The next great Internet revolution is coming, AOL founder says

The second great Internet revolution is coming, and it will be bigger than the first, one man says. He should know: He helped make the first revolution happen.

Internet pioneer Steve Case co-founded AOL as “America On-Line” in 1991. At the time, fewer than 1 percent of the world was online. According to the latest Pew research, more than 80 percent of Americans use the Internet today.

And they’d better brace themselves, Case said: Things are about to get even better than the last cat video you saw.

'More important innovation will occur in this second Internet revolution than in the first.'

— AOL founder Steve Case

“As I think about the future of the Internet, I break down the past 25 years and the next 25 years into separate revolutions,” Case told  “I believe more important innovation will occur in this second Internet revolution than in the first.”

The first revolution started in the '90s with the release of the web and consumer email, Case said. The goal was to get everyone online and make the Internet part of everyday life. That goal has largely been achieved, Case said.

More On This...

“Now that the Internet is ubiquitous and mobile, we've entered the second revolution, which will improve education, health care, energy and transportation.”

Carsharing companies like Zipcar are one example. When the company launched 10 years, ago, things were slow going. After all, it’s difficult renting a car by the hour from nearby locals without the Internet in your pocket. “But now because of iPhones and Androids, people in cities can easily share cars instead of owning them, which in turn will decrease pollution, save money, and improve efficiency,” the 54 year-old Case says.

In other words, Zipcar may be to transportation what AirBNB has been to the hotel industry. But the former was only made viable by ubiquitous, mobile Internet.

Like transportation, change in higher education is also overdue, according to entrepreneurs. While the Internet has already introduced free college courses, higher education still hasn’t changed that much since the 1700s, Case says. Despite the incredibly interactive resource of the Internet, students still pay an exponentially larger share of money to sit in a classroom, buy books and listen to a professor.

The same goes for health care, another industry tech entrepreneurs are trying to shape for the future. Consider the current system: You sit in a lobby. Then sit in another lobby. Then you’re asked to take your pants off or wear a funny jumpsuit. Or you’re required to do a similar song and dance every time you need a semi-annual antibiotic, birth control or routine treatment, all in exchange for more money, of course.

Companies like VGo Communications aim to change that. As featured in a recent Verizon commerical, their robotic telepresence technology hopes to play a greater role in remote health care and education. After all, people have been telecommuting to work for more than a decade. It only makes sense that the same could be said of “telemedicine” to the doctor or “tele-education” to class.

“There has been a global focus on the use of telemedicine as a tool to cut down healthcare costs and bring about mammoth savings,” a recent BCC Research report asserted. “Implementation of the new U.S. health care law will, if anything, intensify this focus. In the near to mid-term, telemedicine technologies offer one of the few ways of enabling health care personnel to meet the increased demand without unacceptable delays or other forms of de facto rationing.”

As for energy-related revolutions aided by the Internet, small examples include smart thermostats like Nest and Internet-enabled appliances that can be monitored, controlled, and optimized via the web or mobile app.

So what’s holding the second revolution back? Two things, experts say. “We have infrastructure issues on the network and server side that all need to evolve to get us where we want,” says Ben Bajarin, a consumer technology analyst at Creative Strategies.

In other words, the computers aren’t quite ready.

But in many ways they are. After all, free Skype calls replaced expensive “via Satellite” calls years ago, making video calls available to anyone with an Internet connection and cheap webcam.

So why haven’t doctors, educators, energy and transportation authorities jumped on board already?

Obviously, there’s no “easy button” for consumer revolutions. And each industry has its own set of unique challenges. But the real culprit is greed and fear of change, Case says. “A lot of people getting paid hope it stays that way,” he says. “That’s the way it has worked for centuries.”

To be fair, Case stands to gain from companies like Zipcar and Living Social that are fighting for change. After all, he invests in them as CEO of Revolution, a private equity firm.

But coupled with the obvious improvements the Internet has already made to work, communication, and cat-sharing videos, it’s hard not to get excited for the next revolution to happen upon hearing Case’s recent commencement speech at the University of North Carolina.

“I've learned over the years that the world is divided into attackers and defenders,” he told some 18,000 Tarheel graduates. “The attackers are the people with bold, innovative ideas who are trying to disrupt the status quo and usher in a better way. The defenders are the incumbents who try to defend what they have. We need to bring an attacker mindset to whatever we choose to do."

Internet 2.0. There’s not an app for it. But there seems to be a way.

Blake Snow is a writer and content consultant from Utah. His first book, Finding Offline Balance in an Online World, will be available later this year.