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Meet the new Aol. It's not your mom's AOL. Wait, maybe it is.
November 23, 2009 6:56 PM   Subscribe

Remember AOL Time Warner, the poster child of dotcom corporate hubris? It's still around, if only for a few more days. On December 9, the current media megacorp will fraction off former computer network behemoth AOL as a web portal firm and online brand. And what will that brand be? It will be a stock photo superimposed with a white Helvetica "Aol." And, well, that's it.

So when you think AOL, think getting kicked in the face and the back of the head at the same time and participate in the Aol. IPO.
posted by ardgedee (145 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Over on AskMe, they think it's Futura Heavy. Just sayin'.
posted by dnesan at 7:02 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Note that the font geeks over on AskMe seem to disagree.
posted by range at 7:02 PM on November 23, 2009


Mefi thought it was Futura?
posted by ddaavviidd at 7:06 PM on November 23, 2009


aolwut
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:06 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, bless the day I realized I could dial in to AOL, minimize it, and just power up Netscape.
posted by griphus at 7:07 PM on November 23, 2009 [32 favorites]


Alol.
posted by Eideteker at 7:07 PM on November 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


Needs a professional white background.
posted by jamaro at 7:08 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm ashamed to mis-identify the font. Apologies.
posted by ardgedee at 7:08 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wish I could get paid to do that.
posted by lucidium at 7:11 PM on November 23, 2009


If you superimpose that AoL. over a plate of beans, you've pretty much summed up this concept and this discussion...
posted by HuronBob at 7:14 PM on November 23, 2009 [8 favorites]


April 2, 2002: AOL Time Warner Was A Mistake.

April 21, 2002: "By now, every investor recognizes that Time Warner made a very large mistake by merging with AOL in early 2001."

If I may quote myself from the 2nd thread: "...there's so far not a whole lot of evidence that [bigger media companies] result in lots of cost-savings for the bloated giants that result...Aren't huge mergers like these driven more by ego and the need to control vast empires than by any clearly demonstrated cost-savings? Or are there successful examples I'm missing?
posted by mediareport at 7:15 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


beep boop boop beep beep, hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh , dee doo dooooyeo, dooooyeo dee doo... dee dee dee dee chhhhchchchchchch BEE BOONG BEE BOONG PSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH PUSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
posted by EarBucket at 7:16 PM on November 23, 2009 [98 favorites]


NO CARRIER
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:18 PM on November 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


NO CARRIER
posted by teferi at 7:19 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Dah, one minute too late!
posted by teferi at 7:19 PM on November 23, 2009


Aol. is definitely the kind of empire I want to control.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:21 PM on November 23, 2009


WHATUP 1999 TOTALLY SWEET LOGO YOU WANNA HELP ME TAKE THESE STUSSY SHIRTS TO GOODWILL
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:22 PM on November 23, 2009 [27 favorites]


See, if you say it like that, it becomes a word. Now I read it as "Aioli," and that leads my mind to think of mayonaise, and I'm not fond of mayonaise. It's just a fatty blob that people tend to put on things that are already greasy enough as is.

It's not really a logo at all, it just simply is a word that we're supposed to think means something. But AOL has no magical power like Google's search feature. You can't verbify AOL, unless you want a verb that means "to be really popular in the 1990s, but then fade into irrelevance because of cost and a rapidly changing technological landscape."

Sad. AOL used to be... not cool, but at least something.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:25 PM on November 23, 2009


.
posted by Schmucko at 7:25 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Godawfaol.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:26 PM on November 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


See, if you say it like that, it becomes a word.

The aols are not what they seem.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:28 PM on November 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


Actually, the new Aol logo might be brilliant. It an open invitation to silliness. It might become ridiculously ubiquitous in its parodies, giving them a ton of free publicity.
posted by jayder at 7:29 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Coming next year, Aol.Syfy.
posted by aerotive at 7:30 PM on November 23, 2009 [13 favorites]


Well, there's nothing wrong with a 1990s era walled-garden ISP that a new logo can't fix paper over.
posted by dhartung at 7:31 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


In 1995 when AOL made the internet portal apparent I thought that it would only be a matter of a year or so before everyone realized what they wanted wasn't AOL at all, but what was behind it. Then I assumed they would just ditch the bloated system. Apparently I was off by more than a decade.
posted by meinvt at 7:31 PM on November 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


Ah, the glory days. Anyone remember Rainman?
posted by jquinby at 7:33 PM on November 23, 2009


The thing is, I remember being 16 years old in 1999 and thinking to myself "holy shit AOL sucks donkey balls" (or something similar in 16-year-old speak, I don't remember exactly).

Everybody knew that AOL was an unspeakable disaster of an ISP/"content provider" (whatever the fuck that means?! Let me find my own content kthxbi) and was just a placeholder until something even slightly better came along.

Everybody knew that except the billionaires who run Time Warner, apparently. If anything, it reinforces my notion that the ability to excel in business is more a matter of luck and timing than any great skill or any particular insight into humanity.
posted by Avenger at 7:35 PM on November 23, 2009 [13 favorites]


When we first got public internet terminals at the library where I worked in the 1990's, people would come in and want to know if we "Had AOL." We offered them the whole wide internet, but they wanted AOL. I think at the time you couldn't sign on to AOL if you weren't at home (maybe? am I nuts?), or at least it was beyond these folks' capabilities.

I didn't totally understand all this stuff, but the computer guy at the library described it perfectly to me: "AOL is a cul-de-sac on the information highway."
posted by marxchivist at 7:37 PM on November 23, 2009 [10 favorites]








.
posted by pedmands at 7:39 PM on November 23, 2009


"The period in the logo was added to suggest “confidence, completeness,” Ms. Wilson said, by declaring that 'AOL is the place to go for the best content online, period.'"

