AOL | Wikipedia audio article

AOL (stylized as Aol., formerly a company
known as AOL Inc. and originally known as America Online) is an American web portal
and online service provider based in New York City. It is a brand marketed by Verizon Media.
The service traces its history to an online service known as PlayNET, which hosted multi-player
games for the Commodore 64. PlayNET licensed their software to a new service, Quantum Link
(Q-Link), who went online in November 1985. PlayNET shut down shortly thereafter. The
initial Q-Link service was similar to the original PlayNET, but over time Q-Link added
many new services. When a new IBM PC client was released, the company focussed on the
non-gaming services and launched it under the name America Online. The original Q-Link
was shut down on November 1, 1995, while AOL grew to become the largest online service,
displacing established players like CompuServe and The Source. By 1995, AOL had about 3 million
active users.AOL was one of the early pioneers of the Internet in the mid-1990s, and the
most recognized brand on the web in the United States. It originally provided a dial-up service
to millions of Americans, as well as providing a web portal, e-mail, instant messaging and
later a web browser following its purchase of Netscape. In 2001, at the height of its
popularity, it purchased the media conglomerate Time Warner in the largest merger in U.S.
history. AOL rapidly declined thereafter, partly due to the decline of dial-up and rise
of broadband. AOL was eventually spun off from Time Warner in 2009, with Tim Armstrong
appointed the new CEO. Under his leadership, the company invested in media brands and advertising
technologies. On June 23, 2015, AOL was acquired by Verizon
Communications for $4.4 billion.==History=====1983–1991: Early years===
AOL began in 1983, as a short-lived venture called Control Video Corporation (or CVC),
founded by William von Meister. Its sole product was an online service called GameLine for
the Atari 2600 video game console, after von Meister’s idea of buying music on demand was
rejected by Warner Bros. Subscribers bought a modem from the company for US$49.95 and
paid a one-time US$15 setup fee. GameLine permitted subscribers to temporarily download
games and keep track of high scores, at a cost of US$1 per game. The telephone disconnected
and the downloaded game would remain in GameLine’s Master Module and playable until the user
turned off the console or downloaded another game.
In January 1983, Steve Case was hired as a marketing consultant for Control Video on
the recommendation of his brother, investment banker Dan Case. In May 1983, Jim Kimsey became
a manufacturing consultant for Control Video, which was near bankruptcy. Kimsey was brought
in by his West Point friend Frank Caufield, an investor in the company. In early 1985,
von Meister left the company.On May 24, 1985, Quantum Computer Services, an online services
company, was founded by Jim Kimsey from the remnants of Control Video, with Kimsey as
Chief Executive Officer, and Marc Seriff as Chief Technology Officer. The technical team
consisted of Marc Seriff, Tom Ralston, Ray Heinrich, Steve Trus, Ken Huntsman, Janet
Hunter, Dave Brown, Craig Dykstra, Doug Coward, and Mike Ficco. In 1987, Case was promoted
again to executive vice-president. Kimsey soon began to groom Case to take over the
role of CEO, which he did when Kimsey retired in 1991.Kimsey changed the company’s strategy,
and in 1985, launched a dedicated online service for Commodore 64 and 128 computers, originally
called Quantum Link (“Q-Link” for short). The Quantum Link software was based on software
licensed from PlayNet, Inc, (founded in 1983 by Howard Goldberg and Dave Panzl). The service
was different from other online services as it used the computing power of the Commodore
64 and the Apple II rather than just a “dumb” terminal. It passed tokens back and forth
and provided a fixed price service tailored for home users. In May 1988, Quantum and Apple
launched AppleLink Personal Edition for Apple II and Macintosh computers. In August 1988,
Quantum launched PC Link, a service for IBM-compatible PCs developed in a joint venture with the
Tandy Corporation. After the company parted ways with Apple in October 1989, Quantum changed
the service’s name to America Online. Case promoted and sold AOL as the online service
for people unfamiliar with computers, in contrast to CompuServe, which was well established
in the technical community.From the beginning, AOL included online games in its mix of products;
many classic and casual games were included in the original PlayNet software system. In
the early years of AOL the company introduced many innovative online interactive titles
and games, including: Graphical chat environments Habitat (1986–1988)
and Club Caribe (1988) from LucasArts. The first online interactive fiction series
QuantumLink Serial by Tracy Reed (1988). Quantum Space, the first fully automated play-by-mail
game (1989–1991).===1991–2006: Internet age, Time Warner
merger===In February 1991, AOL for DOS was launched
using a GeoWorks interface followed a year later by AOL for Windows. This coincided with
growth in pay-based online services, like Prodigy, CompuServe, and GEnie. 1991 also
saw the introduction of an original Dungeons & Dragons title called Neverwinter Nights
from Stormfront Studios; which was one of the first Multiplayer Online Role Playing
Games to depict the adventure with graphics instead of text.During the early 1990s, the
average subscription lasted for about 25 months and accounted for $350 in total revenue. Advertisements
invited modem owners to “Try America Online FREE”, promising free software and trial membership.
