I think most of us can remember getting our start on AOL. Hell, in 1994, it was the consumer-level application for internet access. I remember first using it on Windows 3.11 (!).
Yet, I think we can all agree that AOL has become the bane of our existence. From become an unwieldy, mammoth body of code with a tendency to hose users’ computers, to their incessant marketing tactics of mass-mailing installation CDs and making deals with OEMs to come preinstalled on PCs; the limited browsing capabilities (the modified, integrated version of IE that it uses for a web browser), the spam, the horrid bloat, the slow service. The obscene price.
No wonder, then, that AOL is sinking like a frozen Leo.
As of September 30, the AOL service totaled 20.1 million U.S. members, a decline of 678,000 from the prior quarter and 2.6 million from the year-ago quarter. In Europe, the AOL service had 6.1 million members, a decrease of 98,000 from the previous quarter and a decline of 170,000 from last year’s quarter.
For a business of any size to lose 678,000 customers in three months — that’s more than 300 subscribers an hour — you have to be doing something wrong. Maybe everything.
I think the greatest irony of all is their latest slew of commercials, which say—in more words—”We offer you the safest, best browsing experience around!” and I snort milk up my nose.
It seems like the only viable IP that AOL’s got is a near-monopoly on the instant messaging market. Certainly, everyone and their mother uses AIM. Problem is, fewer and fewer people are actually using the official client, which serves ads as a source of revenue. In case you’re wondering, there’s either DeadAIM, which removes the ads and adds extra functionality, or Trillian, or Gaim, or Miranda. For Linux, there’s Gaim and Kopete. For Mac, there’s AdiumX. Not even the beta Triton software can renew interest in AOL’s commercial solutions, I don’t think. I predict we’re going to see a steady decline in AOL’s market share as Google’s client (based on the open Jabber protocol) comes into the light.