‘Party Line’​ Redux: Sometimes Reinvention Is a Shortcut to Innovation

I entered a time machine recently, with the ticket to ride being my phone — naturally — and traveled years deep into the last century where I fell into a good old fashioned … party line?

People were chattering on about shorting stocks in one corner and how to be a successful entrepreneur as part of the “Millionaires Club” in another; a woman was confessing the shortcomings holding her back from “success realized” as an audience of dozens listened in yet another.

But this was not some 800-CHAT number I dialed, racking up thousands of dollars in charges like…


When data-enabled mobile phones arrived over 20 years ago they promised to extend the wave of Internet adoption beyond the PC to anywhere consumers wanted to roam. Email under the table during boring meetings? sure. Text-based games in the bathroom? why not.

Those of us building those early products realized it wasn’t about creating new behaviors but rather extending them beyond the bounds of an ethernet cable or, gulp, a dial-up telephone line. People wanted to connect, communicate, play, lurk and buy using their computers — so we made that a focus (for me it was as product and content…


As Aol prepares to dial in Verizon’s mobile growth, the acquisition milestone serves as a reminder of another property that once upon a time peppered the online juggernaut with scrappy, prescient and sometimes just kooky digital innovations: We called it Digital City.

A bold mid-‘90s foray into online city guides, at a time many were still figuring out how to getonline, Digital City was a joint venture between the Tribune Company and AOL, and it was here that I started as editor of the Philadelphia outpost. The focus was on creating platforms for local content partners such as city magazines…

Rick Robinson

thedictum.com … BBS Magazine then 10 yrs at AOL, Webs.com, Sprint, NatGeo, startups like Urgent.ly, Politico and now AARP Innovation Labs.

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