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Case: Shift to user-friendly view

Waving the flag for Joe Consumer, America Online chairman and CEO Steve Case urges the Internet World audience to be responsible to the mainstream.

NEW YORK--Waving the flag for Joe Consumer, America Online chairman and chief executive Steve Case urged the Internet World audience here to be responsible to the mainstream.

Using his keynote platform to stress the importance of turning the Internet

Steve Case
Steve Case
into a mass medium, Case said the computer industry's obsession with newest and fastest isn't always the best way to drive the market forward.

"The mass market doesn?t care about the technology itself," Case said. "It's more about what it can do for them. We must shift from a technology-centric view of things to a consumer-friendly view."

He argued for greater stability, claiming that amid the constant hardware and software upgrades, "a lot of people are fine with what they're using."

AOL itself is planning to upgrade its service with a 4.0 release due by year's end. Case acknowledged that his service, which now claims to have more than 10 million users, has been plagued with reliability problems, as subscribers frequently received busy signals when they tried to log on as well as when they tried to call technical support lines.

"We spent the better part of last year working night and day" to fix the problems, Case said.

Case also argued that the industry must band together to avoid becoming the new media equivalent of television's "vast wasteland." He praised the recent Washington summit that gathered industry and government leaders to discuss problems of online crime, but he also cautioned that the industry must lead because Congress's "inclination is to regulate the Internet as fast as the Internet itself is growing."

One audience member asked for specifics on AOL's plan to fight spam on its service, mentioning that his 11-year-old daughter receives regular email from a porn service. Case pointed to current features that allow some measure of parental control but was vague about future improvements.

"We're constantly expanding our technical solutions, and expanding our efforts through legislation and litigation," he noted.

On other topics, Case said AOL has no plans to change CompuServe's brand or business model after the purchase of its onetime online rival is completed. He also said AOL would not commit to a version for Windows NT, saying only that "we'll support every platform that has broad appeal."