by Jimmy Marks
It was a phrase so popular, it became a movie title. A friendly little cheer from a friendly-sounding guy that let you know...
"You've got mail!"
AOL turned 25 this week, and I, for one, am a little nostalgic over it. When the "dot-com bubble" burst in 2000, it set an unhealthy precedent for tech and online service companies. Here today, gone later today - don't bother with tomorrow!
When a web company turns 25, it's pretty remarkable. AOL (or "America Online", for those of who've forgotten) started in 1985 providing services via the Commodore 64. As time progressed, AOL helped shape the face of Web 1.0 and helped young dreamers get their feet wet in the Internet space.
How you ask?
1) Easy-to-understand interface - AOL wasn't the fastest, nor the most stable, browsing platform. But for dial-up service, it was still pretty handy. What's more, it was easy for a skeptical American public to comprehend. Remember how every commercial was "go to www.example.com, AOL keyword: Example"? Doesn't get much easier than one-word access to websites. It was bright, colorful, and almost idiot proof.
2) 1,000,000 hours free! - We all got them, those colorful floppy disks (and eventually CD-ROMs) with hours and hours worth of AOL access for free. It set the gold standard for "trial use software", where you get x number of hours with access to a credit card. If you go over, you're paying for it. If you don't, no harm done...but you WILL be getting more of those CDs.
3) Instant Messenger - private chat sessions with your friends for free? Profile pages that you could customize as much as you wanted? Group chats? Sounds like a lot of Web 2.0 web apps I hear about these days. Instant messenger was free to download, and opened up folks to chatting all over the world. Now, there's chat on gmail, Facebook, and one might even argue it's an early father of Twitter.
AOL is seeing some gray days (spinning off from Time Warner after that much-talked-about merger, re-branding, and when's the last time you got one of those disks in the mail?), but it was still where most Americans got their concept of how the Internet was supposed to work, what it was supposed to cost, and what to expect when you got online. If you ask me, I say they did a fine job of laying the foundations for where we are, and where we're going.
Happy birthday, AOL. Keep on keepin' on.