Lost In AOL’s Maze


Updated 12-31-07.

News of AOL ending support for their once-revered Netscape browser got me taking a year-end trip down Digg.com to review this year’s stories about Netscape: How their social news site was moved to Propeller.com and how Netscape.com would become a portal once again. I came to a startling conclusion: AOL is not just a collection of websites; it’s a sticky, tangled-up maze of redirects.

When you try to visit Netscape.com these days, your browser heads over to Netscape.AOL.com. Instead of a blue Navigator wheel in the tab, you get the AOL Evil Eye™. When you click a story link, your browser finds News.AOL.com – unless you click a link for a political  story – then it rushes away to News.Netscape.com but gets flipped off to News.Propeller.com. For more of this torment, visit WOW.com; it gets amnesia now and thinks it’s at Wowinsider.com.

I’ve tried to find an explanation for these redirects, but I can’t. What are the chances crazy AOL programmers have threatened to quit if they can’t run the servers the way they  want to – and redirect these sites just to piss off everyone else? Maybe they actually hate AOL and want all their traffic to die. (Hey guys, if you’re reading this, you’re doing a great job; page views are way down.) Here, I’ve drawn up a chart just to confuse you even more.

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AOL’s Top 5 Blunders of 2007

AOL's top 5 blunders of 2007

For the average person surfing the Web, AOL didn’t stand out for a lot of well-publicized blunders this year, in stark contrast to their inability to stay out of the press last year for fiascos that would embarrass any company with a moral compass, much less a company that once was the Internet. All the same, AOL’s blunders this year were surprising for how clearly they showed AOL’s lack of integrity, dignity, and direction. Unlike last year I had no problem deciding how to order this list, so no coin-flipping this time…

AOL leaks layoff news, handles layoffs by email, and mocks laid off AOLers.

Say what you want about AOL’s inability to catch up to the Internet these days, they sure can blow the playing field wide open for how layoffs are handled. How about employing managers who are so burnt up over how badly AOL treats them that they willingly leak details of the who, what, when and why of October’s layoffs to Silicon Valley Insider, making a previously shamed Henry Blodget of former stock analysis fame once more well-known and well-liked among industry insiders of all stripes?

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Why You Should Use the BBB Against AOL

Republished on 12-17-07 because I want this fresh on people’s minds again.

Also see How to File a Complaint Against AOL.

Billy wrote me a month ago that he canceled his free trial of AOL back in 2003, but they kept billing him every month for the next 3 years. In fact, when he wrote me, they were still billing him. AOL’s taken nearly $1000 $900* from him since he canceled his free trial, but he didn’t know it until recently.

When I wrote him back I gave him a bit of a scouring for not checking his credit card statement for 3 years but I also told him to call AOL (rather than write to them, as he’d done previously without success). I told him to make them look up his usage to prove he canceled 3 years ago, gave him a link to a site that explains how to dispute credit card charges, and I gave him links to every attorney general’s office in the nation and links to the BBB and FTC, explained what they do, and told him “good luck” – because I doubted after 3 years that anyone could do much.

I didn’t hear from him again so I wasn’t sure if he was unhappy with my advice. After a few weeks I lost his email like I lose almost everyone else’s but I figured it wasn’t going to go well for him, anyway. Then out of nowhere Billy wrote me again that he got over $800 back from AOL:

After filing a complaint [with the] BBB, FTC, [and the] Texas Attorney General, I received refund[s for] $51.80 and $25.90 and $742.50, for a total of $820.20. I had to haggle to receive the $742.50, but in the end, I did get the credit back (through the BBB). Thank you.

Thank YOU, Billy, for making my day.

*“Billy” told me the amount of money AOL took from him was in the $850-900 range after I published his story.