Remember AOL and the "walled garden"? Today, when you meet what used to be the world's number one, and rather standoffish, consumer internet service provider they are talking about working with others and not re-inventing the wheel. In early 2008, AOL will focus on the company's recent commitments to support Google's OpenSocial …
Its funny to see the turnaround
I worked for AOL under one of its divlets close to five years ago. The AOL main division was aloof, insular, dominated by marketroids, paranoid of change, seriously up their own backsides and dying. The divlets such as Nullsoft and Netscape brands were open, experimental, progressive. Think back to Winamp - AOL had in their hands the perfect music AND video delivery platform WAY before iTMS. In Netscape, they had the means at last to rid themselves of IE and the corrupting influence of their main competitor. So what did they do? Why take a payoff from MS and get rid of all the open parts of course!
It was actually depressing to behold. I attended a few AOL meetings where marketing people would argue on end for hours against adding a button to the client for fear of generating support calls. They resisted using the Netscape engine (despite it being measurably more reliable) for fear of support calls. They actually liked how primitive (yet massive) the AOL client was, proud that users couldn't bookmark more than 3 sites and couldn't name their bookmarks more than 8 characters. Some kind of perverse logic meant that every stupid feature of the client made sense even when it clearly didn't.
They even forced all employees to use the stupid aol email system. So if you were firstname.lastname@example.org, now you became email@example.com, with clients and staff all mixed together under one shitty email client.
What a disaster. So its no wonder that they've nearly bled themselves white. Perhaps the clue has finally sunk in and they're embracing open standards at last. At the end of the day the content should be free and they AOL should become a value-add ISP. They have to stop assuming their customers are morons who like living in a gilded cage and start offering a decent broadband service with some extra things on top. For example TWX has plenty of assets and many of them could be free with an AOL sub (e.g. video on demand). And lose the hideous customer support too. If they don't get a clue then their slide into obscurity will continue until the inevitable. And frankly they'll deserve their fate.
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