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10 November, 2004

End of the line?

Reporting today's announcement that AOL are to split into four autonomous divisions, the BBC mentions that:

AOL has seen its number of subscribers shrink in recent years amid fierce competition in a crowded sector.
In 2003 the firm lost 2.2 million internet members, though Time Warner chief executive Richard Parsons said earlier this year that AOL had been 'stabilised'.
I wonder whether this reflects a maturing in general web-literacy.

When people first approach the internet, they may wish the assistance of a hand-holding, all-in service such as AOL, yet as they become more experienced and realise they can use market-leading firewalls, antivirus software and superior browsers for free, and can obtain all the information they might want from the 'wild' web rather than spoonfed by AOL's own network, without having to pay subscription charges (and can dump the '@aol.com' e-mail addresses which are the mark of dangerously incompetent newbies), they might abandon AOL in favour of 'real' ISPs.

It's a learning process, and despite that tongue-in-cheek dig at users of AOL e-mail, I don't have a problem with people undergoing it. As the previous posting mentions, I started with free hosting from Lycos Tripod, and Hotmail's webmail. The point is that I moved on as soon as I discovered superior options. Hence, I'm speculating that a large proportion of AOL's customer base might be transitory - as people 'graduate', fresh newbies join, learn, then in turn leave.

In short, maybe general web literacy is approaching a point where even entry-level users have sufficient background knowledge to simply skip the early learning stages, typified by AOL, and go straight to more advanced usage which itself has become more user-friendly than it once was.

Comments

I don't think there's been any substantial increase in Internet literacy; the average surfer is as ignorant as ever.

The issue is price, nothing else. AOL charges nearly $25 monthly for dialup access; you can get dialup for less than half that without even trying to find it. And broadband can be had for as little as $39 a month, so that's another incentive to ditch AOL. People are voting with their pocketbooks.

Posted by CT at November 12, 2004 06:17 PM

I have a great problem with AOL, and it stems from their takeover of CompuServe.

CIS, the pioneers in consumer online networking, used to be fantastic, both in service and customer service. Then America on Lithium started flooding the world with free blank disks and coasters, and CIS lost market share until AOL bought them out. A year or so after that, I dropped my PPN (Project, Programmer Number; the proper term for a User ID, and always measured in octal). The real wrench about it was that I had that PPN for 19 years; while I wasn't one of the real originals, I had one of the longest continuously used low numbers left on the service. But their customer support, once the pride of business, took a complete hit, and so I went the private ISP route.

If AOL is truly breaking up, or even going under, I will shed few tears.

Posted by Bruce at November 13, 2004 06:41 AM

As to what Bruce said:

<AOL>
Me Too!
</AOL>

I used to be on Compuserve until AOL trashed it and closed the most popular forums.

this tells the story of one of them.

Posted by Tim Hall at November 14, 2004 02:59 PM
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