Everything AOL Is New Again

Image representing AOL as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

♫… When trumpets… were mellow
And every gal only had one fellow
No need to remember when
‘Cause everything old is new again …♫

I have a soft spot in my heart for AOL. Shortly after getting my first PC in 1994, I joined all of the Internet portals of the day on a trial basis: Prodigy; CompuServe; Genie; Imagination but ended each subscription at the end of the free period except for one: AOL, because of what I later came to know as Community. I quickly got hooked on building relationships with like-minded people without regard to geographic or societal boundaries. In other words, social networking.

In fact, I loved it so much I became a beta tester for AOL 1.5 (when it had 500K members) onward, then a volunteer, then a contractor and finally in 1997, a paid  employee. During the next 10 years I rode the crest of AOL’s rise to the largest portal in the world (with 35 million paid members) as well as its accelerated denouement.

Blame management; blame the ill-conceived and worse executed merger with “old media” Time-Warner; blame whomever or whatever you wish for AOL’s fall from grace. But the fact is, AOL was a trailblazer in many ways. So, it’s both satisfying and frustrating to see current digital companies (including the “new” AOL) turning back to its concepts and features.

♫… Get out your white suit, your tap shoes and tails
Let’s go backwards when forward fails …♫

Back then, AOL based programming on a TV network model comprised of major content categories called channels, with user engagement provided by supporting community teams. About 20 or so major channels, provided both content and community. And so, it was good to see TechCrunch (itself an AOL “channel”) report today, “AOL Consolidates 53 Brands Down To 20 “Power Brands” in an effort to consolidate both content and advertising inventory. See the resemblance?

But it wouldn’t be a trend if only New AOL were doing this. The NY Times reported on Monday about a growing trend in many large organizations, “Companies Are Erecting In-House Social Networks“. Organizations are employing private networks, or intranets, utilizing social networking to improve communications and increase associate engagement. Great idea! Of course, AOL  provided parallel AOL private networks for a fee to companies and organizations way back in 1997 – fourteen years ago.

Yes, AOL fell behind on many fronts, especially the migration to broadband access and the open Internet as well as products such as blogs and user-generated video. And, ultimately, it has no one to blame for its current situation other than itself.

 But its important to give AOL credit where due.

♫… Don’t throw the pa-ast away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again …♫

(Lyrics: ‘Everything old Is New Again”  – Peter Allen)

About Ron Casalotti
I am part of that lucky generation that started out when watching TV meant choosing from three networks, three independents and PBS. Now, I work in new media for businesses and organizations - but these thoughts are my own.

One Response to Everything AOL Is New Again

  1. Pingback: Whistle While You Work | SocialCX

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