Everything AOL Is New Again, Again

American layout roulette wheel.

Image via Wikipedia

I can’t help it. Maybe it’s because I spent 10 years working at AOL during it’s rise and fall. Maybe it’s just that things happen in cycles. Regardless, when I saw this headline today it made me think of something I’d written about previously:

StumbleUpon passes Facebook in US referral traffic

So what does this have to do with AOL? First, some background for those of you who have never been an AOLer. Navigation within the walled garden of AOL content was aided by the use of shortcuts known as Keywords. Want to jump directly from the Welcome Screen to content regarding vacations? Enter keyword: Travel.  Want to go from there to see how your favorite team did last night, use Keyword: Sports. With both major and sub-categories there were literally hundreds (if not thousands) of keywords on AOL.

So what does this have to do with StumbleUpon passing Facebook as the number one referer on the ‘Net? Well, at AOL we were privy to the list of most popular keywords (as determined by user clicks), and invariably every month positioned near the top was Keyword: Random.

Enter “random” in the keyword box and a roulette wheel would appear. Click it to spin and when it stopped you’d be taken to a random page somewhere on AOL. Some pages were great, some not so great. But people loved the, well, randomness of the result, something I refer to today as serendipitous discovery“– where you (literally) stumble upon content you previously had no knowledge of.

It worked back then for AOL, and to StumbleUpon’s benefit it still works today.

♫… No need to remember when
‘Cause everything old is new again …♫

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, Again

  1. Another insightful restrospective and observation, Ron. I’m glad I stumbled upon it. It’s amazing how all-important the “referral” / “referrer” has become.

    A few years ago I came up with the phrase “planned serendipity,” which I thought nicely captured a similar concept to “serendipitous discovery.” (Planned serendipty was about setting the stage — stacking the deck, in a way, for serendipitous discovery to happen.) So I googled it, only to find lots of others had come up with the phrase first. Not surprising in hindsight, I suppose.

    (Come to think of it, I also like the phrase “Keyword: Random.” Sounds like the title of a somewhat unusual spy novel…)

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