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The AOL Roller Coaster 95

eldavojohn writes "There's a lengthy article at Information Week about AOL's history. A lot of us are familiar with AOL's history but few of us realize that it sits at a crossroads today where it could potentially find its way back into consumer's pockets — something it's tried to do before in a hit-or-miss fashion. From the conclusion of the article, one analyst states: 'Ironically, although you'd think AOL should dump its family mentality in light of its competitors like Yahoo, the key to AOL future branding success vs. Yahoo could be to actually capitalize on its family friendliness alongside targeting the tech-savvy community currently owned by Apple.' AOL has been met with many problems as of late, but can they pull themselves out of the hole this time?"
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The AOL Roller Coaster

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  • Dear AOL: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jason Scott ( 18815 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @09:38AM (#16347525) Homepage
    ...die in a fire. A nasty, painful fire.

    The article kind of glosses over that time that AOL released its users onto the Internet at large with absolutely no barriers or training, even an indication they were really not on AOL.

    One of my funniest memories of that time was when someone had a webpage up criticizing AOL, and an AOL admin/cop/whatever contacted him and seriously explained that the webmaster was violating AOL's terms of service, and to take the webpage down immediately or have his AOL account terminated.

    People looking for examples of how a corporate entity will gang-bang a shared service at the first opportunity need look no further than AOL and its toxic bus-load drop-offs onto the net.

    Next time, mention that in a "History".
    • Or die in a War? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Mateo_LeFou ( 859634 )
      AOL VS The Internet: []
    • And all that Family Friendliness stops when you try to cancel your account. I'm not just talking about that one guy who recorded his calls either. When I canceled 5 years ago it took me two hours and three seperate calls.
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        And all that Family Friendliness stops when you try to cancel your account. I'm not just talking about that one guy who recorded his calls either. When I canceled 5 years ago it took me two hours and three seperate calls.

        The easiest way to cancel an AOL account, at least when they were offering an 0800 number in the UK, was just to leave it permanently connected. Via a cell phone (0800 calls were free on Orange at the time). 5500 cell phone minutes per month charged to the account got things cut off very
    • A good way back (Score:2, Insightful)

      by NineNine ( 235196 )
      Well, an excellent way for them to make a comeback is if they did a complete overhaul and focused on providing a heavily filtered version of the Internet in all forms, in an attempt to make it as safe from crime, viruses, and nasty content as possible. With the total and complete mess that the Net is in these days (flooded with spam, crime, and malware), I would think that at this point in time, some people would be falling all over themselves to use a service like that. I would even use a service like th
    • Great delineating moments in history:

      1) 1963 - JFK assasinated - U.S. enters steep decline. Has yet to recover.
      2) 1990s - AOLers gain access to internet - Internet enters steep decline. Has yet to recover. It was that noticable.

      After that not much happened.
      • by fatphil ( 181876 )
        In particular, September 1993 - the september that never ended.

        Fortunately googlegroups has taken over the torch for the attempt to fill usenet with idiots since AOL pulled out.

  • by OnyxIR ( 456300 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @09:40AM (#16347539)
    What the hell is AOL?

    No really...
    • OK, take the worst thing you can think of. Now, make it kill puppies and rape goats. Then, dip it in acid, and finally, give it your credit card number.

      That's AOL.
    • I have the same problem, I really don't understand what AOL is.
      Until lately I really didn't care, but I now have a good friend in the USA who thinks highly of AOL, but so far I have not been able to really understand what AOL is.
      Living in Denmark I don't think there is such a thing as AOL in our part of the world, I can get my internet connection through a number of ISP's who offers little else but the ISP and what you usually get along with that (email adresses, a little room for a homepage maybe and a "
      • by markhb ( 11721 )
        Start here [].

        Before the Internet became interesting to the general public (i.e., before it had pictures), the USA had several "online services", including AOL, Compuserve [], now also owned by AOL, and Prodigy. These used proprietary, graphical client software to enable users to reach central servers via dial-up; the users paid $x per month for a certain number of available minutes of usage. In some ways, they provided the same sort of things that the Internet does now, like chat rooms, narrow-topic bulletin b
        • by Moochman ( 54872 )
          About the CompuServe comment: Yes, I find it very ironic. I have a CompuServe (2000, aka "AOL Budget Edition") account, and my parents are still paying for it since my mom still has yet to be completely weened off of it (onto Yahoo Premium, which is included in our Verizon DSL in case you were wondering). The fact that BYOA (bring your own access) AOL members now get a free ride, while we still have to pay about $8 a month, is ludicrous, especially considering the CompuServe software hasn't been updated
  • I believe that the article has it right in terms of wondering what's to draw people to AOL when what they're offering is availabe quite widely from other providers. Once you've been in the wilds of the web, do you really need the kind of coddling they offer? Shiny interface and its free, but hardly necessary (What's necessary? Think Google). In between that and the recent security slippage, I'm skeptical this will be any kind of draw.
  • by thethibs ( 882667 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @09:49AM (#16347613) Homepage

    That's funny. " the forefront of the Internet revolution".

