AOL (stylized as Aol., formerly a company known as AOL Inc. and originally known as America Online) is an American web portal and online service provider based in New York City. It is a brand marketed by the current incarnation of Yahoo! Inc.
The service traces its history to an online service known as
AOL was one of the early pioneers of the Internet in the early-1990s, and the most recognized brand on the web in the United States. It originally provided a dial-up service to millions of Americans, pioneered
On June 23, 2015, AOL was acquired by Verizon Communications for $4.4 billion. On May 3, 2021, Verizon announced it would sell Yahoo and AOL to private equity firm Apollo Global Management for $5 billion. On September 1, 2021, AOL became part of the new Yahoo! Inc.
1983–1991: Early years
AOL began in 1983, as a short-lived venture called Control Video Corporation (CVC), founded by William von Meister. Its sole product was an online service called GameLine for the Atari 2600 video game console, after von Meister's idea of buying music on demand was rejected by Warner Bros. Subscribers bought a modem from the company for $49.95 and paid a one-time $15 setup fee. GameLine permitted subscribers to temporarily download games and keep track of high scores, at a cost of $1 per game. The telephone disconnected and the downloaded game would remain in GameLine's Master Module and playable until the user turned off the console or downloaded another game.
In January 1983,
On May 24, 1985, Quantum Computer Services, an online services company, was founded by Kimsey from the remnants of Control Video, with Kimsey as chief executive officer, and Marc Seriff as chief technology officer. The technical team consisted of Seriff, Tom Ralston, Ray Heinrich, Steve Trus, Ken Huntsman, Janet Hunter, Dave Brown, Craig Dykstra, Doug Coward, and Mike Ficco. In 1987, Case was promoted again to executive vice-president. Kimsey soon began to groom Case to take over the role of CEO, which he did when Kimsey retired in 1991.
Kimsey changed the company's strategy, and in 1985, launched a dedicated online service for
From the beginning, AOL included online games in its mix of products; many classic and casual games were included in the original PlayNet software system. the company introduced many innovative online interactive titles and games, including:
- Graphical chat environments LucasArts.
- The first online interactive fiction series QuantumLink Serial by Tracy Reed (1988).
- Quantum Space, the first fully automated play-by-mail game(1989–1991).
1991–2006: Internet age, Time Warner merger
In February 1991, AOL for
During the early 1990s, the average subscription lasted for about 25 months and accounted for $350 in total revenue. Advertisements invited modem owners to "Try America Online FREE", promising free software and trial membership.
AOL launched services with the
AOL purchased search engine WebCrawler in 1995, but sold it to Excite the following year; the deal made Excite the sole search and directory service on AOL. After the deal closed in March 1997, AOL launched its own branded search engine, based on Excite, called NetFind. This was renamed to AOL Search in 1999.
AOL charged its users an hourly fee until December 1996,
AOL was quickly running out of room in October 1996 for its network at the Fairfax County campus. In mid-1996, AOL moved to 22000 AOL Way in Dulles, unincorporated Loudoun County, Virginia to provide room for future growth. In a five-year landmark agreement with the most popular operating system, AOL was bundled with Windows software.
On March 31, 1996, the short-lived
In January 2000, as new broadband technologies were being rolled out around the New York City metropolitan area and elsewhere across the U.S., AOL and
In 2004, along with the launch of AOL 9.0 Optimized, AOL also made available the option of personalized greetings which would enable the user to hear his or her name while accessing basic functions and mail alerts, or while logging in or out. In 2005, AOL broadcast the
2006–2009: Rebranding and decline
On April 3, 2006, AOL announced that it would retire the full name America Online. The official name of the service became AOL, and the full name of the
In August 2006, AOL announced that it would offer
- AIM (AOL Instant Messenger)
- AOL Video, which featured professional content and allowed users to upload videos.
- AOL Local, comprising its CityGuide, Yellow Pages and Local Search services to help users find local information like restaurants, local events, and directory listings.
- AOL News
- AOL My eAddress, a custom domain name for email addresses. These email accounts could be accessed in a manner similar to those of other AOL and AIM email accounts.
- Xdrive, which allowed users to back up files over the Internet.
