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  |  Monday, May 24, 2010 at 3:16 am

There was a period–a very, very brief one–when it looked like garden-variety consumers would be excited about accessing Internet services such as WAIS and Gopher. Note that the Web was around in 1994 but unavailable on AOL–which didn’t stop Steve Case from declaring that AOL members had “full access” to the Net.


VIENNA, Va., June 2 (1994) /PRNewswire/ — America Online, Inc. (Nasdaq-NNM: AMER), announced today the launch of WAIS and Gopher Databases on America Online. In addition, the Company said that testing of TCP/IP network connection via the Internet is now underway.

“When we launched the Internet Center, we said our goal was to marry the depth and breadth of the content of the Internet, with the ease of use and affordability of America Online. With the addition of WAIS and Gopher Databases, America Online members now have full access to the content of the Internet,” said Steve Case, President and CEO of America Online.

The testing of TCP/IP connections will give America Online the opportunity to experiment more fully with high speed delivery, as the Company prepares for the broadband market. In addition, this testing will serve as a market test of the millions of Internet-only users who represent a different profile from current subscribers to commercial services.

“We will continue to expand Internet support and capabilities, as we think most people will prefer to get Internet services bundled in one complete and affordable package,” Case added.
A fixed monthly fee of just $9.95 provides access to all of the serv

The New York Times has long been a bellwether for trends in online news. Right now, it’s trying to figure out how to get readers to pay for content. And back in 1994, it was establishing a presence on AOL.


NEW YORK, June 9 (1994) /PRNewswire/ — The New York Times Company (AMEX: NYT.A) and America Online, Inc. (Nasdaq-NNM: AMER) today will launch @times, the new interactive online service featuring news from The New York Times. The centerpiece of @times is its entertainment guide, which offers a wide range of reviews, articles and information on cultural, arts and leisure activities in the New York area. Subscribers also will be able to read the current day’s top stories — including news, business and sports — as carried by The New York Times News Service.

Beginning today, @times on America Online becomes the definitive electronic source for information about the theater, movies, books, restaurants, art exhibitions, music performances and other leisure-time activities in the greater New York area. It includes feature articles and an archive of current and past critical reviews from The Times, plus extensive additional material. @times offers a guide to nightlife and spectator and participatory sports, plus schedules and box office information for local sports teams.

Subscribers can receive @times electronically through their personal computers seven days a week. They can post messages to electronic bulletin boards to discuss a variety of topics of interest with other subscribers. In the future, this interactivity will be expanded to allow users to participate in online discussions with some writers from The Times.

@times is available on America Online, where a fixed monthly fee of $9.95 provides access to @times and all of the other services of America Online for up to five hours each month. Information on how to subscribe to America Online is available at major computer retailers and bookstores, or by calling 800-827-6364. @times may be e-mailed at thenytimes@aol.com.

James A. Cutie, president of The New York Times Company’s Information Services Group, said: “We are delighted that the Times Company is up and online with our first interactive service. We are looking forward to providing a service that will prove valuable to current and future customers of The Times — and to current and future customers of America Online.”

Steve Case, president and CEO of America Online, said: “We’re pleased to be expanding our media content with the day’s top news from The New York Times. The entertainment service of @times will offer our rapidly growing subscriber base something that is both informative and useful.”

A million subscribers, and a snazzy new multimedia interface (but not any video yet).


VIENNA, Va., Aug. 16 (1994) /PRNewswire/ — America Online, Inc., announced today that it has surpassed the 1 million subscriber mark. In addition, the Company announced that it will begin offering a new multimedia interface next month, and that it has expanded its content to reflect a broader range of service departments.

“Reaching 1 million subscribers is an important milestone for us,” said Steve Case, President and CEO of America Online. “America Online’s success has been a team effort, and we’re very appreciative of the more than 500 employees who built the company, the hundreds of partners who were willing to believe in our vision for a mass market for online services, and the more than 1 million subscribers who, by spreading the word, have helped make America Online the nation’s fastest-growing service. The challenge now for America Online is to move this medium into the mainstream by reaching out to the 97 million households that haven’t experienced the magic of America Online. So although we’re pleased to pass this milestone, we’re not resting on our laurels. The way we view it is simple: it’s 1 million down, 97 to go.

“We will continue to focus on providing consumers with an ever- widening array of useful and fun content, presented in an increasingly engaging and useful fashion, with a strengthening underlying sense of community — all at a simple and affordable price. Continued innovation through planned enhancements such as multimedia, personalization, full Internet access, and high-speed delivery — as well as the continued expansion of the breadth and depth of content — should enable us to continue to move this medium into the mainstream.”