It takes a special kind of person to say that with a straight face. A person who makes much more money than I do.
posted by mecran01 at 7:42 PM on November 23, 2009 [31 favorites]


You knew they where desperate when they started sending out millions and millions of those "installation" discs. Nothing like the stink o' panic to inspire the future.

It had an important place in the history of the interwebs, but just flat out failed to keep pace. Wonder how far in the furure Google will last... Longer than Microsoft I wager.
posted by edgeways at 7:46 PM on November 23, 2009


From the NY Times Article:

“It’s not like there’s bad feeling toward AOL,” said Sam Wilson, managing director at the Wolff Olins New York office. [...]”

Come again...?!
posted by oxidizer at 7:47 PM on November 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


Jonah Disend, chief executive at Redscout, a brand strategy agency in New York owned by MDC Partners, disagreed.

“I would get rid of the parent brand and dissolve AOL,” Mr. Disend said. “The assets are stronger on their own.”


This is the only sane person in the article, by the way. AOL is dead. There is literally nothing profitable they can do with that brand except sell it to someone ironically.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:48 PM on November 23, 2009 [26 favorites]


AOL is taking a cue from Boy George, hoping to improve its karma by becoming a chameleon.

Can autotune save the news?
posted by humannaire at 7:50 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Because I don't have any idea what that means.
posted by humannaire at 7:50 PM on November 23, 2009


there's so far not a whole lot of evidence that [bigger media companies] result in lots of cost-savings for the bloated giants that result...Aren't huge mergers like these driven more by ego

AOL was vastly, vastly overvalued, and the AOL execs knew that. They used that ridiculous amount of money to buy a company that had real and lasting value, and made themselves exceedingly rich in the process, assuming they still hold their stock. Had they stayed as a single corporation, their fortunes would have evaporated by now.

It was a brilliant move by a bunch of geeks; it was a terrible move by TW, but they were bedazzled by the incredible stock success of AOL.

As Warren Buffett has said, in the short term, the stock market is a voting machine; in the long term, it's a weighing machine. TW confused votes for weight.
posted by Malor at 7:51 PM on November 23, 2009 [14 favorites]


It is still pronounced "ay-oh-hell", or is it "ay-hole" now?
posted by erniepan at 7:54 PM on November 23, 2009 [8 favorites]


I hear they're sending out the installation discs on DVDs instead of CDs, and that they come with, like, 5 billion free hours each.
posted by HeroZero at 7:56 PM on November 23, 2009


I didn't find that image of the guy that collected something like 100,000 AOL disks, but I didn't look that hard.
posted by ovvl at 8:04 PM on November 23, 2009


The problem wasn't the fact that AOL Time Warner was a bigger media company than the two alone. The problem was AOL was primarily a dial-up company, and broadband killed dial-up. Sure, they tried expanding into other markets and building the AOL service into a general Internet portal, but the only people they really kept were those who associated AOL with the Internet.

Consolidation naturally leads to cost-savings. Decreased competition, more negotiating power, increased scales of econmy, horizontal/vertical integration (Time Warner pushing their content through AOL's channels). Successful examples? How about News Corporation (Fox, WSJ, etc.), Microsoft and CNBC forming MSNBC?

It wasn't just Time Warner that got screwed in the dial-up fallout. GE bought up GEnie in 85. Which probably got them at least a few good years of profit.
posted by formless at 8:06 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I hear they're sending out the installation discs on DVDs instead of CDs, and that they come with, like, 5 billion free hours each.

I think they stopped sending out disks a few years ago, 2005/2006 or so. At least I haven't seen one since then. I used to have an AOL 1.1 disk around for nostalgia's sake. But I think it went in the trash a few years back.

At a conference in 2007, I asked a TW exec in private about AOL and his feelings about the success of the merger. He just sort of grimaced and refused to answer. That was all the answer I needed! ;)
posted by gemmy at 8:07 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Sell it to someone ironically, Optimus Chyme? You mean, like, one of these days there'll be a hipster showing a girl around his apartment, and he'll be saying:

"Now, here's my collection of Frankenberry cereal boxes ... this is where I keep T-shirts I pick up at roadside diners ... and that's AOL."

"What?"

"AOL. You remember, the company? I own it now."

"You do?"

"Yeah, I picked it up at a yardsale for like, twenty bucks. Say hi, guys!"

"Hi!"

"Anyway ... over here I've got a whole set of clocks that are, you know, animals and people and things with clocks in their stomachs ..."
posted by kyrademon at 8:07 PM on November 23, 2009 [52 favorites]


Lol.
posted by JHarris at 8:07 PM on November 23, 2009


damn you eideteker
posted by JHarris at 8:08 PM on November 23, 2009


"You've got fail ..."
posted by octobersurprise at 8:14 PM on November 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


I actually kind of like it. The new branding I mean. Even though I can't say I really have any idea what AOL is anymore.
posted by spilon at 8:19 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]



mediareport: "April 2, 2002: AOL Time Warner Was A Mistake."

Ted Turner Sends Self Back In Time To Prevent AOL Time Warner Merger

EarBucket: "beep boop boop beep beep, hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh , dee doo dooooyeo, dooooyeo dee doo... dee dee dee dee chhhhchchchchchch BEE BOONG BEE BOONG PSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH PUSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH."