AOL discontinued Q-Link and PC Link in late 1994. In September 1993, AOL added Usenet
access to its features. This is commonly referred to as the “Eternal September”, as Usenet’s
cycle of new users was previously dominated by smaller numbers of college and university
freshmen gaining access in September and taking a few weeks to acclimate. This also coincided
with a new “carpet bombing” marketing campaign by CMO Jan Brandt to distribute as many free
trial AOL trial disks as possible through nonconventional distribution partners. At
one point, 50% of the CDs produced worldwide had an AOL logo. AOL quickly surpassed GEnie,
and by the mid-1990s, it passed Prodigy (which for several years allowed AOL advertising)
and CompuServe.Over the next several years, AOL launched services with the National Education
Association, the American Federation of Teachers, National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institution,
the Library of Congress, Pearson, Scholastic, ASCD, NSBA, NCTE, Discovery Networks, Turner
Education Services (CNN Newsroom), NPR, The Princeton Review, Stanley Kaplan, Barron’s,
Highlights for Kids, the U.S. Department of Education, and many other education providers.
AOL offered the first real-time homework help service (the Teacher Pager—1990; prior to
this, AOL provided homework help bulletin boards), the first service by children, for
children (Kids Only Online, 1991), the first online service for parents (the Parents Information
Network, 1991), the first online courses (1988), the first omnibus service for teachers (the
Teachers’ Information Network, 1990), the first online exhibit (Library of Congress,
1991), the first parental controls, and many other online education firsts.AOL purchased
search engine WebCrawler in 1995, but the next year sold it to Excite in a deal that
makes Excite the exclusive search and directory service on AOL. After the deal closed in March
1997, AOL launched its own branded search engine, based on Excite, called NetFind. This
was renamed to AOL Search in 1999. AOL charged its users an hourly fee until
December 1996, when the company changed to a flat monthly rate of $19.95. During this
time, AOL connections would be flooded with users trying to get on, and many canceled
their accounts due to constant busy signals. A commercial featuring Steve Case telling
people AOL was working day and night to fix the problem was made. Within three years,
AOL’s user base grew to 10 million people. In 1995 AOL was headquartered at 8619 Westwood
Center Drive in the Tysons Corner CDP in unincorporated Fairfax County, Virginia, near the Town of
Vienna.AOL was quickly running out of room in October 1996 for its network at the Fairfax
County campus. In mid-1996, AOL moved to 22000 AOL Way in Dulles, unincorporated Loudoun
County, Virginia to provide room for future growth. In a five-year landmark agreement
with the most popular operating system, AOL was bundled with Windows software.On March
31, 1996, the short-lived eWorld was purchased by AOL. In 1997, about half of all U.S. homes
with Internet access had it through AOL. During this time, AOL’s content channels, under Jason
Seiken, including News, Sports, and Entertainment, experienced their greatest growth as AOL become
the dominant online service internationally with more than 34 million subscribers. In
November 1998, AOL announced it would acquire Netscape, best known for their web browser,
in a major $4.2 billion deal. The deal closed on March 17, 1999. Another large acquisition
in December 1999 was that of MapQuest, for $1.1 billion. In January 2000, AOL and Time Warner announced
plans to merge, forming AOL Time Warner, Inc. The terms of the deal called for AOL shareholders
to own 55% of the new, combined company. The deal closed on January 11, 2001. The new company
was led by executives from AOL, SBI, and Time Warner. Gerald Levin, who had served as CEO
of Time Warner, was CEO of the new company. Steve Case served as Chairman, J. Michael
Kelly (from AOL) was the Chief Financial Officer, Robert W. Pittman (from AOL) and Dick Parsons
(from Time Warner) served as Co-Chief Operating Officers. In 2002, Jonathan Miller became
CEO of AOL. The following year, AOL Time Warner dropped the “AOL” from its name.
In 2004, along with the launch of AOL 9.0 Optimized, AOL also made available the option
of personalized greetings which would enable the user to hear his or her name while accessing
basic functions and mail alerts, or while logging in or out. In 2005, AOL broadcast
the Live 8 concert live over the Internet, and thousands of users downloaded clips of
the concert over the following months. In late 2005, AOL released AOL Safety & Security
Center, a bundle of McAfee Antivirus, CA anti-spyware, and proprietary firewall and phishing protection
software. News reports in late 2005 identified companies such as Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Google
as candidates for turning AOL into a joint venture. Those plans were abandoned when it
was revealed on December 20, 2005 that Google would purchase a 5% share of AOL for $1 billion.===2006–2009: Rebranding and decline===On April 3, 2006, AOL announced it was retiring
the full name America Online; the official name of the service became AOL, and the full
name of the Time Warner subdivision became AOL LLC.