Toward that end, the Company announced that it will be introducing a new Multimedia User Interface next month. The new MUI, which is in beta test now, is an extension of the company’s strategy to develop seamless integration of photos, graphics, text and sound to enrich the online experience for America Online members, and empower media and other content providers to build more engaging branded services on AOL.

Along with the redesign, the Company is expanding its content to reflect the addition of 5 new service areas. Services will be grouped into a total of 14 areas: Today’s News, Personal Finance, Clubs & Interests, Computing, Travel, Marketplace, People Connection, Newsstand, Entertainment, Education, Reference, Internet Connection, Kids Only and Sports. In addition, a new Post Office center will debut, hosting all mail-related functions such as fax, mailgram, Internet gateway, and other electronic mail-related features.

Case added: “As a market leader, we believe we have sufficient critical mass and momentum to attract and retain content and marketing partners, to provide a rich, engaging and ever-expanding service for our subscribers, and to generate new revenue streams (from transactions, advertising, and merchandise sales) that can enable us to price our services affordably while still investing heavily in innovation.”

“We believe the consumer online services market is at an inflection point, and significant growth lies ahead. As the market expands, it will get more complex and more competitive, but we believe America Online is well positioned to thrive, and we look forward to playing a leadership role in defining this new interactive medium,” Case said.

In late 1994, AOL declared itself to be the nation’s leading ISP–but it still didn’t let you browse the bleeding-edge world known as the World Wide Web.


VIENNA, Va., Oct. 18 (1994) /PRNewswire/ — America Online, Inc. (Nasdaq-NNM: AMER), announced today that it has taken the lead in the rapidly growing Internet market by becoming the most popular Internet service provider. In addition, the Company announced that it plans to establish a World Wide Web (WWW) Internet site, featuring a selection of screens and content from the Company’s popular consumer online service, as well as direct access to AOL software and trial. The Company also announced new enhancements to its existing Internet Connection on America Online.

America Online was the first online service to offer simple and affordable access to content of the Internet, when it introduced its Internet Connection on AOL last year. Since that time, the activity level of its more than 1 million subscribers has propelled the service to the position of the most popular Internet service provider. With access to over 12,000 Newsgroups, America Online’s subscribers post more than any other site. AOL also gives subscribers access to over 6000 databases, and handles more than 15 million pieces of Internet mail per month.

“As a result of our subscribers’ enthusiastic response to our initial Internet offering, we are now the nation’s leading Internet provider,” said Steve Case, president and CEO of America Online, Inc. “With our planned enhancements that we are announcing today, we are positioning AOL to be the ‘on ramp’ for millions of Americans.”

The Company announced plans to introduce a WWW site, which will allow Internet users to get a “taste” of America Online, by accessing a selection of screens and content for free. In addition, for the first time ever, America Online will make its software and a trial membership available for downloading by a vast audience of Internet-only users, representing a significant expansion of America Online’s reach.

“Until now, America Online’s Internet presence has been ‘one way’ — AOL subscribers have had access to Internet content, but Internet-only users have not had a way to access or view services from AOL,” Case added. “By establishing a WWW site on the Internet, and including AOL software and trial membership, we are reaching out to the market of Internet-only users who can simply, and without delay, experience the magic of America Online.”

Case continued: “As a matter of practice, we have done more than any other site on the ‘Net to educate and inform our subscribers about the Internet, and we will continue to move forward with sensitivity as we bring these two rapidly growing communities together.”

The Company also announced that it has made available several enhancements to its Internet Connection on America Online. Enhancements include the preview of FTP capabilities, which will give America Online subscribers the ability to easily search and retrieve files from tens of thousands of FTP sites, or “software libraries” residing on the Internet worldwide. The Company plans to expand its FTP support over the coming months to provide more editorial value. In addition, the Company announced enhancements to its USENET Newsgroups, including “reply to author” and “mark as read/unread.” These enhancements are in response to subscriber feedback received since Newsgroups were first made available earlier this year, and serve to enhance the process of reviewing and posting replies. The Company said future Internet plans include the introduction of a WWW browser, in which America Online will leverage its expertise in easy and intuitive interface design, and the addition of telnet capabilities, both planned for this winter.

At last, AOL could stop issuing press releases about its intentions to become the nation’s leading online service.

