Technologizer posts about AOL

Thoroughly Modern AIM

By  |  Posted at 8:58 am on Wednesday, November 16, 2011

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I use my AIM instant-messaging account every day, but I can’t remember the last time I used the AIM software. Instead, I use iChat, Meebo, Imo.IM, and other third-party clients that work on AIM’s network. AIM’s app itself has long felt like software that goes all the way back to 1997 and has been getting more bloated ever since. Which it has.

Until now. AOL is launching a preview of an all-new AIM today, and it has very little to do with the creaky old one except that it works on the same IM network. It’s so all-new that AOL even dumped its venerable “running man” stick-figure–who, let’s face it, screams “Old AOL that used to send us trial discs”–in favor of a hip little bot as its mascot.

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Too many services from too many big Web sites have the same monikers.

Posted by Harry at 12:53 pm

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Editions by AOL: A Most Magazine-Like Magazine App for the iPad

By  |  Posted at 12:56 am on Thursday, August 4, 2011


I’m not sure what to call the category of news app–mostly, but not exclusively, seen on the iPad–that includes Flipboard, Float, News 360, Pulse News, Taptu, Zite, and other contenders. All I know is that it’s booming–and that AOL’s Editions, which debuted this week, is the newest example. (Also the first one I can think of from a big company rather than a spunky startup.)

Like Flipboard and its rivals, Editions pulls together news stories from all over, and then stitches them together into a personalized magazine-like digital publication. It takes the “magazine-like” part very seriously: Each edition of Editions has a cover (complete with mailing label) and sections that apply a halftone-style to photos to make them look like printed material.

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AIM AV: Absurdly Simple Video Chat

By  |  Posted at 9:04 am on Monday, May 16, 2011


AV by AIM, the Web-based video chat service that TechCrunch wrote about when it was supposed to be an AOL secret, is now public. And it’s worth checking out. The service’s defining feature is how exceptionally easy it is to get going–you don’t need an account, and you don’t need any information about or from the people–there can be up to four of you–who you want to chat with. All you do is send them a short URL that AV provides when you initiate a chat. They click on it, and you’re all in the same room.

(The biggest complication that I and one of my fellow chatters had was that AV requires a more recent version of Flash than the one we had.)

How’s the quality? Well, when I checked it out with two pals, we agreed that it’s “good enough.” Picture quality was not bad at all, but it was occasionally a bit out of sync with the audio. (I was on crummy hotel Wi-Fi, which probably didn’t help.) When we tried chatting using Apple’s iChat, the IM client built into OS X, we found that the video didn’t look as nice, but was better synchronized with the audio.

Since AV uses Flash, we wondered if that meant it would work on Android devices that support Flash. It doesn’t–or at least didn’t work on Acer’s Iconia Tab when one of my friends tried.

AV is free and doesn’t carry ads, and for now, at least, it really doesn’t have very much to do with AIM. You can send the short URL via AIM, and the whole thing probably works best if you’re IM buddies with whoever you want to chat with in the first place, since you need an alternative means of communication to arrange the AV session. It’s not going to replace more ambitious approaches to video communications, but it is fun.

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AOL’s TechCrunch has leaked a link to AV, a still-unannounced, FaceTime-like easy video chat service from…AOL.

Posted by Harry at 10:08 am

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You’ve Got Tedium! A History of AOL in Repetitive Headlines

By  |  Posted at 11:43 am on Monday, February 7, 2011


In the ever-evolving world of technology, the eternal verities are few. We know that lovable Mario will always be synonymous with his employer, Nintendo. It’s certain that Apple will never release a mouse or other pointing device encumbered by two physical buttons. And there’s no question that as long as there’s an AOL, journalists will be writing AOL stories with “You’ve got…” references in the headlines.

I was reminded of this as I read articles about AOL’s acquisition of The Huffington Post. The headlines, of course, reference the “You’ve got mail!” sound clip, recorded by Elwood Edwards in 1989 and played countless billions of times since. That’s him in the photo to the right. (His dulcet tones don’t seem to be present in the current incarnation of Web-based AOL Mail, though–I get a mundane “ping!” when messages come in–anyone know whether the clip is still in use anywhere?)

I’m not sure when “You’ve got mail” and variations thereof became a byword for AOL, but the phrase and the company were symbiotic by 1998, when a certain Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan movie was released. You could practically do a history of the company told entirely in “You’ve got…” headlines.

In fact, let’s try, shall we? In reverse-chronological order, starting today…

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What is the “AOL Way?”

