"You've Got Mail" AOL's Role Online

The web was easy to use, but people still needed a browser, as well as a way to connect to the internet. They found both in America Online.

America Online has a wide and varied reputation. Some will state it was the best way to access the internet during the 90s. Others will say that it was a ‘dumbed down’ version of the internet, and that corporate policies were anti-consumer.

But whether you love America Online, or AOL for short, or hate them, you can't deny the impact they had on internet growth during the mid 1990s. At its height in 2001, AOL had over 30 million global users. This meant that almost 10 percent of people accessing the internet, were using AOL.

AOL started out selling video games to people over the internet in the early 1980s. Customers paid $1 to download a game, and they could play it as many times as they wanted until they turned off the console, or downloaded another game. The idea was ahead of its time, but it never took off.

The company reorganized under several names, and began to sell software that would allow people to connect to the internet. They partnered with Apple, Tandy, and others. Eventually, the changed their name to America Online.

Most ISP providers of the day simply provide a gateway to the internet. But AOL went further. They offered an easy-to-use portal to the internet. In addition, they provided services to their customers such as:

  • Games
  • Chat program
  • Interactive Fiction
  • Play by e-mail games
  • The First Massively Multi-player Online Role-playing Game (MMORPG)

This was key to AOL's growth. There were many people with computers, but getting online was complicated. And once you were there, you needed to be fairly technical to make much use of this new functionality. AOL targeted people who were not technical, and they provided them many things to do, once they were online. AOL became the way that non-technical people accessed and used the internet.

America Online originally charged users for every hour they spent on the internet. This was replaced with an unlimited monthly fee in 1996. It took only 3 years for AOL to reach 10 million subscribers and by 2001 AOL had an estimated 30 million subscribers. However, AOL became known for their predatory marketing. AOL startup CDs were available almost everywhere you went. Sometimes dozens of CDs could come in the mail, offering the first month's service free. So many of these CDs were created, some people began to collect the CDs for various and creative purposes.

Once signed up, however, it was very difficult for a customer to cancel. Users would spend hours on the phone, trying to cancel their service. And if they couldn't do it, they would be charged for another month.

AOL eventually merged with Time Warner, but they have seen a significant and steady drop in users ever since. Though thier market share is now just a fraction of what it once was, they played an important role in the explosive growth of the internet.

Sources http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America_Online

Last modified: Thursday, 14 June 2012, 4:20 PM