On June 8, 2006, AOL offered a new program called AOL Active Security Monitor, a diagnostic
tool which checked the local PC’s security status, and recommended additional security
software from AOL or The program rated the computer on a variety of different
areas of security and general computer health. Two months later, AOL released AOL Active
Virus Shield. This software was developed by Kaspersky Lab. Active Virus Shield software
was free and did not require an AOL account, only an internet email address. The ISP side
of AOL UK was bought by The Carphone Warehouse in October 2006 to take advantage of their
100,000 LLU customers, making The Carphone Warehouse the biggest LLU provider in the
UK. In August 2006, AOL announced they would give
away email accounts and software previously available only to its paying customers provided
the customer accessed AOL or through a non-AOL-owned access method (otherwise known
as “third party transit”, “bring your own access”, or “BYOA”). The move was designed
to reduce costs associated with the “Walled Garden” business model by reducing usage of
AOL-owned access points and shifting members with high-speed internet access from client-based
usage to the more lucrative advertising provider, The change from paid to free was
also designed to slow the rate of members canceling their accounts and defecting to
Microsoft Hotmail, Yahoo!, or other free email providers. The other free services included:
AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) AOL Video featured professional content and
allowed users to upload videos as well. AOL Local, comprising its CityGuide, Yellow
Pages and Local Search services to help users find local information like restaurants, local
events, and directory listings. AOL News
AOL My eAddress, a custom domain name for email addresses. These email accounts could
be accessed in a manner similar to other AOL and AIM email accounts.
Xdrive, which was a service offered by AOL, allowed users to back up their files over
the Internet. It was acquired by AOL on August 4, 2005 and closed on December 31, 2008. It
offered a free 5 GB account (free online file storage) to anyone with an AOL screenname.
Xdrive also provided remote backup services and 50 GB of storage for a $9.95 per month
fee.Also that month, AOL informed its American customers it would be increasing the price
of its dial-up access to US$25.90. The increase was part of an effort to migrate the service’s
remaining dial-up users to broadband, as the increased price was the same price they had
been charging for monthly DSL access. However, AOL has since started offering their services
for $9.95 a month for unlimited dial-up access.On November 16, 2006, Randy Falco succeeded Jonathan
Miller as CEO. In December 2006, AOL closed their last remaining call center in the United
States, “taking the America out of America Online” according to industry pundits. Service
centers based in India and the Philippines continue to this day to provide customer support
and technical assistance to subscribers. On September 17, 2007, AOL announced it was
moving one of its corporate headquarters from Dulles, Virginia, to New York City and combining
its various advertising units into a new subsidiary called Platform A. This action followed several
advertising acquisitions, most notably, and highlighted the company’s new focus on
advertising-driven business models. AOL management stressed “significant operations” will remain
in Dulles, which included the company’s access services and modem banks.
In October 2007, AOL announced it would move one of its other headquarters from Loudoun
County, Virginia, to New York City; it would continue to operate its Virginia offices.
As part of the impending move to New York and the restructuring of responsibilities
at the Dulles headquarters complex after the Reston move, AOL CEO Randy Falco announced
on October 15, 2007 plans to lay off 2,000 employees worldwide by the end of 2007, beginning
“immediately”. The end result was a near 40% layoff across the board at AOL. Most compensation
packages associated with the October 2007 layoffs included a minimum of 120 days of
severance pay, 60 of which were given in lieu of the 60-day advance notice requirement by
provisions of the 1988 Federal WARN Act.By November 2007, AOL’s customer base had been
reduced to 10.1 million subscribers, just narrowly ahead of Comcast and AT&T Yahoo!.
According to Falco, as of December 2007, the conversion rate of accounts from paid access
to free access was over 80%.On January 3, 2008, AOL announced the closing of one of
its three Northern Virginia data centers, Reston Technology Center, and sold it to CRG
West. On February 6, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes announced Time Warner would split AOL’s
internet access and advertising businesses in two, with the possibility of later selling
the internet access division.On March 13, 2008, AOL purchased the social networking
site Bebo for $850m (£417m). On July 25, AOL announced it was shedding Xdrive, AOL
Pictures, and BlueString to save on costs and focus on its core advertising business.
AOL Pictures was terminated on December 31. On October 31, AOL Hometown (a web hosting
service for the websites of AOL customers) and the AOL Journal blog hosting service were
eliminated.===2009–2015: As a digital media company
===On March 12, 2009, Tim Armstrong, formerly
with Google, was named Chairman and CEO of AOL. Shortly thereafter, on May 28, Time Warner
announced it would spin off AOL as an independent company once Google’s shares ceased at the
end of the fiscal year. On November 23, AOL unveiled a sneak preview of a new brand identity
which has the wordmark “Aol.” superimposed onto canvases created by commissioned artists.