    AOL was the last of the big BBS' to move to the internet, dragged kicking and screaming into ISP-dom by the flight of its subscribers to services that provided internet mail, usenet, ftp and uucp.

    About ten thousand of Jack Rickard's army of sysops were offering internet services before AOL's tentative entry. Hardly "a company that was once ahead of its time", AOL nearly didn't make it at all.

    • Wasn't Compuserve also big at the time? I jumped from them to a real ISP as soon as I found out about you guys.
      • Ai, Compuserve was the dominant BBS at that time. I was spending about $150 a month there until I was able to get a uucp connection to AlterNet (UUNet). I put up a "waffle" uucp node/bbs and started providing internet mail and news to my consulting clients. This market lasted for about five years until ppp and ip services got cheap and plentiful.

        The last of my bbs installations (PCBoard) went offline in mid-2003, nine years after creation. That may be some sort of record.

    • As the largest ISP in America (if not the world) for a time, it was the Wal Mart of the Internet for many years, and remains very popular. My dad recently got cable internet but still has too much invested into 8+ years at AOL to abandon his addresses & communities, so he continued to pay Bring-Your-Own-Access fee.
  • Family Friendly? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jmccay ( 70985 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @09:52AM (#16347647) Journal
    I don't know if family friendly is a word I would use with AOL. Every browsed their own chat rooms? You see a lot of user created room names like M4M in various forms. Also, AOL is more a content provider now than just an ISP. Your average ISP is not AOL/Time Warner. They give away their music videos ( I wonder how they will make money with their free service. Lastly, all you needed to do to use the internet without AOL in the days of dial-up was login to AOL, and then minimize it.
    • It did not use to be that way. Somewhere along the way, a business guy took over and decided that those kinds of controls were not needed. Once they allowed it to be ran similar to the internet, then there was no advantage to them. Worse, they have remained in MS's backyard trying to compete and moved from Mozilla to MSIE.

      AOL is a great case history of how to take a successful company and destroy it. Roughly, save a buck by gutting that which makes it useful as well as make deals with your illegal competit
  • by Mike89 ( 1006497 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @09:53AM (#16347651)
    We started off using AOL when they had all the free trials gear for dialup. When we'd get through a free trial, we'd just use another credit card. Now, Dad pays for Unlimited Dialup (broadband not available at his house) with them. He knows there's cheaper, and in almost every other aspect he shops around. But they Woo'd him in the beginning, probably with the email account for everyone in the family and the "kid-safe" chatrooms. I don't know any other ISPs (atleast in Australia) that run their own (easy to access for the not-so-technically inclined fold) chatrooms, and I think it's a good idea - people are basically forced to behave by the fact their username is tied to a service they're paying for. I still think AOL are good in this respect. Other than that, yes, AOL should "Die in a fire", as the OP states.
  • by also-rr ( 980579 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @09:56AM (#16347677) Homepage
    Most of the people who I know who use Macs were recommended them (and recommend them to others) because they want things to be easy and simple.

    This *could* be an ideal market for AOL, I agree, but it's hardly tech savvy.

    FWIW generally my experience is that the market is split into approximately four parts -
    Those that want an easy life (running Macs)
    Those that want complete control (running Linux)
    Those that don't know what the options are (running Windows)
    Those that have specific software needs (running any of the above).

    The number of people in category one who could be described as tech savvy is not really all that high. You don't need to know a lot about the insides of a computer to decide that this one doesn't need much work to make it do what you want.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pr0xY ( 526811 )
      While I understand what you trying to say, I have to disagree with some assumptions you have made. Why can't someone who wants things to be simple be tech-savvy?

      Personally I'm a software engineer who deals mostly with kernel level development. I run linux because I like to have more control over how things work (one of your points I agreed with). But none of this means that I wouldn't want things to be simpler. Here's the thing, when a computer is designed such that that tasks you want to do are simpler to
    • by blueZ3 ( 744446 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @12:32PM (#16348749) Homepage
      Mac: For people who don't want to know why their computer works
      Linux: For people who do want to know why their computers works
      DOS: For people who want to know why their computer doesn't work
      Windows: For people who don't want to know why their computer doesn't work
    • I'm nearing the end of a Computer Science PhD, and my primary machine is a Mac. Over the last few years, I have seen more and more people in my department move to Mac. Visiting other computer science departments, I see the same picture. Many of these people have a Windows/Linux/BSD box or two, but they use the Mac for real work. Anyone who uses a Mac and wants to understand what's going on should read Amit Singh's excellent book []. Wanting things to work and being tech savvy are not opposites, in fact I
    • by ejtttje ( 673126 )
      I'd say the "tech savvy" quotient of Macs is going up as those with a clue switch from "don't know the options (running windows)" and move to a Mac instead. The un-savvy stay behind. It's about wanting to use your computer to get stuff done instead of living in fear of hackers, viruses, malware, and paying out the nose for more software because you can't run the open source stuff as readily. But it's also about not *having* to spend time learning about minutia, unless you really want to, in which case yo
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Seriously, what does AOL really have to offer?

