Posted by: nickgerlich | April 25, 2008


Back in the day, an icon could expect to be…well, iconic, for a long time. It kind of went with the territory, and there was almost an assurance of lifelong employment basking in the glow of elite cultural supremacy.

But not anymore.

AOLTake, for example, the larger than life persona of AOL, whose “You’ve Got Mail” went from being culture touchstone to albatross. When one considers how fast AOL’s rise and fall has occurred, it onloy reinforces the notion that you’d better not get too comfortable in E Society.

Because someone else wants your gig.

AOL peaked at 27 million subscribers, but has seen it dwindle to a mere 10 million. In internet terms, that’s nothing. Facebook has 67 million users, while MySpace has over 110 million. And our fascination with getting email has long since passed. In fact, for most of us, what was once novelty has now become drudgery. Even a storybook Hollywood romance between Tom Hanks and the beautiful Meg Ryan couldn’lt keep AOL on top for long.

OK, I showed my bias there. Did you expect me to say that Tom Hanks is beautiful or something?

But I digress. My point is: How does one go from industry powerhouse to doormat in just a few years?

Simple. Technology changed, and dial-up went the way of the fax machine, typewriter, and VCR. Wi-Fi trumps No-Fi 7 days a week.

The bizarre thing is that AOL was actually prescient in other avenues. AOL Instant Messenger was actually light years ahead of its time, and its Member Directory and Buddy Lists were social networking before anyone even knew what the phrase meant.

Time-Warner’s acquisition of AOL couldn’t patch this sinking ship either. Being a bastion of old media does not necessarily translate well into new media.

But that’s not all. AOL has simply allowed its innovations to be eroded by others. Their MapQuest service has been tromped by Google Maps. Their AOL Internet Phone has been unplugged by Vonage and Skype. A revived Member Directory (called AIM) tried to compete with MySpace, but it was too late.

This is not to say that all is dead or dying at AOL. Their Truveo video search engine is hot, and TMZ delivers the celebrity gossip buzz. AOL Music and AOL TV are doing quite well.

But the fact remains that Time-Warner is stuck with a spent firework display. The sparks are mostly gone, and Time-Warner was smart to remove AOL from its corporate name back in 2003. They saw the writing on the board room wall back then. The only problem is, who would ever want to buy AOL today?

Ooh…hang on…I think I just got through my modem into AOL.

Welcome! You’ve Got Mail!

Yeah, sure. Would you like me to throw you a life preserver? Wireless, of course.

Dr “Cut The Cord” Gerlich


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