AOL Not Number One
My new favorite magazine PC World recently published a great piece called “The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time”. It’s a fun and nostalgic list of products which have been released in the Internet age. Some have come and gone, some remain. Many of the 25 were great concepts but failed to be implemented well.
Naturally Microsoft Bob made the list. Bill Gates felt so strongly about this product he married the product manager. There wasn’t room for all the products so some like the Apple Newton and Microsoft WebTV are listed under (Dis)Honorable Mention.
According to author Dan Tynan the number one worst product was America Online. Dan obviously has some issues with AOL but he’s not alone. AOL has always been the target of loathing by a large group of techies. While I admit AOL has made some errors along the way, I regret it will never receive the credit it deserves.
If not for America Online, millions would still be without E-mail. The Internet would be 5–10 year behind its current state. What AOL provided the web was “*critical mass”. If not for critical mass companies like E-Bay, Amazon and even Google never would have had enough customers to cover the costs of doing business.
Yes, I am bias. In a past lifetime, when I worked for AOL, our goal was to provide a service that allowed the general public to get online. The techies at the time complained that we made the software to simple. When AOL members were first introduced to newsgroups they didn’t always know the accepted etiquette and were treated like lepers. Luckily, they came in such numbers the variety of newsgroup topics exploded to the point there’s a discussion out there for any obscure topic you can think of.
I was often quoted as saying, “We designed AOL so any idiot could get online… and a lot of them did”. Luckily, they also brought along a lot to offer. Millions of folks who started off with AOL are now among the largest contributors to the net.
*“Critical mass is the scale or volume at which processes become self-perpetuating.”