The more I think about it, the more AOL bothers me

It already perplexes me why people would pay $10 or more extra a month for AOL, when every single service it has can be found for free elsewhere.

I just saw another AOL ad, talking about how it is the best “back-to-school aid.”

Among the selling points: Some excited kid saying, “AOL offers dictionaries and encyclopedias!”

If I can’t find you at least a dozen of each free on the Internet, I’ll turn in my modem.

Another selling point: AOL Instant Messenger. You can find several different free instant messengers on the Net, including AIM. You don’t have to subscribe to AOL to use it.

Email = scores of free Internet options. Is some guy saying “You’ve got mail” worth an extra $10-20 each month?

And loads of other, meaningless selling points.

I can’t explain why this bothers me more than people selling other kinds of products for far more than is necessary, catering to people who apparently don’t know any better. It just does.

You can get the “You’ve got mail” sound free on the net, so scratch that reason too.

AOL bugs me, too. Some people who use AOL think AOL is the Internet - that really bugs me.

AOL = Overpriced, crappy service.

And I have never even had AOL. My feeling come from trying to help out people who are having computer problems. As soon as they say they have AOL, I suggest getting rid of it - seems a lot of computer problems go away once a computer is AOL free.

I used to work for one of the local ISPs. Most of my job was helping new customers understand how to use the internet without AOL. Sad, sad, sad…

There was a time when AOL made a lot more sense than it does now.

• There were many cool and fascinating “posting areas”, the equivalent of bulletin-board web sites, on AOL. There were also useful and informative resource areas, news, and software repositories. AOL was a rich content provider at a time when the internet was primarily used only by college students and military personnel.

• To run Mosaic, you needed a color-capable Mac; or, if you were on a PC, you needed Windows (3.1) to run a browser. For AOL, though, you could make do with your black-and-white Mac, or even with MS-DOS. (Yes, there was a DOS version of AOL).

• Search engines are things we take for granted now, but there WAS a time before Yahoo caught on and became known. Finding your way around the early web was like meandering through a library of books shelved in no particular order with no names on the covers and no card catalog. AOL at the same time had that screen that let you explore what was there, not to mention the “keyword” thing.

• URLs have gotten simpler and browsers smarter. Companies and other major sites register several variations on their name or nickname and have them DNS’ed to their site, and most browsers will take you to if you just type “gizmo”. In 1994 it would have been or something, no other variations would have gotten you there, and your browser would not have completed any part of it for you. AOL was just easier.

• Your operating system nowadays knows what to do when you click on in a browser window, or in the body of an email. There was a time, though, when standalone email programs did not communicate with standalone browser programs or vice versa, and your OS knew little about URLs. AOL’s all-in-one package was a lot more convenient back then.

• Setting up TCP/IP was no picnic back then. Do you remember wrestling with MacTCP in the days before Open Transport? How about installing Trumpet Winsock or whatever it was called on Windows 3.11, and binding the protocol to the adapter and all that? AOL was ease-of-use incarnate in comparison. You inserted the disk and installed the program and it did its own configuring for you.

• When you were elsewhere, other than at your home computer, having a regular ISP generally meant not being able to get your email. The days of web-based email were yet to come. AOL, on the other hand, would allow you to log in as yourself from anywhere as long as the software was installed.

• Then there were file attachments. Nowadays I bet you just drag your Excel document or your MP3 file into your email message window, or click the paperclip and navigate to the file and select it at the worst. Back then, it was 7 bit ASCII or nothing. You had to compress the file (to make it as small as possible, given the 2400 baud modems we were using) with a file compression program, then encode it (BinHex for Macs, UUEncode for PCs), and only THEN attach it to your outbound email. And on the other end you had to have the software to decode and decompress them. AOL had built-in file compression/decompression/decoding and because it was propretary did not require files to be encoded.

• AOL’s software wasn’t always the hideously buggy, resource-eating, system-destabilizing monstrosity it is today. AOL 2.x was a pretty streamlined and innocuous little program before they tried to bundle a web browser into it. And they did a pretty decent job with AOL 3 except for the annoying spray of Extensions (Mac) and proprietary network adapters (PC) that enabled AOL to be a TCP/IP connection-establisher and therefore a bridge to the internet (which previously was another, totally separate world).

I think the first turning point was the release of Netscape 2.0, which incorporated email and newsgroup client along with a solid and fast browser. I signed up with earthlink and got Netscape for free (it was technically not free to everyone back then) and soon the only major remaining attraction for AOL was some of the content areas.

The second turning point (point of no return for me) was the move towards flat-rate monthly billing. Once their model no longer encouraged them to try to keep you online as long as possible, AOL axed huge chunks of their content area. Every week another favorite browsing/posting place was condemned and soon there wasn’t much there.

Er, be so kind as to tell us where you’re getting free Internet access? :confused:

People who hate AOL have never had MSN. We just switched from MSN to AOL, after getting fed up with MSN’s many random pointless disconnects, gonzo error messages, annoying requests to “Sign On” when we were already signed on, and frequent inability to get online at all.

So, what bad things is AOL going to do to me, that I have to look forward to? :smiley: Steve Case gonna come over to my house and kick my dog, or what?

The beauty of the free market economy, of course, is that you don’t have to use a product if you don’t want to. But lots of people want to use AOL, so why begrudge them?

I particularly enjoyed their assimilation of CompuServe. Groups on Shakespeare and poetry that I had belonged to for years ruined. The poetry group immediately disappears, even though it had heavy traffic. (The Shakespeare group seemed to mutate.)

I get an email after the merger, saying how much AOL is committed to the arts, poetry, and blah-blah.

I write two letters, the first one very polite and carefully reasoned, asking whether the poetry forum could be restored. Form letter response to both.

I cancelled my AOL account, joined Earthlink. I don’t care if the L. Ron Hubbard people own Earthlink, there’s no excuse for AOL corporate disinformation and incompetence or take-over crapola.

Well, first, you’re going to pay more money. You’re going to get lots of popup ads. You’re going to have a service that might not be any better than MSN. It will automatically download and install updates/other programs/files onto your computer (When my friend had AOL 7.0, it downloaded and installed realplayer and set it to be his default player).

These are just some of the minor annoyances. AOL also sucks up loads of system resources, and I’ve read about AOL interfering with file-handling of competing programs (dunno how true that is or exactly what it means, but I’ve seen it in more than one place, one of them a computer magazine).

If you want dialup, take Earthlink. It’s better than AOL without all the crap for less money.

Because when AOL screws up the computers of friends and relatives, who do you think they call to come fix it? Especially after trying AOL customer service once or twice?

When I worked for previously mentioned ISP, the first thing we did for former AOL users was help them to completely remove AOL from their computers. If we didn’t, more than half the time AOL would prevent our service from working. The only way to keep AOL and use our service involved tinkering with the registry – not a good idea to do over the phone.

You have the freedom to say no. Besides, do you really think that these people wouldn’t be calling you with other issues if it weren’t for AOL?

The point I was trying to make was, AOL users pay an extra $10-20 per month for Internet access than is otherwise necessary. For that money, they receive services, virtually all of which can be found in comparable forms on the Internet for free now.

As has been pointed out, this is America, and you are perfectly free to spend more money than you need to on a service. Have at 'er.

Sorry I touched a nerve. Twas my observation. YMMV.

You say no to my family and see how long you stay in the will. :wink: (Joking.)

i know that I can say no, of course. But those friends and relatives who use other services besides AOL have much fewer problems and thus need a lot less help. Plus, I feel that the way AOL is set up, it gives much less incentive for people to learn how the internet actually works, and so the users tend to understand the internet a lot less. But that’s just a generalization based on my experience.

I am not saying this is the case for all of its users. But it strikes me that AOL has as its target niche people who are uncomfortable with and not familiar with the Internet.

Something about catering to such a group, and charging significantly more, rubs me the wrong way. Especially while spreading a message that what makes your service so great are traits that are somehow unique to your service, when they are not.

And people have told me they like AOL because it’s so much easier to use. When I tried using it, I had the opposite experience. I couldn’t figure out how to do anything I wanted to.

I guess it’s a matter of what you become used to. Which goes back to them charging more. Sort of the point of my whole mild little rant.

I also wanted to thank AHunter3 for an interesting review of why AOL was important in the history of the Net. You taught me a lot that I didn’t know.

