Tag Archives | AOL

AOL Back On Its Own Again

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.

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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.


5Words for February 23rd, 2009

5wordsMonday? Again? Here’s what’s newsy:

AOL beefs up Bebo service.

Microsoft wants severance money back.

Ten iPhone Apps Apple Nixed

Web radio: In trouble. Still.

Sorry, no YouTube Oscar clips.

Yahoo management shakeup imminent.

Microsoft offers free tech training.

Streaming-only Netflix coming. Eventually.

That Last.fm RIAA story? Fiction.

America: Tops in broadband. Really?

J0bs misses Apple annual meeting.

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Ballmer: Microsoft Would Still Do a Yahoo Search Deal

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

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?

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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Abandoning Xdrive? Box.net Wants Your Data

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the fact that AOL has decided to “sunset” its venerable Xdrive online storage service. Xdrive users, not surprisingly, seem to be figuring out exit strategies–and every day, my post gets read by folks who found it via Xdrive-related Google searches.

Box.net, an Xdrive rival, dropped me a note to let me know about a new service it’s offering to would-be Xdrive Xpatriates: one-click transfers of data from Xdrive accounts to Box.net ones. Okay, it’s only one click after you’ve registered for Box.net, but it still looks pretty simple:

This isn’t for everyone–for one thing, Box.net only offers 1GB of space for free. (More space costs from $8 to $15 a month.) I actually think that’s a point in the company’s favor, since a business that actually receives money from its customers is less likely to disappear than one that doesn’t.

And chances seem very slim that AOL will announce to Xdrive users that their data is going away along with the service. Odds are that it’ll sell Xdrive to another online storage company, or strike a deal to let Xdrive users move their stuff to another service. But it pays to be prepared–and if I were an Xdrive fan, I’d do my own preparing rather than relying on AOL. Look on the bright side: There’s no such thing as having too many copies of data that’s important to you…


Google’s Gmail-a Culpa: Good, But…

In my first post on today’s Gmail outage, I noted that Google’s official Gmail blog was mum on what was going on. I’m pleased to report that after Google had found and fixed the glitch, it used the Gmail blog to report that fact and apologize for the inconvenience. Google didn’t explain what happened, but as my look back at a dozen years of Internet outages shows, the explanations behind unplanned downtime are usually boring, technical, and cryptic–not particularly exciting reading unless you’re a system administrator yourself.

But the one thing about Gmail product manager Todd Jackson’s post that kinda bothers me is this aside towards the end:

“We don’t usually post about problems like this on our blog, but we wanted to make an exception in this case since so many people were impacted.”

Jackson goes on to suggest that people who encounter Gmail problems check out Gmail’s online help and user group for the fastest updates; fair enough. But I hope that Google isn’t too cautious about using its many official blogs to discuss problems with its services and what it’s doing about them. A corporate blog that alerts users to cool new features can be useful; one that’s a comprehensive guide to the services it covers–warts and all–can be invaluable.

Thinking back to AOL’s famous string of humiliating outages in the mid-1990s, one of the things that got the company through them was CEO Steve Case’s letters to AOL users. They were proto-blog posts, prominently displayed on the AOL home page and pretty open about the service’s hiccups, of which there were many.

Today, even Apple is using blogs to deal with MobileMe’s ongoing issues–in a somewhat halting and stilted fashion, but at least it’s trying.

So please, Google (and every other Internet company I deal with): Err on the side of addressing the challenges you and your customers face on your blogs. Apologies are appreciated, but a generally up-front approach to explaining what happened, what you’re doing about it, and whether it might happen again is much more important than “I’m sorry.”


A Brief History of Internet Outages

Someday we’ll all tell our grandkids about what we were doing during the great Gmail outage of August 11th, 2008. Well, okay, probably not–Google’s e-mail service was down for only a couple of hours, which is relatively brief as Internet outages go. But when one of the world’s most popular mail systems goes missing even briefly, zillions of people are inconvenienced and want to share their frustration. In a weird way, it’s a huge compliment: If Gmail wasn’t essential, nobody would care if it went away.

For a dozen years or so now, the Internet has been a mainstream communications medium, and its history has been pockmarked with examples of big-time services choking for extended periods–often a lot longer than today’s Gmail blip. The most famous examples of unplanned downtime have a lot in common: They usually last longer than anyone expected and get blamed on cryptic technical glitches. Almost always, angry consumers announce they’re done with the service in question; almost always, the service eventually recovers.

Oh, and one more thing: The biggest and most embarrassing failures all seem to happen during the summer months. Maybe technology, like human beings, just doesn’t work quite as hard when the weather’s hot and there are distractions like baseball games, picnics, and vacations to contemplate.

Now that Gmail’s back, it’s worth recapping a few other outages that made headlines when they happened–and since the ones that follow are in alphabetical order, they begin with maybe the most famous one of all (hint: it involved a company whose initials are A.O.L.)…

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