The new identity, designed by Wolff Olins, was enacted onto all of AOL’s services on
December 10, the date AOL traded independently for the first time since the Time Warner merger
on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol AOL.On April 6, 2010, AOL announced plans
to shut down or sell Bebo; on June 16, the property was sold to Criterion Capital Partners
for an undisclosed amount, believed to be around $10 million. In December, AIM eliminated
access to AOL chat rooms noting a marked decline of patronage in recent months.Under Armstrong’s
leadership, AOL began taking steps in a new business direction, marked by a series of
acquisitions. On June 11, 2009, AOL had already announced the acquisition of Patch Media,
a network of community-specific news and information sites which focuses on individual towns and
communities. On September 28, 2010, at the San Francisco TechCrunch Disrupt Conference,
AOL signed an agreement to acquire TechCrunch to further its overall strategy of providing
premier online content. On December 12, 2010, AOL acquired, a personal profile
and identity platform, four days after that latter’s public launch.On January 31, 2011,
AOL announced the acquisition of European video distribution network, goviral. On February
7, AOL bought The Huffington Post for $315 million. Shortly after the acquisition was
announced, Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington replaced AOL Content Chief David
Eun, assuming the role of President and Editor-in-Chief of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group. On
March 10, AOL announced it would cut around 900 workers in the wake of the Huffington
Post deal.On September 14, 2011, AOL formed a strategic ad selling partnership with two
of its largest competitors, Yahoo and Microsoft. According to the new partnership, the three
companies would begin selling inventory on each other’s sites. The strategy was designed
to help them compete with Google and ad networks.On February 28, 2012, AOL partnered with PBS
to launch MAKERS, a digital documentary series focusing on high-achieving women in male-dominated
industries such as war, comedy, space, business, Hollywood and politics. Subjects for MAKERS
episodes have included Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, Martha Stewart,
Indra Nooyi, Lena Dunham, and Ellen DeGeneres. On March 15, 2012, AOL announced the acquisition
of Hipster, a mobile photo-sharing app for an undisclosed amount. On April 9, 2012, AOL
announced a deal to sell 800 patents to Microsoft for $1.056 billion. The deal includes a “perpetual”
license for AOL to use these patents.In April, AOL took several steps to expand its ability
to generate revenue through online video advertising. The company announced it would offer gross
rating point (GRP) guarantee for online video, mirroring the TV ratings system and guaranteeing
audience delivery for online video advertising campaigns bought across its properties. This
announcement came just days before the Digital Content NewFront (DCNF) a two-week event held
by AOL, Google, Hulu, Microsoft, Vevo and Yahoo to showcase the participating sites’
digital video offerings. The Digital Content NewFront were conducted in advance of the
traditional television upfronts in hopes of diverting more advertising money into the
digital space. On April 24, the company launched the AOL On network, a single website for its
video output.In February 2013, AOL reported its fourth quarter revenue of $599.5 million,
its first growth in quarterly revenue in 8 years.In August 2013, Armstrong announced
Patch Media would scale back or sell hundreds of its local news sites. Not long afterwards,
layoffs began, with up to 500 out of 1,100 positions initially impacted. On January 15,
2014, Patch Media was spun off, with majority ownership being held by Hale Global. By the
end of 2014, AOL controlled 0.74% of the global advertising market, well behind industry leader
Google’s 31.4%.On January 23, 2014, AOL acquired Gravity, a software startup that tracked users’
online behavior and tailored ads and content based on their interests, for $83 million.
The deal, which included roughly 40 Gravity employees and their personalization technology,
was CEO Tim Armstrong’s fourth largest deal since taking over the company in 2009. Later
that year, AOL also acquired Vidible, which developed technology to help websites run
video content from other publishers, and help video publishers sell their content to these
websites. The deal, which was announced December 1, 2014, was reportedly worth roughly $50
million.On July 16, 2014, AOL earned an Emmy nomination for the AOL original series, The
Future Starts Here, in the News and Documentary category. This came days after AOL earned
its first Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Park Bench with Steve Buscemi in the Outstanding
Short Form Variety Series category, which later won the award. Created and hosted by
Tiffany Shlain, the series focused on human’s relationship with technology and featured
episodes such as The Future of Our Species, Why We Love Robots, and A Case for Optimism.===2015–present: Division of Verizon===On May 12, 2015, Verizon announced plans to
buy AOL for $50 per share in a deal valued at $4.4 billion. The transaction was completed
on June 23. Armstrong, who continued to lead the firm following regulatory approval, called
the deal the logical next step for AOL. “If you look forward five years, you’re going
to be in a space where there are going to be massive, global-scale networks, and there’s
no better partner for us to go forward with than Verizon.” he said. “It’s really not about
selling the company today. It’s about setting up for the next five to 10 years.”Analyst
David Bank said he thought the deal made sense for Verizon. The deal will broaden Verizon’s
advertising sales platforms and increase its video production ability through websites
such as The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and Engadget. However, Craig Moffett said it was
unlikely the deal would make a big difference to Verizon’s bottom line. AOL had about two
million dial-up subscribers at the time of the buyout. The announcement caused AOL’s
stock price to rise 17%, while Verizon’s stock price dropped slightly.Shortly before the
Verizon purchase, on April 14, 2015, AOL launched ONE by AOL, a digital marketing programmatic
