Bang On: AOL is attempting suicide

They were on top of the world. The company had the most popular instant messaging client, by far (in the United States), the largest dialup service, and one of the top audio applications. AOL had it all and now, seemingly, they are trying their hand at a slow and painful suicide.

For my generation, AOL was the Internet as we all signed on for the first time. Even if you didn't use their dialup service, you absolutely had to download AOL Instant Messenger , so you could stay in contact with all of your friends. Let's face it: Cell phones were still way too expensive, so instant messages were the text messages of that time. It was almost a social faux pas to be in high school without a screen name. And, while you were there typing away and entering chat rooms your parents probably wouldn't want you in, you had to have some music playing. In came Winamp and, once AOL bought them out, it was an all AOL, all the time experience. So, what the heck is AOL doing now?

I think, and this is just a wild guess, that AOL is trying to commit corporate suicide. That's the only logical explanation for what the company is doing to itself. They never had much chance in the internet service provider department once dialup started to die. They simply didn't have any sort of infrastructure set up where they could connect you directly to the net, like the cable and phone companies could. They should have seen that, but they didn't. Instead, they rode that pony until the very end. That poor pony eventually gave up and, not only collapsed, but made sure to kick them in the teeth before taking it's last breath. I still wonder how much money they wasted mailing out all of those CD's.

Even if they did royally screw up with the dialup service, they still had a great opportunity with AIM and Winamp. Once the ISP aspect of their business went under, AOL decided to focus on content delivery supported by advertisements. This new focus was to be led by their IM client, AIM. The service already had a very loyal following, so all they had to do was make their software decent enough to convince people to use it. They failed. They epically failed. The AIM client was once riddled with spyware and then fell way behind other clients in terms of features. AOL decided to counter this with AIM 6.0, but now even that has fallen to the way side. It's been left in the corner like a scolded child. Development seems to have slowed to a crawl and, overall, they just make it so hard to care. Windows Live and Yahoo offer better looking clients and third party clients (Trillian, Pidgin, Digsby, etc) offer much of the functionality of the official AIM client with the added benefits of customization and connectivity to every other network out there. Why even bother with the official client?

Surely, though, Winamp could stave off the curse of AOL branding and leadership, right? I had always thought so, until recently. More and more, even that application seems like it's racing head first into the brick wall that most of AOL hit years ago. As is the case with AIM, Winamp's development has slowed considerably. On top of that, Winamp is starting to show it's age, a bit. Winamp was designed in an era when people used playlists to access all of their music. Now, with digital music stores and broadband access being the standard, people are shying away from playlists and moving towards library management. While Winamp does have this ability, it's not as powerful, pretty, or intuitive as what other popular applications now offer. When I open Winamp, I love the nostalgia, but part of me feels as though I'm trying to teach an old dog new tricks when it would much rather lick itself. It just doesn't feel right.

All in all, I just don't see how anyone can say AOL is even trying to stay afloat. It annoys me, too, because I've always liked the company. Up until recently, I used AIM and Winamp, but I just couldn't do it any longer. Why are you doing this, AOL? Are you scared of change? Are you suffering from self confidence issues because you're not the only cool kid on the block, anymore? Look, cut the fat, put your head back in the game, and give us something worth talking about. If you're not going to do that, can I at least have your stereo once you're gone?

"Bang On" is a regularly occurring column written by Christopher Vendemio. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Neowin.net

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AOL needs new leadership-- as well as a new backbone. I did run AOL for a while and for a while it was good. (though back in the days of 14.4 and then "56"K (which really was not 36 max but averaged about 20). What I think kind of killed them off which is what made me drop them was the fact they blocked the Manual Connection -- You know the connections manger put in AOL's number then User name and password.. Not having to install their software....

I remember running into all kinds of hassles with their software... Silly coding errors like lets say you have IE 6 installed but the aol installed 5.5 ontop of it causing Both their browser to crash as well as internet explorer.

