"AOL & Time Warner Will Merge To Create World's First Internet-Age Media & Communications Company." warns the shiny new corporate site.

Previous AOL
Aug 94 AOL acquires Redgate Communications
Nov 94 AOL acquires NaviSoft
Dec 94 AOL acquires BookLink Technologies
Feb 95 AOL acquires ANS
May 95 AOL acquires WAIS
June 95 AOL acquires Global Network Navigator (GNN)
Sept 95 AOL acquires Ubique, Ltd.
Feb 96 AOL acquires Johnson-Grace
Aug 96 AOL acquires ImagiNation Network (INN)
Mar 97 AOL acquires Lightspeed Media
Feb 98 AOL acquires CompuServe
May 98 AOL acquires NetChannel, Inc.
June 98 AOL acquires Mirabilis LTD
Nov 98 AOL acquires PersonaLogic, Inc
Mar 99 AOL acquires Netscape Communications Corporation
Apr 99 AOL acquires When Inc.
May 99 AOL acquires MovieFone, Inc.
Jun 99 AOL acquires Spinner.com, Winamp, SHOUTcast, Digital Marketing Services, Inc.
Dec 99 AOL Acquires Tegic Communications
Jan 00 America Online & Time Warner Announce Plans to Merge

If this merger goes through (and I'm not hearing much yet to suggest it won't) the web is another step closer to being another corporate mouthpiece. This is the thin end of the wedge for free-speech on the web. Check out the rest of the article for a bit of corporate psychology.

AOL Time Warner merger

In 1964 Marshall MacLuhan coined a phrase: "The medium is the message". Although deliberately obtuse, what he was getting at is this: The medium itself is of greater cultural importance than the information it purports to communicate. The worry for most major corporations is that the internet is the 21st century's "medium" of choice, and it's "message" is empowerment.

This medium, or group of mediums, enables anyone to communicate with anyone else, and crucially everyone else. Affordable one-to-one communication has been available for a while. The online equivalents (e-mail & IRC) were also been key to the early success of the internet. It is the speed at which these new mediums appeared that caught the big boys by surprise.

Marketing at the corporate level works like this: If you own the medium then it is much easier to ensure your brand receives more exposure than your competitors brand. This process is called "fucking with your head" or "capturing mindshare". From the corporate standpoint, the big problem with these new forms of expression is that they don't control them. Big business, obviously concerned that ordinary people might just be talking to other ordinary people, fought back with branded versions of much the same technology (Hotmail, AOL Messenger etc.) If some bright spark in Israel had a more popular flavour of the same thing (ICQ) then they did what all successful corporates did: They sued them into oblivion or bought them up.

The most worrying of the new mediums though has been the web itself. All of a sudden anyone can publish their opinions, market their products or more likely in the early days, their nit-pickers Star Trek and nudes fan page, and anyone in the world can see it. Inexpensive global publishing has arrived. Most frustrating of all was that an expensive new promotional site might only muster a few thousand hits whilst a page of dancing hamsters gets them by the shed-load.

The solution is the same as it has always been. Control of the medium stifles competition and ensures mindshare. This control is attained through rampant acquisition and the boys at AOL have "acquired" a fair number of companies in their time. Pioneers like Netscape, Compuserve, ICQ and WinAmp have all succumbed to their will, but their latest merger sees them branch out into more traditional mediums. As you can imagine, an all-stock combination valued at $350,000,000,000 will buy a lot of mediums. More specifically it'll buy you these...

CNN News Group
CNN Headline News
CNN International
CNN/Sports Illustrated
CNN en Español
CNN Airport Network
CNNRadio Noticias
CNN Interactive
CNN Newsource
CNN Turk

TBS Entertainment
TBS Superstation
Turner Network Television
Cartoon Network
Turner Classic Movies
Turner South
TNT Europe
Cartoon Network Europe
TNT Latin America
Cartoon Network Latin America
TNT & Cartoon Network/ Asia Pacific
Joint Ventures:
Cartoon Network Japan
Court TV (TWE-owned)

Home Box Office
HBO Plus
HBO Signature
HBO Family
HBO Comedy
HBO Zone
HBO en Español
Joint Ventures:
Comedy Central
HBO Ole and Brasil
HBO Asia
HBO Central Europe

Atlanta Braves
Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta Thrashers
World Championship Wrestling
The Goodwill Games
Boomerang (Spring 2000)

Time Inc.
Sports Illustrated
In Style Entertainment Weekly
Cooking Light
Baby Talk
Fortune Small Business
Coastal Living
People en Español
Progressive Farmer
Southern Accents
Southern Living
Sports Illustrated For Kids
Sports Illustrated for Women
Teen People
This Old House
Time Digital
Time for Kids
Weight Watchers
Mutual Funds
Who Weekly
Family Life
Real Simple (March 2000)
Time Life Inc.
Book-of-the-Month Club
Time Warner Trade Publishing
Little, Brown and Company
Warner Books
Oxmoor House
Leisure Arts
Sunset Books
Media Networks Inc.
Time Inc. Custom Publishing
Targeted Media Inc.
Time Inc. Interactive
Time Distribution Services
Warner Publisher Services
First Moments

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Feature Animation
Warner Bros. Television
Warner Bros. Television Animation
Looney Tunes
Castle Rock Entertainment
Telepictures Productions
The WB Television Network
Kids' WB!
Warner Home Video
Warner Bros. Consumer Products
Warner Bros. Studio Stores
Warner Bros. International Theatres
Warner Bros. Online
DC Comics
MAD Magazine

New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema
Fine Line Features
New Line Home Video
New Line International
New Line New Media
New Line Television
New Line Cinema Studio Store

Warner Music Group
The Atlantic Group
Elektra Entertainment Group
Rhino Entertainment
Sire Records Group
Warner Bros. Records
Warner Music International
Warner/Chappell Music
Warner Bros. Publications
WEA Inc.
WEA Corp.
WEA Manufacturing
Ivy Hill Corp.
Warner Special Products
Alternative Distribution Alliance
Giant Merchandising
Joint Ventures:
Columbia House
143 Records
Tommy Boy Music

11,020,000 subscribers in the foloowing areas:
New York City
Tampa Bay
Northeast Ohio
Los Angeles
San Antonio
Kansas City, MO
Columbia, SC
Suburban New York
San Diego
Western Ohio
Green Bay
El Paso
Jackson/Monroe, MS
Local News Channels Bay News
Tampa, FL Central Florida News
Orlando, FL NY1 News
New York, NY R/News
Rochester, NY
Austin 8 News
Austin TX
Joint Ventures:
Road Runner
Time Warner Telecom, LLC

The important point is that this corporation, and a handful of others, all but control every form of modern communication. This control mutes free-speech and breeds ignorance. Be warned: If we are to preserve the internet as a medium of free speech and public debate then do your homework. Find out who controls what you hear and read, understand their agendas and only rely on a source of information you feel you can trust.