Also in August, AOL informed its U.S. customers of an increase in the price of its
On November 16, 2006, Randy Falco succeeded Jonathan Miller as CEO. In December 2006, AOL closed its last remaining call center in the United States, "taking the America out of America Online," according to industry pundits. Service centers based in India and the Philippines continue to provide customer support and technical assistance to subscribers.
On September 17, 2007, AOL announced the relocation of one of its corporate headquarters from
In October 2007, AOL announced the relocation of its other headquarters from
By November 2007, AOL's customer base had been reduced to 10.1 million subscribers,
On January 3, 2008, AOL announced the closing of its
On March 13, 2008, AOL purchased the social networking site Bebo for $850 million (£417 million). On July 25, AOL announced that it was shuttering Xdrive, AOL Pictures and BlueString to save on costs and focus on its core advertising business. AOL Pictures was closed on December 31. On October 31, AOL Hometown (a web-hosting service for the websites of AOL customers) and the AOL Journal blog hosting service were eliminated.
2009–2015: As a digital media company
On March 12, 2009, Tim Armstrong, formerly with Google, was named chairman and CEO of AOL. On May 28, Time Warner announced that it would position AOL as an independent company after Google's shares ceased at the end of the fiscal year. On November 23, AOL unveiled a new brand identity with the wordmark "Aol." superimposed onto canvases created by commissioned artists. The new identity, designed by Wolff Olins, was integrated with all of AOL's services on December 10, the date upon which AOL traded independently for the first time since the Time Warner merger on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol AOL.
On April 6, 2010, AOL announced plans to shutter or sell Bebo. On June 16, the property was sold to Criterion Capital Partners for an undisclosed amount, believed to be approximately $10 million. In December, AIM eliminated access to AOL chat rooms, noting a marked decline in usage in recent months.
Under Armstrong's leadership, AOL followed a new business direction marked by a series of acquisitions. It announced the acquisition of Patch Media, a network of community-specific news and information sites focused on towns and communities. On September 28, 2010, at the San Francisco TechCrunch Disrupt Conference, AOL signed an agreement to acquire TechCrunch. On December 12, 2010, AOL acquired about.me, a personal profile and identity platform, four days after the platform's public launch.
On January 31, 2011, AOL announced the acquisition of European video distribution network goviral.
On September 14, 2011, AOL formed a strategic ad-selling partnership with two of its largest competitors, Yahoo and Microsoft. The three companies would begin selling inventory on each others' sites. The strategy was designed to help the companies compete with Google and advertising networks.
On February 28, 2012, AOL partnered with PBS to launch MAKERS, a digital documentary series focusing on high-achieving women in industries perceived as male-dominated such as war, comedy, space, business, Hollywood and politics. Subjects for MAKERS episodes have included Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, Martha Stewart, Indra Nooyi, Lena Dunham and Ellen DeGeneres.
On March 15, 2012, AOL announced the acquisition of Hipster, a mobile photo-sharing app, for an undisclosed amount. On April 9, 2012, AOL announced a deal to sell 800 patents to Microsoft for $1.056 billion. The deal included a perpetual license for AOL to use the patents.
In April, AOL took several steps to expand its ability to generate revenue through online video advertising. The company announced that it would offer gross rating point (GRP) guarantee for online video, mirroring the television-ratings system and guaranteeing audience delivery for online-video advertising campaigns bought across its properties. This announcement came just days before the Digital Content NewFront (DCNF) a two-week event held by AOL, Google, Hulu, Microsoft, Vevo and Yahoo to showcase the participating sites' digital video offerings. The DCNF was conducted in advance of the traditional television upfronts in the hope of diverting more advertising money into the digital space. On April 24, the company launched the AOL On network, a single website for its video output.
In February 2013, AOL reported its fourth quarter revenue of $599.5 million, its first growth in quarterly revenue in eight years.
In August 2013, Armstrong announced that Patch Media would scale back or sell hundreds of its local news sites. Not long afterward, layoffs began, with up to 500 out of 1,100 positions initially impacted. On January 15, 2014, Patch Media was spun off, and majority ownership was held by Hale Global. By the end of 2014, AOL controlled 0.74% of the global advertising market, well behind industry leader Google's 31.4%.