Then the very limited configuration of their pop-up blocker/script-blocker. (even today at my hotel guests with AOL are well out of luck getting on our network) The AOL Script Blocker blocks the wireless accept page because it uses a script to change settings to the first availible IP address on our network... and sad to say no way to turn it off. Most guests with aol-- have to turn off all the aol services through the Msconfig and Services. then possibly if they are lucky will get the accept page. What I found troubling is even when you uinstall AOL it is still there- Found through working with peoples computers-- So many installers left-overs.... And the AOL on desktop is a nightmare for some people-- Some have even called it "THE THING JUST WON"T DIE" -- you delete it from the all users desktops and your desktop and for some strange reason it still comes back.

Then there was the issue with them about their "browser" not going to Windows UPdate... which if you looked at it was actually IE with some minor modifications and some pretty borders. The other nightmare was the AOL-Time-Warner..

Though am surprised the article has not mention that nightmare. Even tried their search engine-- does not find what you want it to.... Added more insult is that for a while when someone would check their aol mail and one click and it would install the AOL Browser-(which for some networks just don't work-- the ones like ours at work that has the accept page--- that only displays for like 10seconds before the cached AOL home page appears... and if you don't accept it won't let you on our network. Also surprised this article didn't mention about the spamers getting aol accounts and sending spam emails.

For AOL truly to survive in todays market they need a product that has good support and is not too costly. Why go for a 24$ plan for dial p when MSN offers the same dial up for 1/2 that. I do remember with each new install of winamp the removing of the AOL on Desktop. One thing that kind of sustained them for a while was the added parental controls.... though most kids found ways around them.

As far as suicide-- that is a little far off --- I would say the company is in a depression.. Consider selling to GOOGLE.

If you wanted to say something bad about Winamp you could have mentioned having to uncheck 50,000 things in the installer and still having to pay for full speed ripping and burning features.


I've moved on from winamp to foobar2000, basically BECAUSE it has a playlist-based workflow, and it does a better job at being playlist based than Winamp ever has. Library-based-workflows have always seemed unnecessarily obfuscated,. I mean what exactly is the point of playing items from the library, only to have what you are playing overwritten the next time you browse your library?

And songbird, while sporting a few innovative features, is mostly written in Javascript and is as slow as crap. I'm not sure how you manage to put up with that. Maybe a tracemonkey-based version will fair better, but i doubt it will be anything substantial.

I probably am one of the VERY FEW that has never had anything to do with AOHELL!!

First time I ever went online was with gte.net and I've never used AOL's instant messenger. I must admit, I did use ICQ for a while before AOL bought that and totally screwed it up also. Otherwise, IM's totally suck anyway!

PROGAME said,
why did ICQ die? did they kill it too?

ICQ has turn in to a real joke and one day it got hack so bad that a lot of user lost there UIN which all in Six-digit UIN due to some jacka$$ russian hacking everone ICQ UIN for money what a lamer and I was one them back 2005 I think that when it was and I been with ICQ for very long time when they frist got start anyway AOL nor TWC did any thing after 100's of email I final give and said the he** with it no more Instant Messaging.

SHS said,
ICQ has turn in to a real joke and one day it got hack so bad that a lot of user lost there UIN which all in Six-digit UIN due to some jacka$$ russian hacking everone ICQ UIN for money what a lamer and I was one them back 2005 I think that when it was and I been with ICQ for very long time when they frist got start anyway AOL nor TWC did any thing after 100's of email I final give and said the he** with it no more Instant Messaging.


Could you repeat that?

AOL will not be missed. Also, I DESPISE the AIM client, because of the stupid features, such as sound, backgrounds, custom fonts, etc. In Adium I get everything in clean, 13 point Georgia. And yet they're still making the AOL desktop client, for both Mac and PC.

When I was in High School.... no internet. not even a glimmer. :P signed on around Jan 15th 1995, about 6 months out of high school... on a 2400 bps modem which eventually we went to 14.4 k. Ahhh, the old days of thrilling looks of parents at $170 phone bills coming in. whoops. We dropped AOL in 2003 in favor of a local ISP.

