Dead ‘Running Man’ Walking

In 1994 I bought my first computer, a Compaq Presario running Windows 3.1 with 500K of storage, a tiny amount of RAM, and a ridiculously slow 4800 baud dial-up modem.

Thus, a second career in online media was born.

The PC came with free trial versions of several Internet portals (did we call them portals back then?) such as Prodigy, Genie, ImagiNation, Compuserve, and (of course) America Online. And so I joined them all. As each trial period drew to a close, I dropped them one-by-one until there was only one left — AOL. It was version 1.1 and it had about 350K members at the time. Why did I keep that one? In a word — Community.

I was amazed at being able to interact with people from all over the country from my house in New Jersey. I got hooked on ‘The Game Parlor’ — a chat area of AOL where we would play online trivia and word games. It became, for me, “appointment computing”, as I knew each Saturday night at midnight there would be a crazy TV Trivia game with my buddies Kitteridge, Zazz, GoldenChild, HalliesDad, Catberi, Luv2Shag and the rest. People who, had we met in real life, I may never have given a second glance — or them to me.

But online community was the great equalizer. I used to say (before the fancy text mod tools came out) that, “Online, we’re all black and white and 10 points tall.” AOL was the leader in Community, and while working there for over 10 years (another story for another entry) it was Community that differentiated us from the competition. The old rivals from the mid-90’s faded away. New attempts to do “community” online were made, but never equaled AOL’s presence. Even within the company, community was alternately embraced and rejected several times over.

Yesterday, the last of the Mohicans Community professionals were shown the door. Since I left last October, Jen, Chris, Kenny, Joe (2), Kelly , Nancie, Bill and many others moved on to other (better?) things. Suz, Erin (2) and the rest officially put an end to AOL Community as we knew it, and with it an end to online community done right. I am saddened by the waste of it all, the mismanagement by corporate ownership that caused a thriving force to wither and die on the vine cable.

Oh well, maybe now Keith Haring can stop spinning in his grave and get his running man back.

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.

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