platform that unifies buying channels and audience management platforms to track and
optimize campaigns over multiple screens. Later that year, on September 15, AOL expanded
the product with ONE by AOL: Creative, which is geared towards creative and media agencies
to similarly connect marketing and ad distribution efforts.On May 8, 2015, AOL reported its first
quarter revenue of $625.1 million, $483.5 million of which came from advertising and
related operations, marking a 7% increase from Q1 2014. Over that year, the AOL Platforms
division saw a 21% increase in revenue, but a drop in adjusted OIBDA due to increased
investments in the company’s video and programmatic platforms.On June 29, 2015, AOL announced
a deal with Microsoft to take over the majority of its digital advertising business. Under
the pact, as many as 1,200 Microsoft employees involved with the business will be transferred
to AOL, and the company will take over the sale of display, video, and mobile ads on
various Microsoft platforms in nine countries, including Brazil, Canada, the United States,
and the United Kingdom. Additionally, Google Search will be replaced on AOL properties
with Bing—which will display advertising sold by Microsoft. Both advertising deals
are subject to affiliate marketing revenue sharing.On July 22, 2015, AOL received two
News and Documentary Emmy nominations, one for MAKERS in the Outstanding Historical Programming
category, and the other for True Trans With Laura Jane Grace, which documented the story
of Laura Jane Grace, a transgender musician best known as the founder, lead singer, songwriter
and guitarist of the punk rock band Against Me!, and her decision to come out publicly
and overall transition experience.On September 3, 2015, AOL agreed to buy Millennial Media
for US$238 million. On October 23, 2015, AOL completed the acquisition.On October 1, 2015,
Go90, a free ad-supported mobile video service aimed at young adult and teen viewers that
Verizon owns and AOL oversees and operates launched its content publicly after months
of beta testing. The initial launch line-up included content from Comedy Central, Huffington
Post, Nerdist News, Univision News, Vice, ESPN and MTV.On January 25, 2016, AOL expanded
its ONE platform by introducing ONE by AOL: Publishers, which combines six previously
separate technologies to offer various publisher capabilities such as customizing video players,
offering premium ad experience to boost visibility, and generating large video libraries. The
announcement was made in tandem with AOL’s acquisition of AlephD, a Paris-based startup
focused on publisher analytics of ad price tracking based on historical data. AOL announced
AlephD would be a part of the ONE by AOL: Publishers platform.On April 20, 2016, AOL
acquired virtual reality studio RYOT to bring immersive 360 degree video and VR content
to The Huffington Post’s global audience across desktop, mobile, and apps.In July 2016, Verizon
Communications announced its intent to purchase the core internet business of Yahoo!. Verizon
tentatively plans to merge AOL with Yahoo into a new company called “Oath Inc.”.In April
2018, Oath Inc. sold Moviefone to MoviePass Parent Helios and Matheson Analytics.==Products and services=====
Content===As of 2019, following media brands became
subsidiary of AOL’s parent Verizon Media. HuffPost
Engadget Autoblog
TechCrunch Cambio
MapQuestAOL’s content contributors consists of over 20,000 bloggers, including politicians,
celebrities, academics, and policy experts, who contribute on a wide range of topics making
news.In addition to mobile-optimized web experiences, AOL produces mobile applications for existing
AOL properties like Autoblog, Engadget, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, AIM, MapQuest,
and products such as Alto, Pip, and Vivv.===Advertising===
AOL has a global portfolio of media brands and advertising solutions across mobile, desktop,
and TV. Solutions include brand integration and sponsorships through its in-house branded
content arm, Partner Studio by AOL, as well as data and programmatic offerings through
ad technology stack, ONE by AOL. AOL acquired a number of businesses and technologies
help to form ONE by AOL. These acquisitions included AdapTV in 2013 and Convertro, Precision
Demand, and Vidible in 2014. ONE by AOL is further broken down into ONE by AOL for Publishers
(formerly Vidible, AOL On Network and Be On for Publishers) and ONE by AOL for Advertisers,
each of which have several sub-platforms.On 10 September 2018, AOL’s parent company Oath
consolidated Yahoo BrightRoll, One by AOL and Yahoo Gemini to ‘simplify’ adtech
service by launching a single advertising proposition dubbed Oath Ad Platforms.===Membership===
AOL offers a range of integrated products and properties including communication tools,
mobile apps and services and subscription packages. Dial-up Internet access – According to AOL
quarterly earnings report May 8, 2015, 2.1 million people still use AOL’s dial-up service.
AOL Mail – AOL Mail is AOL’s proprietary email client. It is fully integrated with
AIM and links to news headlines on AOL content sites.
AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) – was AOL’s proprietary instant-messaging tool. It was
released in 1997. It lost market share to competition in the instant messenger market
such as Google Chat, Facebook Messenger, and Skype. It also included a video-chat service,
AV by AIM. On December 15, 2017, AOL discontinued AIM.
AOL Plans — AOL Plans offers three online safety and assistance tools: ID protection,
data security and a general online technical assistance service.===AOL Desktop===
AOL Desktop is an internet suite produced by AOL that integrates a web browser, a media
player and an instant messenger client. Version 10.X was based on AOL OpenRide, it is an upgrade
from such. The macOS version is based on WebKit. AOL Desktop version 10.X was different from
previous AOL browsers and AOL Desktop versions. Its features are focused on web browsing as
well as email. For instance, one does not have to sign into AOL in order to use it as
a regular browser. In addition, non-AOL email accounts can be accessed through it. Primary
buttons include “MAIL”, “IM”, and several shortcuts to various web pages. The first
two require users to sign in, but the shortcuts to web pages can be used without authentication.