I must be the only one who thinks AOL has done a good job reinventing itself. It's not without its flaws of course, but its content is outragousely diverse and caters to niche interests. My advice to AOL is change its name to leave the AOL brand stigma behind.

If AOL improved their customer service (e.g. taking "NO" for an answer), ditched the fine print in their Terms of Use agreements, lowered their monthly fee and stopped shamelessly promoting their half-assed security suites, they probably wouldn't have gone belly up in the industry. They made a lot of bad business decisions that pretty much paralyzed a once thriving company. Even though most people I know loathe them now, they'll always be remembered.

It's strange, to me, why they chose to pursue something like advertising when Google clearly is the dominator there. It's almost like the upper management at AOL just got back from a long vacation that lasted a decade or so.

Also, the decision to consume the development of Winamp probably shouldn't have been used as a paradigm to reignite consumer interest in the company. I can't even remember the last time I heard anything about Winamp other than the resurface of it here at Neowin.

All in all, I guess it's a shame to see a company like AOL have so much and then **** it away on a series of really senseless business mistakes.

anyone remember those stupid monthly letters Steve Case would send out? It was always posted on the welcome screen...I wonder if anyone ever read those...I actually happened to find out his personal screen name, that was interesting.

I don't remember the monthly letter, but I remember the welcome screen itself along with the "Welcome! You've got mail!" sounds.

Only thing I really missed on AOL, was NWN online game. That was the best damn mmo at the time!

Welcome, You gots retards?

I think they went the way of Gateway. Gateway back in 1994 was the ****. Everybody had a gateway computer. They were so popular they were featured on popular TV shows like ER. It wouldn't be uncommon to see a BIG gateway box sitting on a desk in a scene. Fast forward to 2009. Everybody owns a dell. how gateway ****ed that business up is something I will never know.

God, I remember those days... AOL 3.0 and such when I first discovered it. I remember worrying about how many minutes of internet we had. :P

heh, AOL was huge back in the day...basically, all I used it for was the WAREZ rooms. God, I got so much free software the FBI probably would have loved me. The cost didn't matter much to me since I had an OH account. Remember those? the coveted OH accounts that Guides and Hosts used? My account was free because I was a Guide and a chat host for MTV. 4 hours a week for free internet? Good deal, till they screwed all there CLs over. Funnest part of that was when I got to kick people offline...remember TOS? lol. You are in violation of AOL's Terms of Service...blah blah blah. But anyways, the Warez rooms were great, had to use my dad's account for that because I didn't want to get caught by CATwatch01. (I bet alot of people are reading this now and going Oh YEAH...) I must have gotten my dad's account terminated at least 4 times, he was ****ed. I still remember when AOL went unlimited time, then the busy signals hit. God@#@# busy signals, that's another thing AOL screwed up on. they didn't upgrade thier infrastructure when they did that. One thing is for sure though, I sure as hell do not miss all those stupid chat room scrollers and IM punters....aaahhhh...the good ol days...

Ahahaha! I remember those chatrooms! Good times, good times! I think AOL's best times were in the 3.0 days. They had a lot of exclusive content that you couldn't get with other ISPs. As bangbang023 said, back in the 90's, if you were on AIM, you were the man. Everyone had an AIM screenname back then. I used to be a huge AIM user until I discovered how much more user friendly MSN was. I still use it though because there's a few people I talk to that are only on AIM.

Kevin. said,
Ahahaha! I remember those chatrooms! Good times, good times! I think AOL's best times were in the 3.0 days. They had a lot of exclusive content that you couldn't get with other ISPs. As bangbang023 said, back in the 90's, if you were on AIM, you were the man. Everyone had an AIM screenname back then. I used to be a huge AIM user until I discovered how much more user friendly MSN was. I still use it though because there's a few people I talk to that are only on AIM.