On January 23, 2014, AOL acquired Gravity, a software startup that tracked users' online behavior and tailored ads and content based on their interests, for $83 million. The deal, which included approximately 40 Gravity employees and the company's personalization technology, was Armstrong's fourth-largest deal since taking command in 2009. Later that year, AOL acquired Vidible, a company that developed technology to help websites run video content from other publishers, and help video publishers sell their content to these websites. The deal, which was announced December 1, 2014, was reportedly worth roughly $50 million.
On July 16, 2014, AOL earned an
2015–2021: Division of Verizon
On May 12, 2015,
Analyst David Bank said he thought the deal made sense for Verizon. The deal will broaden Verizon's advertising sales platforms and increase its video production ability through websites such as HuffPost, TechCrunch, and Engadget. However, Craig Moffett said it was unlikely the deal would make a big difference to Verizon's bottom line. AOL had about two million dial-up subscribers at the time of the buyout. The announcement caused AOL's stock price to rise 17%, while Verizon's stock price dropped slightly.
Shortly before the Verizon purchase, on April 14, 2015, AOL launched ONE by AOL, a digital marketing programmatic platform that unifies buying channels and audience management platforms to track and optimize campaigns over multiple screens. Later that year, on September 15, AOL expanded the product with ONE by AOL: Creative, which is geared towards creative and media agencies to similarly connect marketing and ad distribution efforts.
On May 8, 2015, AOL reported its first-quarter revenue of $625.1 million, $483.5 million of which came from advertising and related operations, marking a 7% increase from Q1 2014. Over that year, the AOL Platforms division saw a 21% increase in revenue, but a drop in adjusted OIBDA due to increased investments in the company's video and programmatic platforms.
On June 29, 2015, AOL announced a deal with
On July 22, 2015, AOL received two News and Documentary Emmy nominations, one for MAKERS in the Outstanding Historical Programming category, and the other for True Trans With Laura Jane Grace, which documented the story of Laura Jane Grace, a transgender musician best known as the founder, lead singer, songwriter and guitarist of the punk rock band Against Me!, and her decision to come out publicly and overall transition experience.
On September 3, 2015, AOL agreed to buy
On October 1, 2015, Go90, a free ad-supported mobile video service aimed at young adult and teen viewers that Verizon owns and AOL oversees and operates launched its content publicly after months of beta testing. The initial launch line-up included content from Comedy Central, HuffPost, Nerdist News, Univision News, Vice, ESPN and MTV.
On April 20, 2016, AOL acquired virtual reality studio RYOT to bring immersive 360 degree video and VR content to HuffPost's global audience across desktop, mobile, and apps.
In July 2016, Verizon Communications announced its intent to purchase the core internet business of
In April 2018,
In November 2020 the
2021–present: Apollo Global Management
On May 3, 2021, Verizon announced it would sell 90 percent of its Verizon Media division to Apollo Global Management for $5 billion. The division became the second incarnation of Yahoo! Inc.
Products and services
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As of September 1, 2021, the following media brands became subsidiary of AOL's parent
AOL's content contributors consists of over 20,000 bloggers, including politicians, celebrities, academics, and policy experts, who contribute on a wide range of topics making news.
In addition to mobile-optimized web experiences, AOL produces mobile applications for existing AOL properties like Autoblog, Engadget, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and products such as Alto, Pip, and Vivv.
AOL has a global portfolio of media brands and advertising services across mobile, desktop, and TV. Services include brand integration and sponsorships through its in-house branded content arm, Partner Studio by AOL, as well as data and programmatic offerings through ad technology stack, ONE by AOL.
AOL acquired a number of businesses and technologies help to form ONE by AOL. These acquisitions included AdapTV in 2013 and Convertro, Precision Demand, and Vidible in 2014. ONE by AOL is further broken down into ONE by AOL for Publishers (formerly Vidible, AOL On Network and Be On for Publishers) and ONE by AOL for Advertisers, each of which have several sub-platforms.
On September 10, 2018, AOL's parent company Oath consolidated
AOL offers a range of integrated products and properties including communication tools, mobile apps and services and subscription packages.
In 2017, before the discontinuation of AIM, "billions of messages" were sent "daily" on it and AOL's other chat services.
- Dial-up Internet access – While 2.1 million people still used AOL's dial-up service as recently as 2015, only a few thousand were still subscribed as of 2021.
- AOL Mail – AOL Mail is AOL's proprietary email client. It is fully integrated with AIM and links to news headlines on AOL content sites.
- AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) – was AOL's proprietary instant-messaging tool. It was released in 1997. It lost market share to competition in the instant messenger market such as Google Chat, Facebook Messenger, and Skype. It also included a video-chat service, AV by AIM. On December 15, 2017, AOL discontinued AIM.
- AOL Plans – AOL Plans offers three online safety and assistance tools: ID protection, data security and a general online technical assistance service.
|Initial release||December 8, 2007|
1.7 (macOS) / August 10, 2015
11.0.3418 / November 11, 2021.
AOL Desktop is an internet suite produced by AOL from 2007
AOL Desktop version 10.X was different from previous AOL browsers and AOL Desktop versions. Its features are focused on web browsing as well as email. For instance, one does not have to sign into AOL in order to use it as a regular browser. In addition, non-AOL email accounts can be accessed through it. Primary buttons include "MAIL", "IM", and several shortcuts to various web pages. The first two require users to sign in, but the shortcuts to web pages can be used without authentication. AOL Desktop version 10.X was late marked as unsupported in favor of supporting the AOL Desktop 9.X versions.
Version 9.8 was released, replacing the Internet Explorer components of the internet browser with CEF (Chromium Embedded Framework) to give users an improved web browsing experience closer to that of Chrome.
Version 11 of AOL Desktop, was a total rewrite but maintained a similar user interface to the previous 9.8.X series of releases.
In 2017, a new paid version called AOL Desktop Gold was released, available for $4.99 per month after trial. It replaced the previous free version. After the shutdown of AIM in 2017, AOL's original chat rooms continued to be accessible through AOL Desktop Gold, and some rooms remained active during peak hours. That chat system was shut down on December 15, 2020.
In addition to AOL Desktop, the company also offered a browser toolbar Mozilla plug-in, AOL Toolbar, for several web browsers that provided quick access to AOL services. The toolbar was available from 2007 until 2018.
In its earlier incarnation as a "walled garden" community and service provider, AOL received criticism for its community policies, terms of service, and customer service. Prior to 2006, AOL was known for its direct mailing of CD-ROMs and 3.5-inch floppy disks containing its software. The disks were distributed in large numbers; at one point, half of the CDs manufactured worldwide had AOL logos on them. The marketing tactic was criticized for its environmental cost, and AOL CDs were recognized as PC World's most annoying tech product.
AOL used a system of volunteers to moderate its chat rooms, forums and user communities. The program dated back to AOL's early days, when it charged by the hour for access and one of its highest billing services was chat. AOL provided free access to community leaders in exchange for moderating the chat rooms, and this effectively made chat very cheap to operate, and more lucrative than AOL's other services of the era. There were 33,000 community leaders in 1996. All community leaders received hours of training and underwent a probationary period. While most community leaders moderated chat rooms, some ran AOL communities and controlled their layout and design, with as much as 90% of AOL's content being created or overseen by community managers until 1996.
After unlimited access, AOL considered scrapping the program entirely, but continued it with a reduced number of community leaders, with scaled-back roles in creating content. Although community leaders continued to receive free access, after 1996 they were motivated more by the prestige of the position and the access to moderator tools and restricted areas within AOL. By 1999, there were over 15,000 volunteers in the program.
In May 1999, two former volunteers filed a class-action lawsuit alleging AOL violated the
AOL ended its community leader program on June 8, 2005. The class action lawsuit dragged on for years, even after AOL ended the program and AOL declined as a major internet company. In 2010, AOL finally agreed to settle the lawsuit for $15 million.
AOL has faced a number of lawsuits over claims that it has been slow to stop billing customers after their accounts have been canceled, either by the company or the user. In addition, AOL changed its method of calculating used minutes in response to a class action lawsuit. Previously, AOL would add 15 seconds to the time a user was connected to the service and round up to the next whole minute (thus, a person who used the service for 12 minutes and 46 seconds would be charged for 14 minutes). AOL claimed this was to account for sign on/sign off time, but because this practice was not made known to its customers, the plaintiffs won (some also pointed out that signing on and off did not always take 15 seconds, especially when connecting via another ISP). AOL disclosed its connection-time calculation methods to all of its customers and credited them with extra free hours. In addition, the AOL software would notify the user of exactly how long they were connected and how many minutes they were being charged.
