The Rebirth of America Online
During the years when bulletin boards ruled the world and there were only a handful of computers that were on the world wide web, there were different phone numbers you would call in order to get access to files, or chat with other people. Eventually Compuserve and AOL were a couple of the biggest of what were basically bulletin boards. In the early days, they provided a local connection to a large community with email and files. AOL would squash Compuserve, and I still don't even know what has happened to them. I believe that they were absorbed by Earthlink, but one can't be sure. Anyway, AOL was the best with the most modems on all the time, and they had tons of content. It seems that they have been on a steady decline for the last several years, but now they are showing signs that they may finally have gotten it.
AOL has been making moves to become a portal. With the incredible success of AIM, and the massive stable of content Time-Warner has, AOL can take over. If they can deliver their content to phones in the same way they have been able to deliver AIM to phones, they could easily have a leg up on Google, and compete almost directly with the likes of Yahoo. As a web, news, and media portal AOL has the ability to leverage their still significant penetration to gain advertising and revolutionize the way users interact with media. If they were really smart, they would start delivering commercial free programming supported with just a banner at the top. Since Google and Yahoo! are stuck in a stalemate of sorts. AOL can come in and re-create themselves as a different kind of portal, one that reaches out to urban culture and delivers a truly unique experience. Frequently the major portals or search engines are stuck trying to deliver a web experience that will appeal as well to someone living in a Nebraskan suburb as it would to someone living in urban America. I think that the AIM mail advertising campaign is right on. It looks like AOL is starting to reach out to urban youth, a group that internet companies have seemed reluctant to market toward. Urban teenagers spend lots of money, and spend much time online. They are a worthwile market, and while I would like to think of myself as one of them, I realize I am a little out of my teens. Still, you are only as old as you feel, and perhaps I'll check out the new AOL sometime soon.