IT'S ALIVE
posted by Rhaomi at 8:20 PM on November 23, 2009


☞((aol))☜
posted by pyramid termite at 8:20 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


damn you eideteker

You have to go a lot further back than that!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:30 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Aol.
posted by pedmands at 8:33 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good ol' Apartheid Online; thought they'd gone kaput years ago.

And boy oh boy do these new logos suck
posted by porn in the woods at 8:43 PM on November 23, 2009


a/s/l.
posted by peeedro at 8:44 PM on November 23, 2009


fAol.
posted by rusty at 8:47 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think they stopped sending out disks a few years ago, 2005/2006 or so. At least I haven't seen one since then. I used to have an AOL 1.1 disk around for nostalgia's sake. But I think it went in the trash a few years back.

I'm not sure if you were referring to floppies, but I got an AOL CD in the mail just last week. No joke. I didn't even know what to do with it...take it to Antiques Roadshow?
posted by niles at 8:48 PM on November 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


Sell it to someone ironically, Optimus Chyme? You mean, like, one of these days there'll be a hipster showing a girl around his apartment, and he'll be saying:

"Now, here's my collection of Frankenberry cereal boxes ... this is where I keep T-shirts I pick up at roadside diners ... and that's AOL."


That, sadly for AOL, is exactly what I meant.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:50 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


FAOL
posted by echo target at 8:51 PM on November 23, 2009


aww, man, beaten to it.
posted by echo target at 8:51 PM on November 23, 2009


AOL!
posted by Electrius at 8:53 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


'Scuse me, but that's not Futura. Not with that x-height. Also Futura 'A' is often pointy on top.

My money's on Avant Garde.
posted by fontor at 8:55 PM on November 23, 2009


AOL is taking a cue from Boy George, hoping to improve its karma by becoming a chameleon.

Also, chaining rent-boys up to the lounge-room wall in a cocaine-fuelled paranoid rage.
posted by pompomtom at 8:55 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Is anyone missing their period? Anyone??
posted by mannequito at 8:58 PM on November 23, 2009


Damn, looks like all the good jokes are taken.
posted by brain_drain at 9:00 PM on November 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


For all of their corporate and other missteps, they got it totally right with AOLServer. It's easily one of the best pieces of software and application servers I've ever had the pleasure of dealing with. Rock solid, and scales like whoa.
posted by cloax at 9:05 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


In 1995 when AOL made the internet portal apparent I thought that it would only be a matter of a year or so before everyone realized what they wanted wasn't AOL at all, but what was behind it. Then I assumed they would just ditch the bloated system. Apparently I was off by more than a decade.

You were only off by 3 or 4 years. A few people stuck around in AOL's walled garden, but most just used it for the internet. Nowadays AOL is mostly a blog network and the people who maintain AIM.
posted by delmoi at 9:11 PM on November 23, 2009


HEY MOAR LIEK AO-LOL, AMIRITE!?
posted by delmoi at 9:13 PM on November 23, 2009


Amusement: my internet connection (cable, not dial-up =) just dropped as I was trying to watch the sneak-peak rebranding video, and this is where it stopped.

If you want a vision of the future for AOL, imagine a boot stamping on a human face and back of the head - forever.

The new AOL (sorry, "Aol") is not a brand, but a watermark on content. A weird notion, following the massive bolstering of their journalism staff for hire. Still, there are still AOL clients being released, with AOL 9.5 Refresh looking not too far removed from the internet client I remember from the mid 1990s.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:16 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Christ, what an aol?
posted by zippy at 9:30 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


during the 1990s, when it was a premier, pioneering Internet service provider.

Was it ever this? I thought people always laughed at AOL, even from the very beginning. Or at least at people who had AOL email addresses.

And somebody beat me to a-hole, dammit! That was my preferred pronunciation for a while. That or, "Eh, oh well."
posted by Mister Moofoo at 9:32 PM on November 23, 2009


+++ATH
posted by zippy at 9:34 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Rendered as Aol instead of AOL causes my brain to try to make it a word instead of understanding it as an acronym. The string 'aol' is pretty uncommon in English, and my mind goes immediately to 'gaol.' Probably not the association they were going for.
posted by jedicus at 9:34 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I remember when AOL hit the Usenet. It was a fucking disaster. My gods, talk about a clash of cultures.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:36 PM on November 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


I always hated AOL, but this makes me sort of sad. You read those painfully optimistic things the flacks have to say to keep their jobs and their heads up, and yet it's clear that this is not the point at which innovation thrives. Rebranding in an effort to save ... "e-mail, Web sites or coming offerings that will 'surprise people.'"

Yeah, email and web sites are indeed surprising and are excellent examples of your future potential. Shockwaves from this earthquake are already rolling through executives' fancy homes in Palo Alto.

They can probably milk it for a while longer. Who knows? Maybe they'll become a media company. I think that's the only way they survive longer than a couple years at most.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:40 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


.

Prior to the TW merger they were actually a good company to work for. Or maybe it was just the stock options.
posted by ryoshu at 9:45 PM on November 23, 2009


Strangely enough, my parents still use AOL because it's dial-up. They travel a lot, and often to places that aren't wired but do have landline phones.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:48 PM on November 23, 2009


Come on, was I the only one here to put the AOL discs I got in the mail into the microwave?
posted by not_on_display at 9:50 PM on November 23, 2009


Oh, and, for those who are curious ...

I believe our local Wal-Mart has AOL CDs at their counters as we speak. And I know my parents' neighborhood in Albuquerque got AOL CDs as recently as last summer.

I ... have a collection. It's not a big one, but I have some old versions that I sort of stumbled upon for free and can't seem to give up, in the vanishing but undying possibility that someday, somehow, when someone cranks up the ol' eBay again, and everyone feels like spending their excess money on ridiculous and utterly worthless crap with vague nostalgic value, I'll be able to unload all these stupid plastic discs and retire, suckers!

And then you'll see how I was right all along!



Um .... well, that all went very differently than I had it in my head just a few minutes ago ...
posted by krinklyfig at 9:58 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dude, I remember right around 1999 0r 2000 (making me some flavor of pre-teen), realizing AOL sucked.
Like, I was just getting hair on my balls and liking girls, and I could already tell that AOL sucked balls. I think it was actually my brother and my lobbying that caused the Infamous Switch To Netscape that occurred sometime in 2001. The old man just didn't get it. But we did.
what he didn't get is that it was really hard to look up porn on AOL
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 9:59 PM on November 23, 2009


It's Futur- oh.
posted by jjray at 10:02 PM on November 23, 2009


Back in high school, everyone thought it was cool to eat at Taco Bell every day after school. But everyone thought it was equally cool to talk about how bad it sucked and refer to it as "Taco Hell." My friend and I found that joke rather obvious and tired, so we started referring to it as "Taco Fuck" as kind of a meta non-joke thing.

So... AO Fuck?
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:08 PM on November 23, 2009


I worked at AOL from 2002 to 2007. It was a nice job with good benefits. One thing that shocked me when I first started working there was how the AOL client was a normal part of everyone's desktop and we were expected to use the client for mail if not actually browsing the web. The Unix guys had a company issued Sun sparc desktop in addition to the standard XP laptop and there was always some cognitive dissonance watching someone running the Enlightenment window manager on one machine while the one next to it is saying "You've got mail".

But even in the days after the merger there really was potential. By then, AOL might not have been cool, but Instant Messenger sure was. And so was the infrastructure that ran all that stuff. There were very few companies that had the massively scaled infrastructure that AOL did back in the day. If they had put it to good use, say social networking, or lightly DRM'd music downloads, MMRPGs, VOIP, or whatnot, AOL could have been a positive force for the internet. The infrastructure was there. There were even people there with the vision... they just weren't in the top management.

Sadly, the ones calling the shots refused to see further than the dial-up money that was coming in. And it really was coming in, it was enormously profitable. When people began to realize just how much better broadband is and how little they needed AOL's services, the managements' reaction was to mount a campaign focusing on customer retention rather than really figuring out how to adapt to the new landscape. I guess this worked for a few quarters but making it so fucking difficult to quit the service made for an awful customer experience. The company did eventually adjust its mindset, and I think there was some possibility of turning things around when John Miller was CEO. But he was pushed out and replaced with a TV broadcasting veteran and AOL predictably continued its slide into irrelevancy.

Current AOL employees are trying to decide whether they should take the three month's salary for voluntary severance offer or face the 30% layoff that comes next. The current CEO is a Google veteran, so presumably he has a better grasp on the internet than the last one. I don't want to write AOL off just yet. Obviously, there will be no return to dial-up, but they may still have something useful to offer. I hope so because I have friends that work there. Though I can understand anyone who's had to wait on hold for 40 minutes and then pleaded and argued with a customer services rep so they could quit the service would feel different.
posted by Loudmax at 10:09 PM on November 23, 2009 [28 favorites]


Period means the end.

.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:16 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


WHATUP 1999 TOTALLY SWEET LOGO YOU WANNA HELP ME TAKE THESE STUSSY SHIRTS TO GOODWILL

You realize that in 8.2 years this shit you mock will become cool again.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:24 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Strangely enough, my parents still use AOL because it's dial-up. They travel a lot, and often to places that aren't wired but do have landline phones.

Yeah, they do have that advantage, and I see that a lot in our rural neck of the place here, but it's not like it takes a genius to set up another nationwide dialup ISP. I don't see that they have a lock on that market, particularly because they've managed to cultivate a bad name for themselves by cranking up their infamous customer retention programs when things were turning away from dialup. And other companies can easily gobble up their existing customers. People still use Netzero, but I gather the service is terrible. Earthlink has quite a few dialup customers, but I'm sure there's a substantial churn.

I work for an ISP which does dialup, and out here in the boonies we still have quite a few customers on it, but it's only really useful for email and very minimal browsing anymore. People get increasingly frustrated with it, even the light users, and it's easier from a tech support POV if they switch to high speed. Still, I can use a dialup connection to get a secure shell to my server and read all my email on a terminal using Mutt, and it's quick and full-featured and allows me to get all my email anywhere with the worst of connections. There's a way to manage it, but you have to be geeky about it to make it work well.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:36 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember when AOL hit the Usenet. It was a fucking disaster. My gods, talk about a clash of cultures.

The "September which never ended" has finally ended!
posted by mikelieman at 11:05 PM on November 23, 2009 [15 favorites]


I quite like that logo concept. It's the sort of thing that only one company can do, once. It's a brave move by someone or other, albeit maybe someone who hasn't got much to lose.

What would be really radical would be if they now announced that AOL now stands for America Off Line, and the company is all about turning your computer off and going to do something else.
posted by memebake at 11:18 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Tim Armstrong, chairman and chief executive at AOL..."

The logo may suck, but their CEO is Rancid's lead singer!
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:18 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


His blurry vision saw nothing wrong?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:22 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


And so was the infrastructure that ran all that stuff. There were very few companies that had the massively scaled infrastructure that AOL did back in the day. If they had put it to good use, say social networking, or lightly DRM'd music downloads, MMRPGs, VOIP, or whatnot, AOL could have been a positive force for the internet. The infrastructure was there. There were even people there with the vision... they just weren't in the top management.

Well, that's the thing right? No one knows who's vision will be right until it's too late. I wouldn't have predicted the popularity of Twilight. "After the success of Harry Potter, what the world needs is a book about moody vampires who don't kill anyone, and sparkle". I'd have thought it ridiculous. I still think Twitter is kind of stupid.

Of course the customer retention thing. They had to realize they were signing their death warrant with that stunt, right?
posted by delmoi at 12:27 AM on November 24, 2009


Working in design myself, whenever I see a shockingly bad idea executed - like the logo we're talking about here - I always think: they must have one hell of an account manager to sell this crap to their client.
posted by ouke at 12:41 AM on November 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


'Brand consultancy.' What a brave new world we've vomited up for ourselves to enjoy.
posted by koeselitz at 1:25 AM on November 24, 2009 [7 favorites]


I love sans-serif fonts and I've set my browser up to use them by default, but they have one big drawback: a lowercase "L" is almost always nearly identical to a uppercase "i".
Thus this new logo reads like "aoi" to me, which I either associate with some strange jargon ("And then I was spamming AoE attacks on the trolls when our pala upped his AoI aura and we got triple slashing damage but after all that we only got one purple to drop...") or with Minori Aoi (google results may be NSFW).
Both associations are tending strongly toward nerd / dateless loser stereotypes, so maybe that's what they're going for, after all...
posted by PontifexPrimus at 1:40 AM on November 24, 2009


beep boop boop beep beep, hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh , dee doo dooooyeo, dooooyeo dee doo... dee dee dee dee chhhhchchchchchch BEE BOONG BEE BOONG PSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH PUSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

Damn you. I just started salivating.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:56 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


We'll be laughing like this at Twitter in 3-4 years max. Just like we laugh at myspace.

Count on it. Facebook too.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:07 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but they'll be replaced by better social networking sites. I doubt we'll ever see another tech company as absolutely pointless as AOL.
posted by bardic at 2:24 AM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Aol is the new SyFy.
posted by mattholomew at 3:16 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


“It’s not like there’s bad feeling toward AOL,” said Sam Wilson, managing director at the Wolff Olins New York office. “It’s more like ‘Make it relevant to me.’ ”

Sorry, Sam, but you could not be more wrong. My bad feelings go way back, to when AOL charged me for hours that I did not use, promised me a refund, and not only did not give me a refund, but continued to charge me for time I was not online. Even long after I managed to escape, AOL somehow screwed up email sent to me by others not so fortunate. It's not like, "Make it relevant to me," it's like, "make it go away." When it finally dies completely, I will have a small celebration.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:21 AM on November 24, 2009


Damn, looks like all the good jokes are taken.

Maybe it's time to upgrade to 36.6?
posted by inigo2 at 3:56 AM on November 24, 2009


My g/f used to be in the quality assurance department of a call center a few years back. One of their regular contracts was with AOL and Video Professor. It was a total sales scam and the agents got bonuses based on how many sales they made. Worked like this: An AOL customer would call their customer support line (in India or the Phillipines I think) then after their problem was or wasn't solved they were told to hold on the line, they were then transfered to the call center my g/f worked in and one of the floor agents would read a canned pitch to the AOL customer about buying into the Video Professor educational software. The initial disk is free but then you end up paying $19.95 a month for more disks, although this was downplayed in the pitch...plus it is supposedly hard to cancel and some people end up closing up credit card accounts just to stop the billing. With crappy tactics such as this being pulled on their own customers, I can't see why anyone would stay with their pay service.
posted by GavinR at 4:53 AM on November 24, 2009


I guess it could've been worse.

They could've gone with "The OL".
posted by Spatch at 5:21 AM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


There were very few companies that had the massively scaled infrastructure that AOL did back in the day.

I want to stress that. AOL's content was garbage, and the interface was Sucky on Win3.1, but the backend *worked* -- it was almost telco grade solid. AOL had to deal with the scaling problem back when everyone was connecting at 1200/2400bps, and so, as the sytem grew, a certain level of stability was always required. They thought like a old-school Telco* when it came to infrastructure, and it showed. AOLServer has already been mentioned, but it's hard to realize what an amazing peice of work that was -- compare it to the other webserver out in 1999 (which is when it went open source -- they'd already been using it for some time.)

If they'd had the right person in the right place -- someone to stop thinking TelCo and start thinking Network, they would have been Google. They had all the tools in place, they just needed the vision, and instead, they merged with something that was as far away from vision as one could get -- big media.

Oops.


*AOBell?
posted by eriko at 5:22 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


krinklyfig, I have often wished I could find someone with a good supply of these just for the default passwords. I love AOL's style of default passwords (GIMEL-BREVETS! ARCING-TEETHE!) and I've always thought a good-sized set of these would be a neat thing to have, in an Oblique Strategies kind of way. Perhaps we were destined to meet in this thread.
posted by jinjo at 5:30 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


AOL's Stock Is Worth $37, Says Barclays

Hamburger, added Barclays.
posted by Mike Mongo at 6:30 AM on November 24, 2009


I quite like that logo concept. It's the sort of thing that only one company can do, once.

One company like Nickelodeon?
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:33 AM on November 24, 2009


I think they mean Market Cap.
posted by mazola at 6:33 AM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'd rather use Prodigy again.
posted by Loto at 6:45 AM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


The thing that gets me about all the AOL snark is how big the "walled garden" used to be. Sure there were reams of content that was utter trash, but consider the scale of their chat rooms, forums and the instant message client that has proven to be at least as popular as its parent. In certain ways it was the predecessor to modern social networking sites, but mashed in with all the BS of a content model that couldn't beat the broader Internet. And a lot of their subsites (I'm thinking particularly of Antagonist Inc here) provided great places for subcultures to latch onto for a while. Flawed as all hell but still, I have a lot of great memories.

Could such a thing last? No, because it was tied up in being all the things that didn't make it good (dial-up, content provider). But I think it had a substantial upside that folks are overlooking.
posted by graymouser at 6:47 AM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


I accrued a lot of debt dialing up to AOL in the early 90's. Back then it was just incredibly expensive to get broadband. Bellsouth wanted me to pay for laying cable 30 miles and then commit to hundreds a month for years before they would set me up with DSL. Cable companies hadn't started offering broadband. Prior to Windows 95 you had to choose a good IP stack for Windows like trumpet and AOL had a good winsock built in. Linux and OS/2 were way ahead in having networking client tools readily available. I had each on a partition but was often on my DOS/Windows partition to play games and wanted to be able to check email etc. There were damn few websites, mostly gopher holes, and no decent search tools. AOL was great. They had dial up servers all over the place, they had content when the web sucked (it really, really sucked hard), and a client that if unstable, was more stable than what anyone else had on windows 3.11. Within 2-3 years all that changed. Every OS had a browser bundled and an IP stack built in. The content available on the web grew to dwarf what any one company could offer and dial up providers proliferated. There was no good reason to use AOL anymore unless you traveled a lot and wanted to connect to local dial up servers.
posted by Tashtego at 6:48 AM on November 24, 2009


I have some respect for Tim Armstrong leaving Google to try to run AOL. He's taken on a very difficult project. AOL still has a lot of web traffic and a lot of brand loyalty, not to mention some interesting little properties. And AOL played an important role in 2002 in turning Google AdWords into the advertising force it is today. Things are different now, but I hope Tim can find a way to make the company vital.
posted by Nelson at 6:48 AM on November 24, 2009


Working in design myself, whenever I see a shockingly bad idea executed - like the logo we're talking about here - I always think: they must have one hell of an account manager to sell this crap to their client.

Really? I usually think: man, they must have one shitty Account Mgmt team to not be able to stop the client's marketing team destroy a great original concept by letting the client jerk off all over the comps with their own 'ideas'.
posted by spicynuts at 6:50 AM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


The basic concept behind the ads is kind of neat, at least in 30 second spot format (as per the NYT link).

Unfortunately, they also subtly indicate how transparent, empty and useless the brand is.
posted by thejoshu at 6:56 AM on November 24, 2009


Yeah, but they'll be replaced by better social networking sites. I doubt we'll ever see another tech company as absolutely pointless as AOL.

Hmm.

We got our first computer when I was 11 (so . . . 1995) and for the first year or so, I was overjoyed enough with it that I'd go over our hours nearly every month. I was obsessed with a bad Nickelodeon show called Space Cases at the time, and the channel ("AOL keyword: Nick!") had a decent amount of content on AOL for kids, including internet chats with the stars et cetera et cetera. I also did RhyDin RPing in chatrooms, and was oddly pretty sheltered from some of the cybersex that must have been going on in private rooms. Eventually, my geeky interests--Star Trek, Pern--led me to discover THE INTERNET and it was like a door opening up. But I've always thought that the way AOL was implemented at the time had the bare bones for a great, monitored net portal for kids. I think that's the real missed opportunity there. I see questions on AskMe about how to monitor children's net usage (and while I'm not a fan of censorship generally, I do realize that the internet can be scary and problematic for parents) and I can't help but think that, if AOL had focused on children and families, it could have had the potential to be a great service for them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:59 AM on November 24, 2009 [6 favorites]


Current AOL employees are trying to decide whether they should take the three month's salary for voluntary severance offer or face the 30% layoff that comes next.

Psst! Hey!

TAKE THE SEVERANCE.

Thank me later.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 7:01 AM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


"The period in the logo was added to suggest “confidence, completeness,” Ms. Wilson said, by declaring that 'AOL is the place to go for the best content online, period.'"

Actually, to me, a period signifies where something "ends" or "stops."

Aol. FULL STOP.
posted by ericb at 7:10 AM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


filthy light thief: Amusement: my internet connection (cable, not dial-up =) just dropped as I was trying to watch the sneak-peak rebranding video, and this is where it stopped.

Looks like a Nike ad, to me.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:13 AM on November 24, 2009


Can't believe it hasn't been said:
AOL: Assholes On Line.
(frequently heard on IRC, circa 1996)
posted by Goofyy at 7:24 AM on November 24, 2009


The real problem AOL has is that in this entire thread, there has been no mention of anything that AOL actually is now -- a collection of niche based communities. Engadget, WalletPop, AutoBlog, TUAW, Lemondrop, Black Voices, JoyStiq, etc. etc. etc. They have something like 700 of them now.

But really, when people think AOL, they think dial up internet. They make jokes and make fun of the "internet with training wheels,", and then they go to engadget.com to read about Steve Job's latest bodily function.

How AOL changes the perception while retaining the individual branding of sites like engadget is a tough assignment for sure.
posted by rulethirty at 7:33 AM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


Slightly off-topic:

A friend of mine who's into new media for a career was talking to me recently about the concept of "being your own brand," i.e. - everyone can be a "content provider." But the creepy thing for me is that he was saying that with a straight face.

I think the idea of "branding" has gone over the line somehow. I don't think it's a good thing when people self-refer as their own "brand."

Of course, at the same time a little voice in my head says softly, "you are getting older and this is how that feels...."
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:44 AM on November 24, 2009


They need more than a rebrand to get rid of their stink. They need a name change.

