AOL Review

AOL isn't strictly an ISP, it's an online service provider, but with 35 million members world wide, we can scarcely ignore it.

Hello, all. Good to be back. I went on holiday to the UK for some months. Returning to New York made me remember a World War 2 British saying about American GIs: "They're oversexed, they're overfed, and they're over here."

The U.S. truly is Supersize Nation, from cars to appetites to online services such as AOL, with an almost endless array of features for a great big price. (Or rather, for several different prices, none of them frugal.)

A lot's being said about Ted Turner stepping down as vice chairman of AOL Time Warner just when the corporation are also posting a staggering financial loss. But what's not being said is there's nowhere to go but down when you're King of the Mountain.

Recognising this, AOL isn't passively waiting to be toppled. It's recently launched three new versions: one for small businesses, one for PC users with an emphasis on broadband, and a long-awaited new version for Macintosh users.

The 8.0 small business service has been disappointing so far. A former employer of mine who favoured AOL for his own business use envisioned a product that would meld their strengths (IMs, chat, and easy switching between local access phone numbers) with a service like OfficeClip ( for running virtual meetings and tracking projects and budgets.

What AOL have given instead is some fairly superficial business editorial content, business-oriented online shopping, and an awkward and confusing interface with VeriSign to host a mere one-page web site with domain and a single associated e-mail address for $49 atop AOL's monthly fees. Worse yet, if you're a Macintosh user, you can't even access this service to criticise it. I suppose you can fairly say they've made a start, but that's about all.

As for its broadband foray, AOL is marketing this service as "Home Networking", emphasising broadband as a means for several family members to use a single connection for simultaneous access to AOL. In an effort to retain its (more profitable) dial-up subscriptions whilst growing broadband, the Home Networking feature is free when members sign up for the AOL Broadband service but also keep dial-up access. AOL has also begun providing "premium" broadband content in the form of music performance "first looks" and an improved Radio@AOL service.

I personally don't find it thrilling to pay tons of extra money to see movie trailers. For $55 a month, I can go to the movies, take a couple friends, and discuss the trailers afterward over a nice cream tea. But AOL smartly mirrors this experience by linking its broadband content to its beloved chats and discussion boards (with their "bring-your-own-tea" access).


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