Ficlets creator fights AOL to save his brainchild – and loses.

This is interesting: Joe Manna happened to catch a comment on the PeopleConnection blog from the Ficlets creator, Kevin Lawver, a long-time AOLer who left the company in May. Kevin wrote about Ficlets:

I knew this was coming, I just didn’t know the day. I tried, with the help of some great people, to get AOL to donate ficlets to a non-profit, with no luck. I asked them just to give it to me outright since I invented it and built it with the help of some spectacular developers and designers. All of this has gone nowhere.

I’ve already written an exporter and have all the stories (the ones not marked “mature” anyway). I have pretty much all of the author bios too. Since I was smart enough to insist that AOL license all the content under Creative Commons, I’ll be launching a “ficlets graveyard” on 1/16 so at least the stories that people worked so hard one will live on.

I have mixed feelings about ficlets’ demise. On the one hand, I’m proud of the work we did on it. I’m thankful that AOL allowed me to build it with a truly amazing group of talented folks. I’m humbled by the community that ficlets attracted and the awards that ficlets won.

On the other hand, I’m sad that I wasn’t allowed to keep working on ficlets. I’m disappointed that AOL’s turned its back on the community, although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

So, to all the ficleteers out there – your stories will live on, and there may be a couple more surprises in the works before 1/15 if I have my way. Be on the lookout… I’ll post any news to my blog:

Posted at 9:41PM on Dec 3rd 2008 by Kevin Lawver [source]

Let’s recap.

  1. AOL chose to shut down Ficlets rather than donate the site and server(s) to a non-profit who would certainly manage the costs from there on in – and probably manage Ficlets – and the community that developed from it – better than AOL did.
  2. Next, AOL refused to give Ficlets to the very person who created it.
  3. Luckily, a contract stipulation that Kevin insisted on before handing Ficlets over to AOL puts the content under a Creative Commons license so it can be reprinted by Ficlet users or Kevin himself. He’s going to work on that starting on Jan. 16th. Unluckily, any such undertaking is guaranteed to be a massive and expensive pain in the ass for Kevin, who wouldn’t have to go through such a rough transition if AOL had simply agreed to items 1 or 2.
  4. Finally, Joe speculates that Ron Grant, the COO at AOL, was playing favorites all along, so with Kevin Conroy, the former Executive Vice President of Products and Marketing at the time Ficlets was acquired out, and Bill Wilson in, Ficlet’s demise was inevitable – and predictably quick.

As to Joe’s speculation…is it just me, or will AOLers fight with each other about anything and try to outdo each other every chance they get?

It reminds me of how AOL killed the Netscape browser in late 2007 (which no doubt came about after yet another fight) when they refused to sell the code to anyone else. Even though Netscape was built on open-source code, AOL owned the name “Netscape” so they didn’t legally “have to” allow anyone else to continue developing it. I liked the Netscape browser (who wouldn’t – it’s last iterations were just like Firefox) so that decision, like most of AOL’s decisions, rubbed me the wrong way.

The Ficlets story, like the Netscape story, speaks volumes, showing us again how cruel, stubborn and out-of-touch AOL still is – even in the midst of their last, waning days.

5 thoughts on “Ficlets creator fights AOL to save his brainchild – and loses.

  1. My Speculation

    As to Joe’s speculation…is it just me, or will AOLers fight with each other about anything and try to outdo each other every chance they get?

    AOL has built their own Noah’s Ark — an email provider (product) with blogs (programming) — and it’s a matter of who will be able to get on the boat first before being ousted.
    One thing that boggles my mind. Product and programming managers manage their own metrics and Web analytics. While I don’t have any evidence, I suspect a few groups pushed the numbers to save their own groups.
    In many companies, sales and marketing are born to fight each other. In AOL, products and programming have a similar dynamic.
    To to answer your question, yes, there is a lot of internal competition, politics and personal agendas being fought out. The sad part is, people don’t work together to make good experiences for users. PdMs and PgMs are at gunpoint for page views which translate to higher CPMs and CPIs and everyone is happy.
    Of course, shutting products down means no page views and no happy users. This should lend belief into the state of the company.
    The good thing is that AOL isn’t going to Congress begging for bailout relief and AOL will commit suicide though asphyxiation of products. They are doing us all favor in the long run.


  2. Re: My Speculation
    “Product and programming managers manage their own metrics and Web analytics. While I don’t have any evidence, I suspect a few groups pushed the numbers to save their own groups.
    I have no doubt. That was always a big hunch of mine (I study the psychology of their work force as much as I study their software)- so thanks for more or less confirming it.
    This is what I don’t get: Business is about attracting and keeping your customers and you keep them by keeping them HAPPY. AOL does anything but keep them happy: for years they raised the rates on software until now it costs $27 for stupid dial-up, they charged through the nose for “premium services” that without AOL are often free, they walled off content, they made canceling an account impossible even for the dead, they still give people a hard time canceling everything, they’ve messed up email more times, and in more ways, than I can properly count over the years, they upsell until people want to scream because they can’t get their business done with AOL for all the extra shit call center folks want them to buy, they close the very sites and services that people are still devoted to and care about – at least in small numbers – that give AOL a very good reputation, regardless of the fact that they are run by their otherwise nefarious selves – and then they spend billions of dollars on the most unproductive, unuseful, un-customer-oriented crap like Netscape and Bebo. Why?
    Then through infighting, one-upmanship, and managerial preening they destroy whatever they’ve got left, and the customers disappear along with what remained of AOL’s mostly fragile common sense. So their business FAILS – simply because they did not focus on their customers. Yet almost no one at AOL can admit it – nor admit the inevitably of – what they have done, nor admit why. Frankly, I’m amazed they’re still around.


  3. Maybe I missed it but I would really like to know how to remove the Screen Names from the AOL 9.1 Screen Name box. I have a friend that didn’t know she could convert her paid AOL account to a free one so she created a new free Screen Name but her old one is still in the Screen Name box. She has to logon as Guest and then her new one.


  4. Pingback: AOL is on fire! Circavie and Ficlets will die on Jan. 15th, 2009. « Anti-AOL -An InTooLate Production

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