LOL, yeah, I liked 3.0. I remember using those hacking programs like Fate Ultra that would keep you online because it would clear the idle timer when it came on, which was a blessing because it took freaking forever to get back on once AOL kicked your ass off. Mail bombing, IM punting...those were the days...I still remember beta testing aol 4.0, since I was a guide, they actually sent me (and other CLs) a "Gold" copy w/ case of 4.0...I was so proud of myself, god, i was such a dork. Oh well, 4.0 was pretty cool. Beyond that, I kinda lost interest.

speaking of versions, I started out using AOL for DoS, lol, that was such a piece of crap. lol I loved getting the floppies though, I'd wipe it and use it for personal use. Thanks for all those free floppies AOL! you saved me a ton of money, LOL!

I remember first being exposed to AOL when it was on version 2.5. When we first signed up for the internet we tried signing up for AOL, but always got a busy signal. We tried Compuserve, but they didn't have unlimited at the time, so we had to keep our eye on that clock to avoid being charged for extra hours.

If there was anything good about those AOL CDs, it was a different designs they had. Great for collectors out there.

you forgot about there blog presence which is pretty massive, engadget.com autoblog.com joystiq.com ect... thats what is keeping them alive

They were on top of the world WHEN??


Seriously? You don't remember the days where AOL was constantly on the news because people were always maxing out their slots for dial up. I remember it used to be a constant busy singnal when I tried to log on.

I also remember when AOL keywords were more popular than WWW addresses. Firing up the actual browser and typing WWW as like almost going into the great unknown.

Jugalator said,
So they've been going downhill ever since the Internet started becoming popular. ;)


They started going down hill when broadband became popular... as the article states.

Wow, bangbang023. I thought I was the only one that thought AOL has been going downhill lately. AOL made many mistakes that got them to where they are today:

1. Their dialup service was too expensive. They should of cut it from $25/moth to like $9.99/month.
2. They were buying up too many companies. They should of left ICQ, Winamp, Netscape, etc alone.
3. Their main all in one software was great for way back in the days, but eventually because useless since people could eventually gone right into their web browsers and use other programs for e-mail, IM, etc. The all in one software wasn't needed anymore. Furthermore, they did not need to keep shipping out all of those CDs.
4. Bad customer service, especially when one tried to cancel their account.

AIM has been lagging further and further behind. Version 6.9 hasn't come out of beta 2 in months, and one would have to take one look at other IM clients to see how much more user friendly they are.

It's a shame that AOL came to this. They had many chances to fix things, and they screwed them all up.

I agree with papajohn about Winamp. It still whips the lama's a$$....

Seriously though, I have always hated AOL software, and have tried for many many years to get people away from it, and some people just won't leave it. My grandma still uses AOL mail. Oh well. She has always had problems, and no matter how hard I tried, I haven't been able to convince her that it's AOL.

I still like Winamp, use it every day and also use it to manage my iPod and now my Blackberry Storm. I also connect to my Orb server with it while at work or if I'm on my laptop away from home and want to listen to some of my music. Until something comes along with a library manager that's as good as or better than Winamp's, I'll continue to use it. I HATE iTunes and will never install it!!!!

i can say that i have had the internet since 1993 at the beginning and i have never ever used AOL nor have i used AOL messenger (however i do have an AOL messenger account that i have used once or twice with pidgin.) the only services of AOL that i have used are AOL radio (which i listen to at work) and winamp a few times. I have never been a fan of AOL for any reason.

i only use winamp, i guess because i just hate itunes even if im an ipod owner... try to avoid it at all cost.

i only need to play my music and some basic skin that look great. and all in a easy to use and fast compared to foobar lets say.

AOL were another devil incarnate for me. I was a Compuserve member, way before most people had heard of the Internet 9.6 kbps, waiting for ever for whatever to download. Jumped Compuserve well before AOL gobbled them up for breakfast. Sorry, you see AOL through rose tinted spectacles, the best thing they did was to post people floppy disks, at a time they were over a dollar a piece (that was when a dollar was worth something!). Saved me a fortune.

boho said,
AOL were another devil incarnate for me. I was a Compuserve member, way before most people had heard of the Internet 9.6 kbps, waiting for ever for whatever to download. Jumped Compuserve well before AOL gobbled them up for breakfast. Sorry, you see AOL through rose tinted spectacles, the best thing they did was to post people floppy disks, at a time they were over a dollar a piece (that was when a dollar was worth something!). Saved me a fortune.

