It’s getting hard to find out much about AOL with only a few million people left who still use it, and many of them pissed about a home page redesign that occurred over four years ago. I can understand AOL isn’t catering to the broadest nor most technically adept userbase and that the need for good services such as the original Postmaster@AOL.com website has been greatly reduced as more and more people quit AOL.
But I think for the sake of trackable history that what AOL has done by pulling down the original Postmaster site only to replace it with the bubbly-looking, inconsequential mess that sits in its place now is wrong. Here’s a screengrab of archive.org’s cache of the original AOL Postmaster website after one of my friends from LiveJournal, Annalivia, redesigned it, right before she left her postmaster position at AOL for good.
I need someone to explain how such an After could possibly be better than the Before.
One day – and I’m not trying to be mean by saying so – AOL will probably cease to exist except as a service people might or might not recall with a laugh, a shudder, or maybe with a few memories, either good or bad.
When that day comes, sites like the last fully comprehensive version of Postmaster@AOL.com will be the only digital footprint left to explain how AOL’s backend, servers, and hardware worked. You can see for yourself with a quick trip through Google that there’s no wiki for that, not on Wikipedia and not on AOL. AOL has erased and deleted every last bit of technically useful information from the knowledge base they once publicly maintained themselves.
I want to know why. How much could it cost them to keep those pages up and running?
The information they held would probably never need to change, so updating them wouldn’t have been much of a hassle. The amount of history lost by erasing them so that the average layperson can’t learn how AOL’s service once worked without having to wait for a media reporter to research it and print up the result of an arduous fact-finding mission is priceless (I can envision her trying to interview devs who worked for AOL 20 years ago, now in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, who answer every question with one of two phrases: “Well yeah, maybe sort of”, and “Uh, well, no, maybe not.”).
It’s one thing for AOL to delete a how-to cancel page, which they did almost 10 years ago, making me briefly famous for getting pissed about it and embarrassing them in the process. It’s quite another to erase knowledge and history.
It’s probably too late to hope AOL will rethink this, but it sure would be nice if they did.
The Wayback Machine’s cache is at AOL’s whim and mercy. It can be deleted using just one meta tag forbidding it to exist at anytime, so I’m seriously thinking of scraping my own copy. It’s not the most efficient way to fly as code from the archival server will get mixed in and splicing apart what’s AOL’s and what’s exclusive to the Wayback Machine might get messy, but it’s better than nothing, which is about all AOL has left us to look at anymore.