AOL was sued by the Ohio Attorney General in October 2003 for improper billing practices. The case was settled on June 8, 2005. AOL agreed to resolve any consumer complaints filed with the Ohio AG's office. In December 2006, AOL agreed to provide restitution to Florida consumers to settle the case filed against them by the Florida Attorney General.
Many customers complained that AOL personnel ignored their demands to cancel service and stop billing. In response to approximately 300 consumer complaints, the
On August 24, 2005, America Online agreed to pay $1.25 million to the state of New York and reformed its customer service procedures. Under the agreement, AOL would no longer require its customer service representatives to meet a minimum quota for customer retention in order to receive a bonus. However the agreement only covered people in the state of New York.
On June 13, 2006, Vincent Ferrari documented his account cancellation phone call in a blog post, stating he had switched to broadband years earlier. In the recorded phone call, the AOL representative refused to cancel the account unless the 30-year-old Ferrari explained why AOL hours were still being recorded on it. Ferrari insisted that AOL software was not even installed on the computer. When Ferrari demanded that the account be canceled regardless, the AOL representative asked to speak with Ferrari's father, for whom the account had been set up. The conversation was aired on CNBC. When CNBC reporters tried to have an account on AOL cancelled, they were hung up on immediately and it ultimately took more than 45 minutes to cancel the account.
On July 19, 2006, AOL's entire
Direct marketing of disks
Prior to 2006, AOL often sent unsolicited mass
The mass distribution of these disks was seen as wasteful by the public and led to protest groups. One such was No More AOL CDs, a web-based effort by two IT workers to collect one million disks with the intent to return the disks to AOL. The website was started in August 2001, and an estimated 410,176 CDs were collected by August 2007 when the project was shut down.
In 2000, AOL was served with an $8 billion lawsuit alleging that its AOL 5.0 software caused significant difficulties for users attempting to use third-party Internet service providers. The lawsuit sought damages of up to $1000 for each user that had downloaded the software cited at the time of the lawsuit. AOL later agreed to a settlement of $15 million, without admission of wrongdoing. The AOL software then was given a feature called AOL Dialer, or AOL Connect on Mac OS X. This feature allowed users to connect to the ISP without running the full interface. This allowed users to use only the applications they wish to use, especially if they do not favor the AOL Browser.
AOL 9.0 was once identified by
When AOL gave clients access to Usenet in 1993, they hid at least one newsgroup in standard list view: alt.aol-sucks. AOL did list the newsgroup in the alternative description view, but changed the description to "Flames and complaints about America Online". With AOL clients swarming Usenet newsgroups, the old, existing user base started to develop a strong distaste for both AOL and its clients, referring to the new state of affairs as Eternal September.
AOL discontinued access to Usenet on June 25, 2005.
Terms of Service (TOS)
AOL has a detailed set of guidelines and expectations for users on their service, known as the
There have been many complaints over rules that govern an AOL user's conduct. Some users disagree with the TOS, citing the guidelines are too strict to follow coupled with the fact the TOS may change without users being made aware. A considerable cause for this was likely due to alleged censorship of user-generated content during the earlier years of growth for AOL.
In early 2005, AOL stated its intention to implement a
This decision drew fire from MoveOn, which characterized the program as an "email tax", and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which characterized it as a shakedown of non-profits. A website called Dearaol.com was launched, with an online petition and a blog that garnered hundreds of signatures from people and organizations expressing their opposition to AOL's use of Goodmail.
Esther Dyson defended the move in an editorial in The New York Times, saying "I hope Goodmail succeeds, and that it has lots of competition. I also think it and its competitors will eventually transform into services that more directly serve the interests of mail recipients. Instead of the fees going to Goodmail and AOL, they will also be shared with the individual recipients."
Tim Lee of the Technology Liberation Front
The dearaol.com campaign lost momentum and disappeared, with the last post to the now defunct dearaol.com blog—"AOL starts the shakedown" being made on May 9, 2006.
Comcast, who also used the service, announced on its website that Goodmail had ceased operations and as of February 4, 2011, they no longer used the service.
On August 4, 2006, AOL released a compressed text file on one of its websites containing 20 million search keywords for over 650,000 users over a 3-month period between March 1, 2006 and May 31, intended for research purposes. AOL pulled the file from public access by August 7, but not before its wide distribution on the Internet by others. Derivative research, titled A Picture of Search was published by authors Pass, