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Monday, October 25, 2010

A Brief History of the Web- Part six...








   I've mentioned the great AOL Time Warner debacle previously in my 'A Brief History of the Web' series, at least a couple of times.   I was just teasing you, whetting your appetite for a tasty disaster story.

  Are you ready for it?  Here it is!

  Make sure you've caught up with this popular series, before diving further in to this post, part six:



   Throughout the 1990s, as the World Wide Web rapidly grew in users, Prodigy, Compuserve and AOL started to take a hit, even though all three services started to offer a web browser, starting around 1996.

   AOL was the obnoxious alpha male of the online service providers.  You know what they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

   Back in 1985, before AOL was named AOL (or America Online) and I was being potty trained, Jim Kimsey and Steve Case started an online service for Commodore 64 computers, years before the web existed.   It was named Quantum Link.  Below is a screenshot from that year.  Commodore 64 screenshots!  I'm going hardcore now.  Hardcore!

Quantum Link on Commodore 64 in 1985

   America Online started as a BBS system for Apple computers in 1989.  By 1991, AOL was launched for DOS and Windows OSes.  AOL proceeded to explode in popularity, adopting poor business practices along the way.  As they were the big guy on the block, compared to Prodigy and Compuserve, their competitors, they thought that they were 'all that', and became aggressive.  In the mid-1990s, people had to scrub all the AOL CD-ROMs that accumulated everyday off their backs, in the shower with a rough loofah.   After a long shower, hundreds of CDs would wash down the drain. 

   It was terrible!  You just had to be there...

   And if you wanted to call to cancel after your 700, 1000, or 6666 'free hours', AOL's CSRs were forced to make cancellation impossible.   'No' didn't mean 'no'.  'No' meant 'yes'!  As you were saying 'no', several new charges would show up on your credit card bill.  'No' meant 'I want to sign up for 100 years', right?

   Ladies and gentlemen, here's an evolution of AOL logos, from 1991 to 2010:

AOL logo, from 1991-2006
AOL logo, from 2006-2009

A series of new 2010 AOL logos.  See, now the logo is just a transparency layer, to be placed on any random graphic you want.  Is this creativity, or desperation?
   
   Oh, you guys keep telling me you love the old screenshots.  So, here's some for aol.com:

An aol.com screenshot from 1996, back when they could do no wrong...

aol.com in February 2000, mere weeks after the announcement of the AOL Time Warner merger

  
aol.com in January 2001, around the time the AOL Time Warner merger was legally and financially finalized

  And here's a logo AOL Time Warner adopted for the 2000-2001 merger:





   Yes, back in 2000, Time Warner was a sweet, wealthy young lady who laid eyes on the new kid on the block, AOL.   AOL had a little less money than Time Warner, but was still pretty wealthy at the time.  Time Warner would scribble in her notebook in pink pen ink, "Mrs. AOL, Mrs. AOL, Mrs. AOL..."  She thought, as AOL was such a pushy big guy, who seemed to be on the cutting edge of a new technological revolution, that marrying him would make her even MORE wealthy, even though she still made a little more than he did, at the time.

  Miss Time Warner came from an old money family, very well established in the media and corporate communities.   AOL wanted the kind of legitimacy he could only get from marrying old money.  Time Warner wanted to be hip, cool, cutting edge.

  Each had something the other wanted.  "Babe, with my fancy Internet stuff and ISP subscriber base, and your content generation, media properties (including Bugs Bunny!), Hollywood investments, television and magazine subscribers, we could take over the world.  Just you and me, babe!  Once we rule Planet Earth, Marvin the Martian should be no problem!"

   "It's synergy!  SYNERGY!  The hottest new word of the new millennium!  Why, in Fortune magazine's January 2000 issue alone, the word appeared thousands of times!"

   A week or so after AOL and Time Warner's engagement was announced to the world, Time Warner's Time magazine did a cover about it.

   Now, I don't feel so bad about writing about my father's books here or on Blogcritics.org.   Thanks, Time Warner!


  
   And here's what happened to AOL's subscriber base, after the merger:

This image is courtesy of Wikipedia

   By 2002, AOL lost $99 billion dollars, the largest loss ever for a corporation at the time.  AOL and Time Warner filed for divorce in 2003.

   What do couples fight about most often?  Money, of course!

  Now, AOL is a mere shadow of it's former self.  To continue my corporation=person metaphor,  AOL is now flipping burgers at his local McDonald's franchise, making money, but $6.00 an hour pales in comparison to $6 million an hour.

   The other big name in the 'dot com' bust of 1999-2001 was Pets.com.

Pets.com screenshot from the year 2000
    Pets.com received a huge amount of money from investors from 1998 until 2000.  Amazon was actually one of those investors.  What was Jeff Bezos thinking?

     He was probably thinking what most business people were thinking at the time.  "If you spend enough hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising, a 'dot com' is sure to become a huge moneymaker!"

     Well, all that money spent did have some effect.  By 1999, millions of people were familiar with the Pets.com sock puppet mascot.  "Why shop at Pets.com?  Because pets can't drive!"



   The people behind Conan O'Brien's Triumph The Insult Comic Dog, who debuted in 1997, sued Pets.com over their sock puppet mascot.




  
Really, the lawsuit was pretty silly. Don't those Americans realize MuchMusic and CityTV's Ed the Sock first appeared on Canadian television a few years earlier?





   Anyway, Pets.com was a corporation for less than two years, fizzling out by the year 2001.   Many other multi-million dollar 'dot coms', such as Garden.com and Webvan also crashed and burned before 2001 was over.

   Part seven is coming up in a couple of days, dear readers!  The 'dot com' bust wasn't so bad, because Web 2.0, Google, social networking and Wikipedia quickly caught on.

   Keep reading this blog for the good news in the final few parts of my 'A Brief History of the Web' series.   I also have a lot more great articles, coming right up, right here!

  I also have a lot planned for Blogcritics.   Keep visiting both websites, so you don't miss a thing!






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