Asking why AOL screws up nearly everything they touch is like asking why the sun shines on a clear day, but I’m a sucker for tradition, and for two years running I’ve done so, so why not a third? It’s reasonable to expect this is the last Top 5 I’ll ever do on AOL since the company is dying. With no further ado, AOL’s top five blunders of 2008:
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.
In AOL’s quest to profit solely from advertising placed on websites, in email and in IM clients, they are slowly but surely dumping almost every subscription-based business they own. The most recent victims are Xdrive, Bluestring, AOL Pictures, AIM World (I can’t find anything on it except this MySpace page so I think AOL might mean they’re shutting down AIM soon) and MyMobile.
MyAOL is also rumored to be “sunsetting” soon and rumors have AOL selling the dial-up subscription business by August, which is only another week from now. We’ll see. In the meantime…
AOL does not offer much of a Plan B to anyone using services that are about to get closed down. The most AOL’s spokespeople will say about the fate of those services is this:
AOL: How America Gets Online!
Here’s a quiz: name one company that got its start as an online service called Gameline for Atari and grew so big that they soon adopted a motto claiming they were the Internet – or at least the only way most people could access it.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. In the 19 years since America Online took the country by storm with easy access to chat rooms, message boards and websites, and even introduced simple technology to allow the serfdom to mail letters to one another through the hourly-rated ether, their Kingdom has fallen to access issues, lousy customer service, internal mismanagement and fraud, and a tragic rebirth as something they never knew how to be in the first place and still can’t become after roughly 15 years of trying: an advertising conglomerate.
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.
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…
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?
AOL is in a dreadful state of affairs with Randy Falco and Ron Grant (aka “Smithers & Burns”, a snarky insider reference to characters on The Simpsons) now running the show. I said last year that AOL was moving away from access into advertising, that Falco did not understand the Internet or any aspect of AOL’s business, and I always thought that tiny Ron Grant, (i.e. “Falco’s brain” or some such thing) was fairly clueless. I haven’t called it wrong yet, so love me or hate me, don’t say I never gave you a good (and early) warning.
AOL is making the news yet again for dropping Kaspersky’s rebranded anti-virus tool (which was free for anyone to download and use) not because it’s one of the stupidest decisions they ever made (we covered that here already) but because their inferior replacement for it, McAfee, is only available to AOL members.
News Flash, everyone…
You’re not missing much without it. There’s truckloads of user testaments to the fact that McAfee doesn’t even work. AOL is doing everyone a favor by denying all but their unvalued members access to the crappiest antivirus software on the face of the Earth (besides Norton, the #1 most hulking, overblown behemoth of antivirus tools).
Even if you have all the money in the world to blow on antivirus software, disable what you’re using and try AVG instead…after all, saving money and still having a quality product work hard to protect your computer is a good thing, right?
There are days when so much bad news floats around about AOL that I want to write about cheerful things instead…like sunsets. How about an article on sunsets? This is one of those days.
For instance, someone needs to hand AOL the Dumbass Award of 2007 for dropping Kaspersky’s Active Virus Shield from their lineup of free anti-virus tools. It’s a bit of a resource hog, but it’s probably the most effective anti-virus product out there, and it has a firewall, incoming and outgoing IP logging, and a few other cool features.
Time to watch the ship start sinking; AOL can’t bail out much longer. Breaking news at the Washington Post quotes Rob Enderle, a principal analyst for the Enderle Group, saying that unless AOL becomes more competitive, “this property will be without value by this time next year.”
AOL had its worst quarter since changing its business model last summer to regain money lost from over 14 million fleeing subscribers. Giving away free access to AOL’s software and premium content while attaching ads to member’s inboxes and emails was supposed to staunch the painful flow of lost dollars. For a while the ad-based model seemed to have some hope. AOL claimed profits rose around 40% for each subsequent quarter, but profit rose just 16% last quarter, and past examination proves most of the increase was from advertising.com, an AOL subsidiary that places ads on third-party websites, not on AOL’s.