I remember Compuserve, I thought they had a better service than AOL at the time outside of the AOL community aspect.

I completely forgot about Compuserve. I remember using it once I think. I got a trial at some point back in the day. I used AOL back then though with my speedy 2400 baud modem. You thought 9.6kbps was bad? hahaha

Erm...I use playlists and I can't imagine playing my music any other way :S I never want to listen to my whole library..I want to choose a playlist that I've created (perhaps my Favourites) and let it play through all the tracks...

Come on, your article started nicely, but you are completely wrong in the end: Winamp's media library is awesome. In fact, its the main reason I use winamp every day. Still up to date, it is the only player that gives me a fast and consistent interface where i can manage my library, my playlist and my current playing tracks in one screen, without having to switch between tabs.

An opinion can't be wrong, especially in this case. This is a column, thus mostly driven by opinion and personality. In my opinion, Winamp's library management sucks compared to other options out there. In your opinion, it's great. Neither of us is wrong or more correct.

I personally settled down on Songbird, finally. It's very early in it's life and lacks some features, but I like the simplicity of it all.

bangbang, you mentioned this in the Winamp 5.55 beta thread, and I still don't understand. What can you possibly not like about Winamp's library management? IMO, it's the best out there, and I really can't fathom how someone can think it "sucks". I mean, have you used Winamp recently, or are you basing this around v2?

I've used Winamp 5 up until 5.53, though I gave 5.55 a chance and my opinion is the same. The media library is small (physical size within the interface) and generally not nearly as easy to browse around as other options.

bangbang023 said,
The media library is small (physical size within the interface) and generally not nearly as easy to browse around as other options.

Try pressing Alt + L ;)
Also; MMD3.
I would like to hear suggestions of other media players, specifically those able to become a small bar at the top of the screen, use the system tray rather than the taskbar, and have global hotkeys. I'm not aware of other music players which have all three of these features which is why I currently stick to winamp for my musical needs.

A huge reason why I still use winamp is that it can play a bazillion different formats. WMP's library management confuses me, and also refuses to play my .flac and .ogg files, and iTunes is even more miserable about playing odd formats. Songbird's been the closest to converting me from winamp, I think the only think stopping me is a good mini player. I tend to leave winamp in windowshade mode unless i'm fussing with the library.

MaxFrost said,
WMP's library management confuses me, and also refuses to play my .flac and .ogg files,

I have a plugin for WMP that plays .flac and .ogg files just fine. It also supports tagging of those formats.

+1 on Songbird. If only they improved the performance and memory management, it would win me over *completely*! (Plus WMP has a better mini mode...)

But as it stands, I've had no reason to try any other music player since becoming a Songbird regular. I used Winamp for the longest time, but since then, Songbird's "good enough" for me Topping it off, some of Songbird's devs used to work on Winamp.

MaxFrost said,
A huge reason why I still use winamp is that it can play a bazillion different formats.

Yup. Not may players can handle .mod, .xm, .stm, .s3m formats (I've got quite a collection from the old school demo scene and see no reason why I should transcode)

If I remember, they bought winamp with one of the purpose to integrate in to there software and hit a roadblock(after buying nullsoft) that existing license prevented them.

I do agree, winamp just get's updates but no no major overhaul/ upgrade. I still like winamp a lot and use it for playing audio.

I have used winamp for like a decade until I started using mediamonkey last year. I fire up winamp once in a while but found its library management archaic compare to new stuff like rss postcast and advance library stuff that mediamonkey has. And the ability to create auto playlist is just a must for me now. I reformatted my lappie a week ago and haven't even bother installing winamp. and AIM? I haven't use it since trillian was made available about five years ago.