By  |  Posted at 6:54 pm on Tuesday, February 1, 2011

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If you’re a writer with AOL, CEO Tim Armstrong is going to be expecting a whole heckuva lot more out of you real soon. Internal documents obtained by Silicon Alley Insider show that the company is asking its writers to nearly double their output while at the same time make sure they’re making their stories Google-bait.

Content farm? Sure sounds like it! The subject of content farms has gotten a lot of press lately, especially in light of Demand Media’s recent IPO, and decisions by sports-centric Bleacher Report to pay its writers and Yahoo’s purchase of Associated Content. Armstrong must see the value in gaming the search engines, something Demand has done to great effect and success.

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A History of AOL, as Told in Its Own Old Press Releases

Big moments, little triumphs, and odd sidelights in the life of a 25-year-old online service.

By  |  Posted at 3:16 am on Monday, May 24, 2010


Twenty-five years ago today, a company named Quantum Computer Services rose from the ashes of a failed startup called Control Video Corporation. It launched a dial-up online service for the Commodore 64 which eventually spread to Macs and PCs–one that became a lot better known after it was renamed America Online in 1989.

At various times to various people, AOL went on to be a symbol of meteoric business success, epic failure, unusually user-friendly software, remarkably customer-hostile marketing tactics, cutting-edge communications, flaky connections, and both the future and past of technology. In short, we’ve had a remarkably complicated relationship with this company over the past quarter century.
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AOL Becomes Aol.

By  |  Posted at 9:11 am on Monday, November 23, 2009


As part of its retooling as it becomes an independent company (again!), AOL is unveiling a new logo. It dumps the triangle that has been part of the corporate identity since the company’s glory days, and spells the name “Aol”–upper and lower case, with a period. (It’s been a long time since AOL has called itself “America Online”–it no more uses that moniker than AT&T likes to be called American Telephone & Telegraph.)

For reasons I don’t quite understand, AOL (AOL.?) is making a big deal out of the notion of overlaying the new logo on an array of imagery (which, among other things, shows how hard it is to make typography read unless it’s a consistently light color on top of a consistently dark one, or vice versa).

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AOL Can Be Yours for a Cool $4.2 Billion

By  |  Posted at 3:07 pm on Wednesday, September 30, 2009


aol-main_FullIt’s a far cry from the $20 billion value that Google placed on AOL when it invested $1 billion for a five percent stake in the company in 2005. But $4.2 billion is what JP Morgan analyst Imran Khan now speculates the company is worth as Time Warner gets ready to spin the company off by the end of this year, close to a $4 billion valuation put on AOL by Pali Research analyst Rich Greenfield.

The company’s value has apparently declined since the beginning of the year: when Google wrote down it’s stake in the company in January, it placed a value of $5.5 billion on the company.

AOL doesn’t have much to blame other than itself: the company was slow to change with the times, and the transition from dial-up to broadband left the company without a major source of revenue. It’s try at selling advertising, while not a failure by any means, certainly did not fill that void.

Not everybody is down on AOL’s chances. Let us remember that the company still has a large traffic base to its properties, and Greenfield says that “there could be meaningful valuation upside – not to mention, the upside if M&A speculation surfaces” if AOL’s new CEO Tim Armstrong can play his cards right.

I’m no expert on mergers and acquisitions, but I don’t see the company being a merger target for anyone anytime soon. AOL’s still existing dial-up business is a costly one to take on, especially considering its all but certain that part of the company’s bottom line is all but set to disappear over the next few years.

Then again, stranger things have happened…

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AOL Back On Its Own Again

By  |  Posted at 11:01 am on Thursday, May 28, 2009

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AOL FloppyWhen the original merger between Time Warner and AOL was announced in January 2000, it was heralded as a landmark merger between old and new media. Those rosy predictions never materialized, and as dialup faded away the company never recovered.

Google’s five percent stake in the company will be bought back. From there, the company would be spun off to Time Warner shareholders and run by current AOL chief Tim Armstrong. All of this should be completed by the end of the year.

According to Kara Swisher, Armstrong is set to make some significant changes to the business structure of the company. It would keep the access business that it has rather than sell it, and put all its acquisitions into a separate ventures division and look for outside funding.

Certainly none of this is coming out of left field. Most of us have known for a a long time (rumors of a spin-off/sale of AOL have been circulating for at least four years now) that something had to happen.

It will be interesting to watch and see where the company goes from here. Reports indicate that Armstrong is set to focus more on the traditional brands of AOL, AIM, and ICQ in an attempt to reconnect with consumers. Will it work? I’m not sure, but it’s worth a shot.


