A reader from La Honda, CA

David Donnelly from Boise, Idaho

Katharine Kleine from Danville, CA

Web-Vantage Review by Zachary Philbert

JacquieSchmall, USA Dated

Jim Arnett from Atlanta, Georgia

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Reviewer: A reader from La Honda, CA Dated February 13, 2000


Wow! What a book. Mr. Thornally is a modern day Dante taking us through an Electro-corporate Purgatory. This was a lyrical book that caught me by surprise; not what I expected. A definite "good read."


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Reviewer: David Donnelly from Boise, Idaho Dated February 9, 2000

"AOL BY GEORGE!" is an intriguing story that I couldn't put down. It's quite different from what I'm used to reading about AOL; it's certainly not a computer book.

In the early days of AOL, Thornally was a forum leader, conducting online discussion groups among wide and diverse people whose ages, identities, and background were curiously disguised and anonymous in this new type of communications medium. And with perhaps unintended irony, the author uses this earlier medium—print--to weave in the stories of communication and technology leaders from previous times as prologue for even more changes to come. This generates a richness to his story that surpasses the singular importance of new communications media because we see its role in a historical context.

Unlike other corporate books that offer an insider's look at the rise and fall of power, with self-serving praise towards the founders, here we have an intimate look at the people who really created AOL. The author bares his thoughts as he weathered the ups and downs inside AOL, while describing the vicissitudes of information entreprenuring, and offering musings about the future. It's the fascinating tales of his anonymous forum members that I found most compelling. For example, there's the wise "old" philosopher-genius who turned out to be a young boy, the lovely Dawn surrounded in mystery, and Charlie's life course crisis.

At the dawn of the new century, we can expect changes in communications as profound as those of the last hundred years. Will virtual organizations overtake the geopolitical unions that have defined the ability to disseminate information in the past? Will an alternative culture develop online due to a lack of trust in the conventional sources of authority?

The author speculates, "From associations such as these, relationships can flourish and, under the right circumstances, community can formulate and be sustained. If people so connected become charged up, a great force for change can be unleashed."

(David Donnelly is an independent filmmaker and scriptwriter living in Boise, Idaho. E-mail:



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Reviewer: Dated 991223


Thornally has an interesting and entertaining writing style, and tells a good story. I loved the book, and I've always been curious about what goes on behind the scenes.

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Reviewer: Katharine Kleine from Danville, CA Dated February 12, 2000


AOL BY George is essentially a chronicle--a reflection--of a particular time in the history of our culture when it seemed that the electronic age could humanize us by providing the means for us to communicate with people we did not know and could not see; strangers, actually, with whom we could share our joy and pain, our laugher, our ideas; people who could change our lives. It is a book about hope, success, failure, friendship, loneliness, change, disappointment, optimism and joy. It's basically a chronicle about the journey of one man who knows that no man is an island.


Web-Vantage: Technology Guide for the Emerging Internet

New Book Reviews 10-Feb-00 New Book Reveals Inside Story Of AOL. by Zachary Philbert, staff writer

An insiders look at America Online (AOL) network is explored in "AOL BY GEORGE! The Inside Story of America Online" by George Thornally. Based on his seven years as a Forum Leader for AOL, the author reveals, among other insights, how the forums were created, tells how to use e-mail without devastating consequences, and provides insider glimpses of the early days when today's 20 million members numbered only a few thousand.

Not a single book until now tells about the early days or about the people who actually created AOL. Reports typically feature AOL management, who, when interviewed, talk about themselves. People want to go backstage to see how the AOL ``community'' was developed, for instance. What can the people who worked in the trenches tell us about how to handle e-mail? What problems can befall those who continuously work or play online? How is community created? What is information entrepreneuring? What of the future?

George Thornally provides the first look inside the jaws of the monster. Noteworthy revelations are: AOL was "invented" mainly in the San Francisco Bay Area; "Community" was created by design; Working or playing online leads to problems that can be overcome.

Praise for "AOL BY GEORGE!" from Guy Kawasaki, "Everyone who reads AOL BY GEORGE! will come away with a deeper sense of what it means to be human in a world increasingly governed by technology that can often be dehumanizing." Cliff Stoll, "Here with stories and smiles George Thornally tells the evolution of (AOL's) electronic community." Steve Roberts, "George was an early part of AOL culture, privy to the myriad growing pains of that unique community, and offers insights into the transition from geek chat'n download resource to key social focus of millions of lives."

Drawing on a fantastic cast of characters and episodes, the author tells about what went on under the mushroom. George writes "We complained America Online practiced Mushroom Management by keeping us in the dark. Who were we? We were the Forum Leaders. We presented AOL to its members and thereby to its public, the world at large. We were on the front lines. We evangelized AOL, we took guff from the members, smoothed their ruffled feathers, and on occasion, threw them a lifeline. Ultimately we created an extraordinary community and in doing so made AOL singularly great among online services."

("AOL BY GEORGE!" is available for $17.95 at bookstores, phone orders 800-929-7889, and online from or See the companion website: Web-Vantage is a subscription newsletter for the web-wise.)


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Reviewer: JacquieSchmall, USA Dated February 8, 2000


AOL BY GEORGE! gives a human face to AOL, now an 800 pound gorilla. Mr Thornally reminds us that the real nature of the computer is a person to person technology, not just a hub of commerce. I enjoyed hearing about the bare bones beginning of AOL. It's fun to know about the human currency behind AOL, and how they kept score in the "ancient" 1980s.


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Reviewer: Jim Arnett from Atlanta, Georgia Dated 991220


I have been, on one level or another, a "Customer Service" guy for nearly thirty years. First, as a Technical Sales Representative for one of the five major Japanese camera manufacturers, then as District Sales Manager for the same company. The next career move was to form my own Manufacturers' Representative company. My telephone Customer Service career follows that venture, first a stint with a national telecommunications company and currently with an internet-based bank. I said all of that to say this: George got it right.

Even though his "AOL BY GEORGE!" treatise deals specifically with that Internet Service Provider, the non-AOL reader will be able to identify with the anecdotes so humorously related by Mr. Thornally. I saw many of the customers with whom I have interacted, and, embarrassingly, even myself as the customer. Yes, it's usually true that the only stupid question is the one that's never voiced. "AOL BY GEORGE!" reveals many exceptions to that generality. This is "must" reading for every Customer Service professional and Internet user.

ISBN 0-9675411-0-7    © 1999

Phone Orders: 800 929-7889

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