The World InterNetwork, Win!
posted by Mick at 7:46 AM on November 24, 2009


Save the aols.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:49 AM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


rulethirty, engadget etc was what I meant when I said "some interesting little properties". I'll be damned if I could name them, they're individually branded, but AOL has a pretty good little rollup of community sites. I think the company could have a way forward with aggregating all that traffic and selling it to the highest bidding advertiser. I'm a bit baffled why they're keeping the AOL brand, but I think it has a lot of cachet with all the normal people of the Internet. (Note to self: never go to Metafilter for market research of consumer products).
posted by Nelson at 7:50 AM on November 24, 2009


How AOL changes the perception while retaining the individual branding of sites like engadget is a tough assignment for sure.

By fading into the background and only being AOL to other companies. There's no reason for EnGadget readers to have any idea that AOL runs EnGadget, beyond bias concerns. AOL serves itself best by fading into the background and being the quiet parent company, invisible except in memos to staff and the name on the checks.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:52 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also did RhyDin RPing in chatrooms, and was oddly pretty sheltered from some of the cybersex that must have been going on in private rooms.

Yeah, pretty much. RhyDin had a lot of vampires (way more than a sustainable predator/prey ratio), a lot of guilds that gave out bizarre inflated dice (and self-importance and drama to match), and a lot of people who were basically there for in-character cybersex. This ranged from cybering with a thin veil of in-character pretense, to playing out extremely elaborate romances which got explicit during the juicy parts. It was surprisingly easy to get from one to the next if you knew what you were doing.
posted by graymouser at 7:57 AM on November 24, 2009


This ranged from cybering with a thin veil of in-character pretense, to playing out extremely elaborate romances which got explicit during the juicy parts. It was surprisingly easy to get from one to the next if you knew what you were doing.

Yeah, I knew a lot of "engaged" couples who, IRL, seemed to be about middle school aged. Eventually, I got in-game engaged, too, and had once instance of (extremely) awkward cybersex in a private chat room when I was around 13, just before I gave up on the whole community for a variety of reasons. However, if AOL was focused on catering to kids, and didn't have private chat rooms or means to privately message chat room participants, it would have been pretty easy to eliminate this side of it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:05 AM on November 24, 2009


The initial disk is free but then you end up paying $19.95 a month for more disks, although this was downplayed in the pitch...plus it is supposedly hard to cancel and some people end up closing up credit card accounts just to stop the billing.

Yeah, I heard about that. That was also the primary complaint against AOL after a while, plus people would end up with multiple accounts they never opened.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:09 AM on November 24, 2009


Wait so am I the only one here using AOL?
posted by shakespeherian at 8:13 AM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I knew a lot of "engaged" couples who, IRL, seemed to be about middle school aged. Eventually, I got in-game engaged, too, and had once instance of (extremely) awkward cybersex in a private chat room when I was around 13, just before I gave up on the whole community for a variety of reasons. However, if AOL was focused on catering to kids, and didn't have private chat rooms or means to privately message chat room participants, it would have been pretty easy to eliminate this side of it.

To a certain extent, I guess that's true. Although to be honest, people on RhyDin tended to be very euphemistic about it. It was frequently at the point where trashy romance novels bleed into outright erotica and you can't always tell which is which. If it was like that back then, middle school kids today could definitely get around any reasonable language filter trying to stop them from using chat rooms for cybersex. And I don't see you getting away from IMs while keeping the service usable - a lot of stuff went to IM as it was when you didn't feel like sticking to chat rooms.
posted by graymouser at 8:15 AM on November 24, 2009


The thing that stops me from descending completely into point-and-laugh mode at AOL is that, unlike some Tech Bubble companies, you can't say that they never did anything.

They had a service, they had infrastructure. Massive amounts of it, actually. Early on, I suspect their private network (they had a whole system of leased lines to link all those dialup access points) was bigger than the public Internet. They just never seemed to be able to figure out how to leverage all that infrastructure, all that staff, and all those customers into something besides a walled-garden dialup ISP.

Watching them go down isn't like watching one of the VC-fueled disasters, e.g. Webvan, Flooz, Pets.com, which have a sort of VH1 "Behind the Music" crash-and-burn quality to them, it's like watching a mammoth get taken down by a couple of clever apes with spears. I know it's the way of the world but I feel a little bit bad for the mammoth all the same. Pretty much the same feeling I get thinking about Polaroid—they deserved what they got because they failed to adapt, but it's still unfortunate to watch the grisly part happen.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:18 AM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


krinklyfig, I have often wished I could find someone with a good supply of these just for the default passwords. I love AOL's style of default passwords (GIMEL-BREVETS! ARCING-TEETHE!) and I've always thought a good-sized set of these would be a neat thing to have, in an Oblique Strategies kind of way. Perhaps we were destined to meet in this thread.

Well, I am not enough of a capitalist I guess, because my first instinct is to say I'd probably be able to be talked into scanning them, if that's what you'd want. But, if you're serious, I'm not above relieving someone of their hard-earned cash in exchange for a piece of heaven. I would deeply regret knowing I stood in the way of that dream.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:23 AM on November 24, 2009


To me the biggest problem was their focus on advertising, customers be damned. I applied there in 2002, and they were constantly talking about te bonuses you could get if you could get a tech-support customer to agree to stay on the line for a sales pitch from their advertisers. There were a few other points in the interview where they talked proudly about advertising. They cared about their customers less for the dialup revenue and more for the audience they could sell to their advertisers. I was happy when I got their rejection letter after that.
posted by azpenguin at 8:33 AM on November 24, 2009


They need more than a rebrand to get rid of their stink. They need a name change.

CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet?
posted by albrecht at 8:36 AM on November 24, 2009


The thing that gets me about all the AOL snark is how big the "walled garden" used to be. Sure there were reams of content that was utter trash, but consider the scale of their chat rooms, forums and the instant message client that has proven to be at least as popular as its parent. In certain ways it was the predecessor to modern social networking sites ... Flawed as all hell but still, I have a lot of great memories.

I do, too. The forums could be great sources of information and support. Some great communities developed. And, of course, some real hot messes developed, also.

If there are any former regulars out there from the AOL GOAL board or the Systems & Planners board, by all means please get back in touch via MeMail!
posted by jgirl at 8:37 AM on November 24, 2009


Slightly off-topic:

A friend of mine who's into new media for a career was talking to me recently about the concept of "being your own brand," i.e. - everyone can be a "content provider." But the creepy thing for me is that he was saying that with a straight face.


That's stressed at journo/comm conferences and schools. Everyone says it with a straight face. And fervently hopes it will work.
posted by jgirl at 8:40 AM on November 24, 2009


They just never seemed to be able to figure out how to leverage all that infrastructure, all that staff, and all those customers into something besides a walled-garden dialup ISP.

Well, Steve Case and his buddies made out like bandits, and they've moved on but are in the business of creating more startups and selling those. They seem to be pretty good at that.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:47 AM on November 24, 2009


cloax: Thanks! I was the lead developer of AOLServer for a few years (1999-2001). Everything else in AOL was made of fail.
posted by jewzilla at 8:49 AM on November 24, 2009 [6 favorites]


I've never used AOL (aside from maybe watching a video or two), but I like the logo. It makes sense to me. Shrug.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:24 AM on November 24, 2009


I worked in online rich-media advertising last year and the 300x250 ad on the AOL.com homepage is about $6 CPM (Cost per Thousand). They get around 1.5 - 3 million visits a day so a whole day costs around $250k - $500,000.
posted by wcfields at 10:27 AM on November 24, 2009


Teen Chat > Pool Party 24 -- Giggity giggity!
posted by june made him a gemini at 10:29 AM on November 24, 2009


PUNTED
posted by june made him a gemini at 10:30 AM on November 24, 2009


If it was like that back then, middle school kids today could definitely get around any reasonable language filter trying to stop them from using chat rooms for cybersex.

I'd be more inclined to think that a closed, monitored net model like AOL (er--Aol.) would work better for the pre-middle school set, anyway, at which point the necessity of IM functionality is severely reduced.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:34 AM on November 24, 2009


Meanwhile, the true genius of the AOL Time Warner merger, the man whose brilliant vision "essentially vaporized $200 billion of shareholder money" is running some kind of hippy-dippy Zen retreat in Santa Monica and looking to bring "the poetry" back into his life. Go fuck yourself, Gerald Levin.
posted by stargell at 10:49 AM on November 24, 2009


A friend of mine who's into new media for a career was talking to me recently about the concept of "being your own brand," i.e. - everyone can be a "content provider." But the creepy thing for me is that he was saying that with a straight face.

Ahem
posted by kersplunk at 12:45 PM on November 24, 2009


Well, that's the thing right? No one knows who's vision will be right until it's too late.

I think the point was that, post TW merger, there WAS no vision at the company. "More of the same" is not a vision. The internet landscape at the time was (and still is) quickly evolving -- ANY vision might have been better than "more of the same."
posted by coolguymichael at 1:55 PM on November 24, 2009


I had an AOL account for quite a while. It was the only place I could keep playing a particular text-based multi-player game, after GEnie self-destructed. This was back when there was a per-hour charge for access, so their ideal customer profile was someone who basically never logged off. The more enthusiastic players matched that profile pretty well.

Then they made the decision to switch to a flat per-month charge instead. All of a sudden, their ideal customer profile was someone who signed up and then never logged on at all. A lot of the incentive to provide content and features to keep people online for hours went away when they did that.

I'm trying to remember if they actually kicked the game companies off the service, or just advised them that since they got paid a percentage of the hourly charges when people played their games, they'd be getting a percentage of $0/hour from now on. I seem to remember that the people who ran the game I liked got rather a lot of money out of AOL as some kind of settlement, and they used that to start up again on the Internet (using telnet to access their game).

I didn't have a huge amount of difficulty cancelling my account, although the customer service person did seem to have a hard time understanding that I was only a subscriber because of one game, which was now gone.

I wonder if the decision to go flat-rate was the beginning of the end for the original AOL service? Because it totally changed what their ideal customer looked like, and therefore what was the best way to run the service. But was there any choice when other providers were all going flat-rate too? These days, an hourly charge for an online service seems weird to most people.

Oh, and this new logo and branding... I guess it's further proof that I just don't "get" marketing most of the time. It's an automatic red-flag to me when the marketing folks have to explain what various things in the logo and the branding mean.
posted by FishBike at 3:36 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


FishBike: I vaguely remember something like that happening over on WorldsAway when Compuserve switched to flat-rate, so it is plausible.

Kadin2048: I know it's the way of the world but I feel a little bit bad for the mammoth all the same.

I remember a number of people on WA who dearly hated AOL for abandoning QuantumLink's userbase in order to use that infrastructure for their service. To them, this would simply be karma coming around at last. (The person they really hated, however, was Steve Case. Unfortunately, I don't think he seems to be doing too badly.)
posted by JHarris at 1:48 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember when AOL hit the Usenet. It was a fucking disaster. My gods, talk about a clash of cultures.

Me too!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:19 AM on November 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


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