Thanks for the emails, everyone. I’m answering requests for help with AOL first and everything else when I can.
What follows is an email sent to me by an IT developer last week. There will be more emails on Anti-AOL soon so stay tuned.
I’d just like to comment on your site as something you rarely find. Must say I agree with all of the things you said…and grind my teeth at the same time. If you want you can add this as a post on your web site. Main message being: To all you AOL users; please, please don’t use AOL for online shopping. You have no idea what a nightmare it is to keep it working properly for AOL.
I’m a lead developer in an IT department of an eCommerce business. We recently discovered that we had cookie problems with users coming from an AOL connection. I’m just in the process of testing and trying to replicate the problems. Funnily enough everything works fine if you use IE7 or FF2/FF3 through an AOL connection. Since I couldn’t reproduce the problems I started Googling and soon realized AOL 9.0 VR is what I need to reproduce it. And as no shock I soon managed to reproduce the problem myself.
Just a little bit of insight. AOL 9.0 VR uses the IE engine, but only to render HTML – and even that messes up scripts on the page. Do a Google search for “AOL AJAX problems”. Anyway, it also “uses” IE’s settings panel. But not really; you are able to change connection settings, proxy settings – but to no effect. VR apparently has it’s own list of proxies to which it connects directly rather than using the proxy that you specify. This means requests/responses fly in and out through unpredictable sockets and ports. As you can already guess, tools like Fiddler, PortMon and almost any kind of traffic monitoring tools won’t work properly – or not at all. I’m still looking for something in order to be able to track requests. But that’s just the tech side.
The front end problems for end point users are: You are, as already mentioned in the site’s articles, looking at old pages, in some cases years old. Same problem applies to looking at your basket when you are shopping for something. To illustrate: You finally find a product you’re looking for. Click “add to basket”. If you’re lucky that particular page has not yet been visited by an AOL user. Fat chance, though. Lucky because if it has been visited it will be cached somewhere in AOL caching proxy farm. This means that if the requested page is found in the proxy cache it’s returned rather than going to the actual desired web server. If you are an AOL user, when adding something to basket this means it never actually gets added.
So you decide to check out. Good luck. If, for instance, you use PayPal or Google Checkout the response will be you cannot checkout because your basket is empty. Nothing ever got added to it. You can keep on refreshing the page (for a couple of days) until finally you get the desired item in the basket. But do it once more and you may get back to 0 again or even to some items you never added. That’s because not all proxy caches get updated at the same time and only one gets updated with a newer version of the page. So, if you still want to use your AOL connection to access shopping sites be careful when you check out – you don’t accidentally want to buy a new bike with your bread, do you?
Anyway, we can’t really put a notice on to our web site saying “If you use AOL browsers, please use a REAL browser in order to continue” but I can, however, post frustrated posts and send long emails.