    The Internet now has a ton of darn good content. At this point, no one company could ever hope to offer a meaningful supplement to the huge choices already available. The idea of AOL charging for "special content" just doesn't make sense anymore. Popular content is now free by definition (wikipedia, google, youtube, P2P, etc.).

    The idea of AOL as a provider of bandwidth doesn't make sense -- AOL doesn't own the last-mile pipes into people's homes, so here they
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tonsofpcs ( 687961 )
      And now AOL wants to reach out to the "tech-savvy" segment? Do they not understand that the tech-savvy have spent the last 10 years laughing derisively at the AOL brand name? They would be much better off developing a new brand name for that purpose.

      That won't work well, as most tech-savvy people are smart enough to see through the guise.
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I'll start with the statement that I am slightly suprised to find myself an AOL employee after my employer was recently acquired by AOL. I work for one of the AOL services under discussion here.

        Do they not understand that the tech-savvy have spent the last 10 years laughing derisively at the AOL brand name? They would be much better off developing a new brand name for that purpose.

        That won't work well, as most tech-savvy people are smart enough to see through the guise.

        But the argument is: if AOL has sudd

  • What?! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @10:16AM (#16347825)
    Have things really descended to the point that someone can seriously utter a phrase like, "the tech-savvy community currently owned by Apple"? Apple's entire schtick, from the first Macintosh onwards, has been that their products don't require any kind of expertise, that they "just work", and that they produce the computer "for the rest of us" -- where "us" should probably not be construed to mean frequent Slashdot readers and users of Sourceforge.
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by Servo ( 9177 )
      As an IT professional, the last thing I want to do when I get home is to have to spend even more time fixing my own PC. That's why I own a Mac.
      • I have to say as someone who worked in a large mac lab with mac and windows servers, that when I come home, I spend none of my time fixing my pc or my son's pc or my wife's pc.

        I did have to spend a few seconds starting ClamWin through VNC on my wife's laptop at one point.

        When my dad wanted a computer, I did set him up with a mac. I didn't want to spend time having to fixing it and it was a good thing as his girlfriend's grand kids apparently download all kinds of windows executables that I see littered all
    • Apple's entire schtick, from the first Macintosh onwards, has been that their products don't require any kind of expertise, that they "just work", and that they produce the computer "for the rest of us" -- where "us" should probably not be construed to mean frequent Slashdot readers and users of Sourceforge.

      I think you've confused your definition of 'tech saavy' with that of 'masochist'.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Urusai ( 865560 )
        Hey, I run Gentoo, I resemble that statement! Hold on, my background emerge -uD is halting, gotta resolve some circular dependencies by tweaking my USE flags. Maybe I shouldn't have gone ~amd64 + crazy CFLAGS + roll-my-own ebuilds. Argh, why is my font messed up? ALSA dmix broken, my tunes not working! Where's that Ubuntu disc? Must not...give in to...dark side...
  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @10:18AM (#16347845) Journal
    they would offer one of their free CDs with an OS set-up that includes everything that a user needs.
    1. An internet connection.
    2. A good browser; firefox.
    3. A good Office (open office).
    4. Games.
    5. and an optional OS of Linux.

    And it would be good if they went back to having cleaned up chat rooms, even though I suspect that that boat sailed.
  • by dapsychous ( 1009353 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @10:36AM (#16347971) Homepage
    AOL recently aced PC World's list of the top 25 worst tech products of all time. [] .

    I don't think they were all bad. They did send me all those nifty coasters, frisbees, and BB targets.
  • All I want to know is why in the WORLD you can't log into the mobile interface to check your email if you have an AOL My eAddress.

    Actually, for that matter, you can't even check AIM screen names through that interface.

    What gives??
  • Name Change (Score:2, Insightful)

    Let's face it, it is a safe bet that no one reading /. is going to sign up for AOL or give that company any money at all.

    Also, it is possible for the company to turn a large profit without that market (IMHO, IANABA*)

    The major problem they face is a image problem, a lot of people who might like a service like AOL have already herd that "AOL Sucks, never use their service". Without debating the validity of that statement, I think most of these people could be fooled by a corporate name change. The
  • What web portal lets you watch all five seasons of Babylon 5?
  • Hi, I would like to cancel my subscription to this thread. No really. Please. I really don't want this subscription, please let me cancel. No you can't talk to my Dad. Please just unsubscribe me. Oh, 6 free months of this thread? I'll pay you to unsubscribe me. Therein lies AOL's yellow brick road to profit, make people pay to unsubscribe lol.
  • I remember from the days of AOL 2.5 up to 6.0. The amount of progz, bombers, and OMFG the "Coach" account program... That was just some intolerable stuff. Though, admittedly, those progz came in handy defending yourself from those other progz out there.

    I wish AOL would realize that if they wanted to get mass profit and save money (by needing less programmers for their cruddy software,) they should just have been a pure ISP. Let the users figure their own stuff out without your software in the way. It was

Last yeer I kudn't spel Engineer. Now I are won.