A Brief History of AOL Annoyances

AOL FloppyOne of the longest-running rumors in tech (it dates at least to 2003) is finally fact: Time Warner has told the SEC that it plans to spin off AOL, thereby undoing the gargantuan, famously disappointing merger that put an aging dial-up service, AIM, Marvin Martian, and Sports Illustrated under one corporate roof. By way of unintentional celebration, let me steer your towards 20 Years of AOL Annoyances and Foul-Ups, a story I wrote for my pals at PC World. (Did you know that AOL took the name “AOL” in 1989? Neither did I, until PCW’s Anne McDonald told me. That was also the year that it first began telling users that They Had Mail!)

My story covers the ill-fated merger, outages and busy signals, cheesy marketing tactics, sleazy chat rooms, some really bad TV commercials, the infamous recording of an AOL rep refusing to cancel some poor guy’s service, the even more infam0us privacy problems relating to AOL’s publishing of search logs, and, of course, all those millions of demo disks. I had a good time writing it, but the experience left me feeling a little sorry for AOL, a service which, for all its self-inflicted wounds, did more than anyone to jump-start the online revolution. Maybe I’ll write a story about all the stuff it did right at some point.

Posted by Harry McCracken at 11:20 am


Ballmer: Microsoft Would Still Do a Yahoo Search Deal

By  |  Posted at 5:44 pm on Wednesday, November 19, 2008

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At Microsoft’s annual shareholder’s meeting today, CEO Steve Ballmer has put the kibosh on speculation that the company will resurrect its bid to acquire Yahoo. However, Ballmer did suggest that a search deal was possible.

Microsoft’s single-minded pursuit to acquire Yahoo never made much sense to me. Sure, it would obtain substantial search market shareover night, but it would still have to claw its way up to compete with Google. Even when the two companies are combined, Google still holds the upper hand in market share.

There is also a great deal of overlap between Microsoft and Yahoo products, and there would certainly be a culture clash among employees. Brain drain is another issue. If Microsoft were to buy Yahoo today, it would not be obtaining the talent that it would have just a few months back. It would also be costly to retain people–even its own employees, many of whom would be hesitant to spend their time at Microsoft getting caught up in turf wars.

A merger with Yahoo would distract Microsoft from important initiatives that are core to its future success, such as project Oslo, an multi-product effort to steer developers toward model driven development and service oriented architecture, as well as continued investment in the .NET Framework.

Microhoo makes no sense for Microsoft, but a search deal does-–especially now that Yahoo has shied away from its partnership with Google. AND it could still happen; Ballmer never backs off.

Aside from Microsoft, who is going to be Yahoo’s white knight now? AOL? As multiple pundits have said, that would be like tying two bricks together to see if they could float.

Yahoo needs to retool and find a successful business model to become a profitable–albeit smaller–company. Microsoft can reap the benefits of Yahoo’s search presence without stepping into that mud pit, and Yahoo can score some much needed cash. Microsoft needs to do something different to compete with Google; it can’t even pay people to use Live Search. The only people who I know that use Live Search work at Microsoft, and that’s partly because they were scolded and ordered to use it. (Word is Ballmer excoriated employees for using Google.)

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10 Ways to Avoid Emergency When Your Web Services Disappear on You

By  |  Posted at 7:22 pm on Thursday, October 30, 2008


Venture capitalists telling the startups they invest in that the good times are over. Big companies hunkering down. Layoffs, layoffs everywhere. You’d have to be a wild-eyed optimist not to come to the conclusion that a lot of cool consumer Web services aren’t going to close their doors before the economy turns around.

And you’d have to love living dangerously not to gird yourself for the possibility of some of the services you depend on going away. After the jump, ten tips to help you and your data survive disaster with as few headaches as possible…

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If Yahoo and AOL Merge, Will Microsoft Reconsider?

By  |  Posted at 1:28 pm on Monday, October 6, 2008

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The latest reports across the blogosphere seem to indicate that acquisition talks between Yahoo and AOL are intensifying, and a deal could possibly come as soon as this month. Under the current proposals, it appears that Yahoo would purchase just about all of AOL save for its ISP business.

That portion of the company would likely be sold off to a company such as EarthLink, which back in July expressed interest in such a deal. Yahoo would have no use for the Internet access portion of AOL: it currently has no ISP business and prefers to align itself with other companies to promote its core search and Web services.

A combined company may look very attractive once again to Microsoft, even though it has repeatedly said publicly that it has no longer any interest in Yahoo. In addition to its attempts to merge with Yahoo, the Redmond company as recently as late 2005 attempted to cozy up to AOL and get its then-MSN Search as the default search for its customers. Those plans backfired, and Google took a five percent stake in AOL.

With Yahoo and AOL together, it could make good strategic sense for Microsoft to come to the bargaining table once more. As VentureBeat pointed out last month, all three companies are desperate to do some type of deal, all for different reasons.

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