America Online. Once the world’s single largest ISP and for many the first step into the glorious world of the internet. Now AOL is just a burden; after refusing to innovate, lower costs, or provide newer services, America Online is feeling the pain. And it hurts.
AO(Hel)l may have been the biggest and the baddest 10 years ago, but today AOL is on the brink of extinction. Just yesterday AOL announced they would no longer charge “it’s existing subscribers for online email and premium instant messaging” to all its broadband users across America. Bit of a shock actually, since we don’t think they even have any “You’ve got Mail” users any more.
With Hotmail, Yahoo!, Gmail, and many other free (and better!) services abound, it’s no wonder AOL is making it’s email free: they have nothing to lose. But this article isn’t about AOL’s persistent lack of innovation, complete technical ignorance, or unmatched incompetence in handling it’s business; it’s about what to do with it.
AOL is (we repeat) a burden. Time Warner’s online wing is no longer the gem it used to be, and like any dying tool or machine, it’s only deprecating faster by the day. There is no hope for a rebound, but for some reason they just don’t see it as such, but that’s OK – we’re here to help.
Time Warner isn’t benefiting any by holding AOL tight, it will never sell for more than “it’s worth” and it’s time for it to go. But who’ll buy? After all, no one sees a sinking Titanic and says “I’ll buy it.” it just doesn’t happen that way.
But AOL has it’s uses. The best thing a potential buyer could do (namely: Google, Yahoo!, or Microsoft) is take it, surgically remove all the (poor and helpless) AOL users, graft them onto (Hotmail | Gmail | Yahoo!) and (MSN | Jabber | YIM) network. Then tie AOL to a rock and throw it off Niagara Falls. Good riddance to bad luck.
But there is a tiny little snag. Time Warner didn’t exactly buy AOL, and AOL isn’t exactly Time Warner’s to sell. As a matter of fact, there is no AOL and there is no Time Warner: there’s only AOL Time Warner. One company, not two.
For someone to reach into their (very) deep pockets and shell out the money for entire AOL Time Warner is a bit of stretch. Even if they wanted to, it’s opening up a can of worms for these otherwise strictly “cyberspace” corporations. Technically AOL Time Warner can sell it’s internet wing, but then
the demon AOL still lives – something we really don’t want to see.
Alas, it seems there isn’t much that can be done about AOL. We can hope they file for bankruptcy, we can imagine them getting their own little “Steve Jobs” to bring them back to life, or even dream (very wildly) about them getting innovative, “de-bloatifying” themselves, and doing something about that terrible customer service and ridiculous pricing, but it won’t change anything – after all, demons are hard to kill.