VIENNA, Va., Dec. 21 (1994) /PRNewswire/ — America Online, Inc. (Nasdaq-NNM: AMER) announced today it has surpassed the 1,500,000 subscriber milestone, having added more than half a million subscribers in the past four months alone. The Company also announced that it is now handling more than 1 million sessions each day, making it the nation’s most popular online service.

“In just one year, America Online has gone from being a distant third in the online market to being the nation’s most popular online service,” said Steve Case, President and CEO of America Online. “The secret to our success has been happy customers who are spreading the word that AOL has a wide array of useful and fun content, presented in an engaging fashion, with a strong underlying sense of community — all at a simple and affordable price. Our challenge remains the same: to move our services into mainstream America and the 97 million homes that have yet to explore the magic of America Online.”

AOL tentatively embraced the Web in the spring of 1995, with innovative features such as…bookmarks! Remember how dumbed-down and painful its browser was for so long?


VIENNA, Va., May 9 (1995) /PRNewswire/ — America Online, Inc. (Nasdaq-NNM: AMER), announced today that it has opened up access to the World Wide Web, the most popular and fastest growing segment of the Internet. AOL’s Web browser, introduced in a special Preview area for subscribers, makes it easy and fun for subscribers to quickly tap into the vast resources of the Web. The Company said the Preview area has been designed to give subscribers the opportunity to explore the new services before it makes the new capabilities generally available in the market.

“Rather than simply providing a connection to the Web, we’ve taken the extra effort to make the Web more useful and usable for our members,” said Steve Case, President and CEO of America Online, Inc. “We’ve integrated Web access within AOL, and categorized services based on areas of consumer interest — not based on the technology used to create them. This approach addresses a common complaint among consumers who have surfed the Web, which is that finding what you want has been random and difficult. This integrated approach also makes the Web feel like part of AOL, rather than feeling like a foreign land.”

Each of America Online’s 14 channels will guide subscribers by highlighting a selection of the most popular Web sites, categorized by topic of interest. The best sports-related content, for example, is now logically grouped together under Sports, irrespective of whether the content is stored on AOL itself or on Web servers. This integrated approach also enables subscribers to use the full suite of AOL features while exploring the Internet — they can, for example, chat and read mail while simultaneously surfing Web sites.

Most consumers who use the Web are disappointed to find that graphics and photos are typically displayed slowly. This is because most Web Pages are designed with the assumption that high speed connections are common. In fact, the vast majority of consumers use 9600 and 14.4 modems, so Web access can therefore be maddeningly slow. To address this problem, America Online’s Web browser features TurboWeb(SM), an exclusive technology compression that displays pictures and graphics up to three times faster than other browsers. Images are rendered in stages so subscribers will begin to view the graphics as soon as transmission begins. Also, Web Pages are captured and saved as they are accessed, to allow quick and easy access to images with no delays in subsequent visits.

“By building in high-speed compression technology with TurboWeb, we’ve addressed the common complaint that accessing the Web can be unbearably slow for consumers using typical 9600 and 14.4 modems,” Case continued. “For most consumers, this speed advancement will make a huge difference, as it will effectively make the Web useful and usable and therefore more than just a novelty.”

Although the AOL browser works well with standard 9600 and 14.4 modems, America Online is nevertheless moving rapidly to deploy

28.8 access through its private AOLnet(SM) access network. AOLnet, announced earlier this year, is now available in more than half the country at no additional charge. AOL continues to also be available in more than 600 cities via Sprintnet and Tymnet.

The new AOL software also includes a Favorite Places personalized navigator. AOL subscribers can use AOL’s new “drag and drop” technology to create their own personal menu of frequently accessed areas on either AOL or the Internet. On subsequent visits, AOL subscribers can jump directly to the desired areas, whether they be a message board on AOL or a Web site.

These innovations are currently available to AOL’s Windows subscribers who want to participate in the preview. AOL also has a Web browser under development for Macintosh customers. It is expected to be available as a preview later this month, making AOL the first online service to offer a browser for both Windows and Macintosh customers.





9 Comments For This Post

  1. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    Wow, even “mouse” is in quotation marks in the 1990 PR for PC’s. Of course, PC’s didn’t come with a mouse as standard for a few years after that.

    1990 is the year the Web was created, but it only ran on NeXT systems until 1991 or 1992.

  2. ecco6t9 Says:

    Ashes to ashes.

  3. joe Says:


    ironic steve case / aoltw magazine cover

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    AOL was huge at one point, but the popularity of Internet portals has deminished in the past few years. While the company is still around and doing well, it is just not as popular as before.

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