AOL Desktop version 10.X was late marked as unsupported in favor of supporting the AOL
Desktop 9.X versions. Version 9.8 was released, replacing the Internet
Explorer components of the internet browser with CEF (Chromium Embedded Framework) to
give users an improved web browsing experience closer to that of Chrome
Version 11 of AOL Desktop, currently in Beta, is a total rewrite but maintains a similar
user interface to the previous 9.8.X series of releases.In 2017, a new paid version called
AOL Desktop Gold was released, available for $4.99 per month after trial. It replaced the
previous free version.==Criticism==In its earlier incarnation as a “walled garden”
community and service provider, AOL received criticism for its community policies, terms
of service, and customer service. Prior to 2006, AOL was known for its direct mailing
of CD-ROMs and 3½” floppy disks containing its software. The disks were distributed in
large numbers; at one point, half of the CDs manufactured worldwide had AOL logos on them.
The marketing tactic was criticized for its environmental cost, and AOL CDs were recognized
as PC World’s most annoying tech product.===Community leaders===
Prior to mid-2005, AOL used online volunteers called Community Leaders, or CLs, to monitor
chatrooms, message boards, and libraries. AOL’s use of remote volunteers dated back
to the establishment of its Quantum Link service in 1985. Most content maintenance was performed
by partner and internal employees. Community leaders were recruited for some content design
and maintenance, for which they used a proprietary language and interface called RAINMAN. Other
community leaders hosted chat rooms and provided online help. During the time that AOL customers
paid by the hour, chat room hosts were compensated in free online time for each hour they worked,
though any banked hours became worthless once fixed-rate payment was introduced.
Two former community leaders, Brian Williams of Dallas and Kelly Hallissey of New York
filed a class action lawsuit against AOL, citing violations of U.S. labor laws in its
use of community leaders. The lawsuit was filed in the United States Federal Courthouse,
New York City on May 25, 1999, and was followed shortly by the dismissal of all community
leaders under the age of 18 years, as well as a reorganization of the community leader
program as a whole. The Department of Labor was also investigating AOL’s alleged labor
law violations, but came to no conclusion, closing their investigation in 2001. AOL began
drastically reducing the responsibilities and privileges of its volunteers in 2000.
The program was eventually ended on June 8, 2005. Current Community Leaders at the time
were offered 12 months of credit on their accounts in thanks for their service.
Within one decade of the class action lawsuit being filed, the class had grown to over 6,000
members, comprising the largest class action lawsuit ever filed against an internet based
company. Currently it is the third largest class ever involved in any lawsuit on a federal
level in the United States, affecting ultimately the employment eligibility of individuals
in an online environment. In February 2010, a settlement was approved
by the Courts in the class action suit. The settlement included a US$15 million payment.
This payment was then divided into thirds, the first of which was attorney and legal
fees. Five million was then divided among the included members of the class which consisted
of more than 7,000 individual former Community Leaders. The final five million dollars was
donated to charities hand picked by Hallissey and Williams, and then approved by the Courts
for distribution. One such charity, the Remote Area Medical Foundation (,
received payments in excess of US$1.2 million for the provision of medical services, supplies
and medication for those in need within the more rural areas of the United States and
beyond. Prior to the 1999 class action lawsuit, the
community leaders were informed of a change in compensation for duties performed by AOL.
Community leaders would be charged a reduced rate per month for their accounts, and would
no longer be given unlimited access without invoice. During this live announcement via
an online meeting of all community leaders in a virtual arena, Brian Williams of Dallas
led many community leaders in a virtual “strike” or “sit-in” to protest the new charges the
community leaders were now being asked to pay. This protest or strike is noted as the
first of its kind for an online environment and was nicknamed for the row of the arena
it was held in: Row 800. Following the protest, AOL terminated the online working relationship
between itself and several of the Community Leaders involved. Quickly following the release
of these community leaders, each was reinstated, with the exception of Williams, due to his
role in the protest. During this time, Williams’ role on AOL was that of Guide XNT (Guide Program),
CB Naked (Crystal Ball forum), VnV Naked (iVillage’s Vices and Virtues Forum) and JCommBrian (Jewish
Community Online Forum).===Billing disputes===
AOL has faced a number of lawsuits over claims that it has been slow to stop billing customers
after their accounts have been canceled, either by the company or the user. In addition, AOL
changed its method of calculating used minutes in response to a class action lawsuit. Previously,
AOL would add 15 seconds to the time a user was connected to the service and round up
to the next whole minute (thus, a person who used the service for 12 minutes and 46 seconds
would be charged for 14 minutes). AOL claimed this was to account for sign on/sign off time,
but because this practice was not made known to its customers, the plaintiffs won (some
also pointed out that signing on and off did not always take 15 seconds, especially when
connecting via another ISP). AOL disclosed its connection-time calculation methods to
all of its customers and credited them with extra free hours. In addition, the AOL software
would notify the user of exactly how long they were connected and how many minutes they
were being charged. AOL was sued by the Ohio Attorney General
in October 2003 for improper billing practices. The case was settled on June 8, 2005. AOL
agreed to resolve any consumer complaints filed with the Ohio AG’s office. In December
2006, AOL agreed to provide restitution to Florida consumers to settle the case filed
against them by the Florida Attorney General.===Account cancellation===
Many customers complained that AOL personnel ignored their demands to cancel service and
stop billing. In response to approximately 300 consumer complaints, the New York Attorney
General’s office began an inquiry of AOL’s customer service policies. The investigation
revealed that the company had an elaborate scheme for rewarding employees who purported
to retain or “save” subscribers who had called to cancel their Internet service. In many
instances, such retention was done against subscribers’ wishes, or without their consent.
Under the scheme, customer service personnel received bonuses worth tens of thousands of
dollars if they could successfully dissuade or “save” half of the people who called to
cancel service. For several years, AOL had instituted minimum retention or “save” percentages,
which consumer representatives were expected to meet. These bonuses, and the minimum “save”
rates accompanying them, had the effect of employees not honoring cancellations, or otherwise
making cancellation unduly difficult for consumers. On August 24, 2005, America Online agreed
to pay $1.25 million to the state of New York and reformed its customer service procedures.
Under the agreement, AOL would no longer require its customer service representatives to meet
a minimum quota for customer retention in order to receive a bonus. However the agreement
only covered people in the state of New York.On June 13, 2006, Vincent Ferrari documented
his account cancellation phone call in a blog post, stating he had switched to broadband
years earlier. In the recorded phone call, the AOL representative refused to cancel the
account unless the 30-year-old Ferrari explained why AOL hours were still being recorded on
it. Ferrari insisted that AOL software was not even installed on the computer. When Ferrari
demanded that the account be canceled regardless, the AOL representative asked to speak with
Ferrari’s father, for whom the account had been set up. The conversation was aired on
CNBC. When CNBC reporters tried to have an account on AOL cancelled, they were hung up
on immediately and it ultimately took more than 45 minutes to cancel the account.On July
19, 2006, AOL’s entire retention manual was released on the Internet. On August 3, 2006,
Time Warner announced that the company would be dissolving AOL’s retention centers due
to its profits hinging on $1 billion in cost cuts. The company estimated that it would
lose more than six million subscribers over the following year.===Direct marketing of disks===Prior to 2006, AOL was infamous for the unsolicited
mass direct mail of 3½” floppy disks and CD-ROMs containing their software. They were
the most frequent user of this marketing tactic, and received criticism for the environmental
cost of the campaign. According to PC World, in the 1990s “you couldn’t open a magazine
(PC World included) or your mailbox without an AOL disk falling out of it”.The mass distribution
of these disks was seen as wasteful by the public and led to protest groups. One such
was No More AOL CDs, a web-based effort by two IT workers to collect one million disks
with the intent to return the disks to AOL. The website was started in August 2001, and
an estimated 410,176 CDs were collected by August 2007 when the project was shut down.===Software===
In 2000, AOL was served with an $8 billion lawsuit alleging that its AOL 5.0 software
caused significant difficulties for users attempting to use third-party Internet service
providers. The lawsuit sought damages of up to $1000 for each user that had downloaded
the software cited at the time of the lawsuit. AOL later agreed to a settlement of $15 million,
without admission of wrongdoing. The AOL software then was given a feature called AOL Dialer,
or AOL Connect on Mac OS X. This feature allowed users to connect to the ISP without running
the full interface. This allowed users to use only the applications they wish to use,
especially if they do not favor the AOL Browser. AOL 9.0 was once identified by Stopbadware
as being under investigation for installing additional software without disclosure, and
modifying browser preferences, toolbars, and icons. However, as of the release of AOL 9.0
VR (Vista Ready) on January 26, 2007, it was no longer considered badware due to changes
AOL made in the software.===Usenet newsgroups===
When AOL gave clients access to Usenet in 1993, they hid at least one newsgroup in standard
list view: AOL did list the newsgroup in the alternative description view,
but changed the description to “Flames and complaints about America Online”. With AOL
clients swarming Usenet newsgroups, the old, existing user base started to develop a strong
distaste for both AOL and its clients, referring to the new state of affairs as Eternal September.AOL
discontinued access to Usenet on June 25, 2005. No official details were provided as
to the cause of decommissioning Usenet access, except providing users the suggestion to access
Usenet services from a third-party, Google Groups. AOL then provided community-based
message boards in lieu of Usenet.===Terms of Service (TOS)===
AOL has a detailed set of guidelines and expectations for users on their service, known as the Terms
of Service (TOS, also known as Conditions of Service, or COS in the UK). It is separated
into three different sections: Member Agreement, Community Guidelines and Privacy Policy. All
three agreements are presented to users at time of registration and digital acceptance
is achieved when they access the AOL service. During the period when volunteer chat room
hosts and board monitors were used, chat room hosts were given a brief online training session
and test on Terms of Service violations. There have been many complaints over rules
that govern an AOL user’s conduct. Some users disagree with the TOS, citing the guidelines
are too strict to follow coupled with the fact the TOS may change without users being
made aware. A considerable cause for this was likely due to alleged censorship of user-generated
content during the earlier years of growth for AOL.===Certified email===
In early 2005, AOL stated its intention to implement a certified email system called
Goodmail, which will allow companies to send email to users with whom they have pre-existing
business relationships, with a visual indication that the email is from a trusted source and
without the risk that the email messages might be blocked or stripped by spam filters.
