AOL’s Top 5 Blunders of 2008

AOL's top 5 blunders of 2008.

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:

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AOL layoff synopsis: the clueless fire the clues.

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.

Randy Falco: as always, without a clue. Image credit: bobzmudaguy@flickr.com

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Google-AOL Fight (or “Finding Relevance in Every Bit of Nonsense Out There”)

AOL/Google Fight

I know AOL sucks, but would most people believe Google sucks more? (Somehow I would.) It’s a fun fact from a Google Fight Site that I found along my Web travels. You can use it to pit websites against each other and see which one “wins”.

Since I stumbled upon Google Fight last Wednesday Google has dropped 180,000 results for why “google sucks”, while the number of results for “AOL sucks” has increased by 10,000. Google is simply expunging any negativity about themselves that they find. Give it time; the “Google sucks” results will drop to zero while the “AOL sucks” results will just keep growing.

I wonder how AOL feels about that. Google owns them, after all…or 5%, anyway. That deal certainly isn’t helping AOL.

Tough Questions, and a Question of Fair Use

Uneasy Questions

As reported in Silicon Alley Insider this week, Richard Greenfield, Managing Director of media investments for Pali Research, a fairly new addition to the brokerage firm Pali Capital, has some tough questions for Time Warner, making SAI writer Peter Kafka remark that “for understandable reasons, [they] are presumably no longer speaking to him”.

His toughest questions are for AOL, but his blog requires that you sign up with a corporate email address to read them. After I complained about it on the SAI blog, the requirement for a corporate email address was temporarily lifted, allowing me to create an account and copy Mr. Greenfield’s post for my personal records, but according to my email with him today, the corporate email address requirement is again in effect.

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Stay unsafe with AOL.

Is she really safe using AOL?

Updated 6-5-2007.

Most people don’t question why I can’t stand AOL but maybe some of you scratch your heads wondering why I think Google sucks, too. Explaining why usually isn’t a topic for this blog, but the safety of Google’s search engine is.

Most search engines show unsafe sites in results, but AOL uses Google to deliver them, and Google is crawling with tons of bad sites for even the most innocent words. Google also places worse sites higher in results than Yahoo! and other search engines do.

People who monitor badware threats know search engines are the number one breeding ground for them. Google is heinous in this respect. They do nothing to filter harmful results out. They even display unsafe results at the top of many popular searches.

I’ll give you a hard-to-forget example. Let’s say your teenage daughter wants to change her screensaver. Here’s the innocent-looking organic search results for “screensavers”, using AOL’s software.

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Do you click on an ad when you don’t know whose it is?

Click on an ad?

“What, are you kidding me?” you say, shaking your head, but in light of changes made to Google’s ad displays, it’s as good a question as any.

I must start off by saying I despise any ruse used to fool, trick or deceive a person into clicking on an ad or visiting a website under any false or unverifiable circumstances. Now that AOL uses Google Adwords as part of their Search Marketplace program, these deceptive practices are used not only by Google but by AOL, too.

As most people know AOL Search has been “enhanced by” Google’s algorithms for a few years. I’m unhappy that a search engine that’s given me trouble, that has too much spam, that skews results in a way that’s more profitable for advertisers than it is for us (consumers who don’t necessarily want to buy anything) has been AOL’s first choice for results for a long time.

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AOL Introduces AdVictims

AOL Trap

In news I might’ve missed over the holidays, Google rolled out a beta version of AdWords for AOL. The project should’ve stayed hush-hush, strictly on the down-low, but news of AdWords for AOL, part of their new “AOL Search Marketplace,” was “leaked” without AOL’s knowledge ahead of the formal announcement, which is pending.

Background: AOL struck their first deal with Google in 2002 to help them improve their search ranking. Google received a stake in AOL in exchange. AOL and Google renewed the agreement in December, 2005, for a much higher price. The AdWords project springs from that, according to AOL’s Blogging Stocks.

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AOL Rolls the Dice on New Video Site

AOL Rolls the Dice

Updated 4-03-2007. Edited 05-15-2007 and 5-19-2007.

The news about Google has affected the news about AOL more times than I care to recall, going back to the last in their series of partnerships (agreed to in late 2005) that somehow fell under the public radar and got broadcast as news again a few months ago.

Again AOL is making news because of Google, this time for wanting to cut into Google’s business by teaming up with NBC Universal (the same people who mistakenly gave us Randy Falco), NewsCorp’s MySpace, Microsoft, and Yahoo! to offer a competitor to YouTube that will offer free full-length movies and television shows as opposed to YouTube’s 10 minute clips. The new, jointly owned site could be up and running by the summer if all goes according to plan.

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AOL’s got a way to go to get off MY list.

AOL: a way to go

08-30-2006: AOL’s free 9.0 software fell into the bad graces of stopbadware.org, according to this report, which lists every complaint I had with it. Will these issues stop new users, even at the newbie level, from using it? Yes, if they have any sense at all. It stopped me. I have more planned on this topic soon.

Free domain names? Think again.

08-08-2006: Starting in September AOL is giving out free domain names with free storage space and up to 100 email addresses compatible with Outlook Express and other clients. The only catch is you won’t own the domain name; it’s AOL’s forever. I’ll update as details become clearer.

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My computer crash, and why Google sucks.

AOL & G: suckin' like Hoovers

Edited 11-01-2006.

I didn’t mention it right off, but I had more problems getting AOL uninstalled from my computer last winter than I let on. In trying to get it done, I got a little neat-freak about it and edited my registry, too, first with Microsoft and other registry cleaners, then by hand, then both ways combined when I saw that neither way got every change AOL made. Then my computer crashed. So much for trying to clean up the registry. When I turned it back on after hours of erasing AOL keys, it would only boot to DOS.

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