internet pioneer that once had ambitions of leading the world into the digital age. The reasons behind Prodigy's paralysis were essentially the same as those faced by America Online, MSN and CompuServe, the other early online services that sought to wall themselves off from the public Internet in the mid-1990s.

As it became clearer that private networks were giving way to the free Web, these services wavered between open and proprietary strategies that stalled progress for years. Prodigy, like AOL, fell somewhere between an online community and a bulked-up Internet service provider. Oddly enough, however, the time may actually be right for Prodigy's earlier plans to enter Asia as the market there booms--and controlled services are viewed much differently than in the United States.

Blog community response:

"In 2001, SBC spent $465M to buy the remaining 58% of the Prodigy stock that it didn't already own. SBC got 2.4M unhappy Prodigy dial-up customers. Prodigy was founded in 1984 as a joint venture between odd bed-fellows IBM, Sears and CBS. Can there be anything more depressing than obsolete brands and legacy consumer technology?"

"When the Internet gained mass popularity it threatened these online services' business model. They wanted to provide content only to their own subscribers and be able to control the communications, not have the non-Prodidgy subsribers join in."
--CNET reader Chazz Matt

"Prodigy's for sale! And oh, so sad, no one wants to buy it! Oh how the mighty have fallen, I'm telling ya."
--Jason Pettus [chicago usa]

Autoplay: ON Autoplay: OFF