This decision drew fire from MoveOn, which characterized the program as an “email tax”,
and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which characterized it as a shakedown of non-profits.
A website called was launched, with an online petition and a blog that garnered
hundreds of signatures from people and organizations expressing their opposition to AOL’s use of
Goodmail. Esther Dyson defended the move in an editorial
in The New York Times, saying “I hope Goodmail succeeds, and that it has lots of competition.
I also think it and its competitors will eventually transform into services that more directly
serve the interests of mail recipients. Instead of the fees going to Goodmail and AOL, they
will also be shared with the individual recipients.”Tim Lee of the Technology Liberation Front posted
an article that questioned the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s adopting a confrontational
posture when dealing with private companies. Lee’s article cited a series of discussions
on Declan McCullagh’s Politechbot mailing list on this subject between the EFF’s Danny
O’Brien and antispammer Suresh Ramasubramanian, who has also compared the EFF’s tactics in
opposing Goodmail to tactics used by Republican political strategist Karl Rove. SpamAssassin
developer Justin Mason posted some criticism of the EFF’s and Moveon’s “going overboard”
in their opposition to the scheme. The campaign lost momentum and
disappeared, with the last post to the now defunct blog—”AOL starts the
shakedown” being made on May 9, 2006. Comcast, who also used the service, announced
on its website that Goodmail had ceased operations and as of February 4, 2011 they no longer
used the service.===Search data===On August 4, 2006, AOL released a compressed
text file on one of its websites containing 20 million search keywords for over 650,000
users over a 3-month period between March 1, 2006 and May 31, intended for research
purposes. AOL pulled the file from public access by August 7, but not before its wide
distribution on the Internet by others. Derivative research, titled A Picture of Search was published
by authors Pass, Chowdhury and Torgeson for The First International Conference on Scalable
Information Systems.The data were used by websites such as AOLstalker for entertainment
purposes, where users of AOLstalker are encouraged to judge AOL clients based on the humorousness
of personal details revealed by search behavior.===User list exposure===
In 2003, Jason Smathers, an AOL employee, was convicted of stealing America Online’s
92 million screen names and selling them to a known spammer. Smathers pled guilty to conspiracy
charges in 2005. Smathers pled guilty to violations of the US CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. He was sentenced
in August 2005 to 15 months in prison; the sentencing judge also recommended Smathers
be forced to pay $84,000 in restitution, triple the $28,000 that he sold the addresses for.===AOL’s Computer Checkup “scareware”===
On February 27, 2012 a class action lawsuit was filed against, Inc. and partner
AOL, Inc. The lawsuit alleged and AOL’s Computer Checkup “scareware” (which
uses software developed by misrepresented that their software programs would identify
and resolve a host of technical problems with computers, offered to perform a free “scan,”
which often found problems with users’ computers. The companies then offered to sell software—for
which AOL allegedly charged $4.99 a month and $29—to remedy those problems.
Both AOL, Inc. and, Inc. settled on May 30, 2013 for $8.5 million. This included
$25.00 to each valid class member and $100,000 each to Consumer Watchdog and the Electronic
Frontier Foundation. Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley wrote: “Distributing a portion of
the [funds] to Consumer Watchdog will meet the interests of the silent class members
because the organization will use the funds to help protect consumers across the nation
from being subject to the types of fraudulent and misleading conduct that is alleged here,”
and “EFF’s mission includes a strong consumer protection component, especially in regards
to online protection.”AOL continues to market Computer Checkup. It is not clear if this
latest Computer Checkup continues to use scareware techniques.===NSA Prism program===
Following media reports about PRISM, NSA’s massive electronic surveillance program, in
June 2013, several technology companies were identified as participants, including AOL.
According to leaks of said program, AOL joined the PRISM program in 2011.===Hosting of user profiles changed, then
discontinued===At one time, most AOL users had an online
“profile” hosted by the AOL Hometown service. When AOL Hometown was discontinued, users
had to create a new profile on Bebo. This was an unsuccessful attempt to create a social
network that would compete with Facebook. When the value of Bebo decreased to a tiny
fraction of the $850 million AOL paid for it, users were forced to recreate their profiles
yet again, on a new service called AOL Lifestream. AOL took the decision to shut down Lifestream
on February 24, 2017, and gave users one month’s notice to save off photos and videos that
had been uploaded to Lifestream. Following the shutdown, AOL no longer provides any option
for hosting user profiles. During the Hometown/Bebo/Lifestream era, another
user’s profile could be displayed by clicking the “Buddy Info” button in the AOL Desktop
software. After the shutdown of Lifestream, clicking “Buddy Info” does something that
provides no information whatsoever about the selected buddy: it causes the AIM home page
( to be displayed.==See also

Danny Hutson

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