Do not adjust your modem. Because you KNOW what four words you're going to hear, right?
Welcome! You've got mail!
It's close to a month since I rebuilt this computer from the ground up, never even bothering to reinstall AOL 9.0 on it, and still, I hear those words as after-echos of more than a decade where it was my only on-ramp to anything online.
Yet somehow, the ol' Running Man's been in the news lately. A couple of weeks ago, Ken Auletta introduced AOL's newest CEO, and his new attitude for the company, in this New Yorker piece (sorry, it's just an abstract for now). At least he doesn't take himself as seriously as Steve Case, the head honcho I'll always remember as potentially being in the Pantheon with Gates and Jobs and Brin: at one point, AOL spellcheck would flag the word "case" as a typo if you didn't capitalize it.
Among the interesting things in the piece: AOL has a "dirty little secret," and it isn't porn anymore. It's that 80 percent of its profit still comes from selling people dialup, most of whom already have broadband or other access methods and don't need it, dropping anywhere from 10 to 30 bucks a month for the same old same old. However, such stupidity merely got invested in more stupidity, as the service tried, and failed, with effort after effort. Perhaps the worst, and most expensive, was the Time Warner honchos buying a nascent social networking brand called Bebo for 800 million dollars; the spun-off AOL just dumped it for one-eightieth of that amount, in the process destroying a 20-year legacy of AOL member "profiles." Yes, they were goofy; who REALLY wanted to know what your "favorite gadgets" were, after all? Yet, their absence merely serves to wreck the old-school experience of anyone who wants to go back for a look.
And there are a lot of them. Most of my Old Gang of AOL trivia types are still online, playing the same games with the same software in, at times, the same rooms they were during the Clinton Administration. There's a "bash" in Orlando later this month, where they will largely sit inside, surrounded by the Happiest Place in Florida, and play those same trivia games in a hotel conference room while loading their fool lungs up with cigarettes. (I went to a few; Eleanor managed only a day or so of one of them before the carcinogens got to her.) Many of them not only wrote and ran content for the service- original, creative, far better than 80 percent of what passes for "content" on places like current AOL hot property Fanhouse- but they did it for free. Some of them even paid dearly for the privilege, paying $3.00 an hour plus phone charges in many cases for the privilege of giving their work away. (Full disclosure: I was one of them in the later days, and last year, I was one of the ones who finally got a modest paycheck from AOL for the effort.)
Still, the new management seems disinterested in them other than as a source of revenue and a still-there source of entertainment for n00bs. Instead, they're getting into- brace yourself- journalism. They've bought something called Patch, an aggregator of local news to fill in the gaps on the Net between the big national/international portals and your Aunt Sadie emails. And just now, they've dropped a cool 315 mill on buying out Arianna Huffington's Post, which I fully expect they'll try to merge with the eight different extant trivia forums and, in the process, wreck all of them.
It's a pity nobody is considering going with the things that worked the best; when you had to WORK (and pay) to get into a trivia game because it was so popular; when a few hundred well-trained and well-intentioned adults kept those games managed, and safe, and friendly to newcomers. It'd cost a heckuva lot less than the almost 1.5 billion put into just these two acquisitions.
Sorry, that reality is impossible. Would you like to go to a reality like it?
Inspiration for much of the above came from this repast from, yes, he's gonna mention it again, Broken's author susanjbigelow, who also riffs nicely on those once-everywhere free trial disks for AOL and the silly captchalike passwords you needed to enter. Mine was cuffed-custom. Mmmmmm, kinky.
Forward! Into the past!
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