I have never had AOL myself but sign me in as one who has had to help people remove AOL crap from their computers. In fact I just had a friend sign up with Earthlink in the last few days. The good think about a regular ISP is you configure a DUN connectoid by hand in five minutes and you are connected. No need to load 8anything* else. I specifically tell people not to use the installation disks of any ISP. Just configure your DUN connection by hand.

Okay, I see what you meant, like when you have a basic AOL news/weather/stock ticker thing piggybacked onto some local ISP.

Well, the big problem here in Decatur is local access numbers–most ISPs don’t have 'em, period. If you look up “217” access numbers, they’re all numbers in Springfield or Champaign, which is a long-distance call for us.

We would have ATT Worldnet, no question, if they had a Decatur access number. And we do have problems with the Earthlink/Scientology connection, sorry. Actually, the reason we stuck with MSN for so long was because it was like “the lesser of two evils”–which major corporation do you want to give your money to, Microsoft or AOL/Time/Warner?

There are a couple of local ISPs, but they give the impression of being not terribly stable Mom-and-pop operations, and we’re tired of always having to futz around with the computer, ya know? We’re ready for a “one stop does it all” turnkey operation, which is what AOL offers.

When we first got MSN, about 18 months ago, they had one (1) local access number, which was shared by Juno. Service was poor–it was rare to be able to get online without at least five “the line is busy” dialups. Service got suckier and suckier, and they kept giving us more access numbers, and service continued to be sucky, until by last month we had four local numbers, and we still rarely were able to get online without at least 20 “the line is busy” cycles through all four numbers. And that wasn’t including an 888 number that MSN apparently downloaded onto our machine at some point without telling us (one day, there it was, Poof! But it didn’t help.)

And I haven’t mentioned the many frequent random disconnects–maybe you’d have just finished loading a thread (so it wasn’t because of the “you’ve been offline” time-out thingie), and suddenly there’d be a “click” from the hard drive, and the little green fingerpointing logo would go to red. So it’s back to “the line is busy, the line is busy”.

So our frustration level got to the point where anything would have been an improvement, and so far, AOL works for us. We downloaded it, with the access numbers given, and right off the bat–“the line is busy, the line is busy”. So I was mad enough to call AOL tech support, and the guy walked me through Expert Setup and put in two more numbers. Right then and there. Both of which work.

Also, when you’re trying to sign on with AOL, if it can’t get through, it doesn’t give you that whole retarded “The number you are about to dial may be a toll call where you are. Do you still want to dial the number?” thing like MSN does. I mean, what does it think I’m gonna say, “no, never mind, I’ll just go knit or something”? No, AOL just goes, “Requesting network assistance,” and then a few seconds later, there you are, online.

See, we’re not the kind of folks who know how to configure a DUN connection by hand, whatever that is. We’re point and click, lowest common denominator non-tech folks. “Not familiar with the Internet”, that’s us, in a nutshell. Why do we need to know “how the Internet really works” just to find pictures of horses for a school report, or to look up Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease? I don’t need to know how an offset printing press works in order to look something up in the encyclopedia.

And, I don’t really notice any more popup ads than with MSN. You mean like when you go to sign off on AOL and it asks you if ya wanna sign up for AOL Broadband or some other thing? That’s just one popup, and all you do is click on “no thanks”. It’s not that big a deal, and to us it’s well worth the tradeoff in being able to get online, period.

So. [shrug]

What’s the Earthlink/Scientology connection? Is it just that some Scientologists are high-level execs, or does Scientology own a significant share of Earthlink?

FTR, AOL bothers me too. Whenever I see that someone is paying $20 for dial-up, I’m blown away by their gall. But as DDG pointed out, some people don’t have a choice, and that’s why they can get away with it.

DDG, a DUN is dial-up network. It just means configuring your connection with the right phone number.

I haven’t heard about the earthlink/scientology connection before. Can someone post a cite?

I use AT&T for the record, and am very happy paying $14/month for barebones access.

I never had AOL, but I remember a time years ago when I was tempted to get it, because of some content they had that you couldn’t get elsewhere. I think it was called “The Straight Rope” or “The Straight Hope” or something like that.

My problem with AOL is how they shamelessly co-opt every web resource they can.

“You can do all your shopping at AOL keyword ebay!”

This fosters the impression that ebay and other resources which have nothing to do with AOL are somehow part of AOL and accessible only with AOL membership. The greedy leading the stupid.