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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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  • Or die in a War? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mateo_LeFou ( 859634 ) on Saturday October 07, 2006 @09:43AM (#16347563) Homepage
    AOL VS The Internet:

    http://www.airsho.com/PCwebster/aol_users.htm [airsho.com]
  • 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 07, 2006 @02:27PM (#16349603)
    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 suddenly acquired a clue and will start providing services interesting to everyone without AOL's historical penchant for fucking things up... wouldn't they be smart to drop the AOL brand for their new services?

    And in answer to the gp's question, yes the AOL suits do understand that the AOL brand has a bad rep among the tech savvy. My group has been left with their existing brand, though there are broad hints through the signup process that we're AOL now. AOL management (and many non-management employees, including yours truly) are currently trying to find a way to 1) maintain/grow the mass-market user base and 2) provide actually useful and actually cutting-edge services without 3) becoming a target for litigation. I won't explain the specifics of why litigation is a risk, but there are very real dangers competing with many "Web 2.0" companies. Especially when you're a huge content provider yourself with very deep pockets.

    Ultimately, AOL as an organization is sincerely trying to find a new way of doing business. They're throwing out the ISP model and working towards a "grab bag of services" with different ways of making money from those services (free for basic, pay for advanced, advertising, etc.). I'm as curious as anyone to see if they manage to overcome enough established assumptions to pull off such a deep and substantial change.

    Finally, as a (still slightly suprised) AOL/Time-Warner employee with all of the biases that entails, I would ask that slashdotters do their best to judge each service on it's own merits. Some of the long list of AOL owned services will be truly great. Others, not so much. I hope my group's service gets to the "great" list but we're not quite there yet.

    Use what works for you and use it on your terms. If something isn't exactly the way you want it to be: call, email, whatever, but complain and make your voice heard. In my division, the customer support group swings a big stick, and they can alter feature priority and force fixes into the schedule when enough customers let them know that something isn't right. But don't write off a service as useless just because the AOL name is attached. The developers/testers/operations people in my group have a lot more loyalty to our users than to AOL management.

    Hope this helps the discussion.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas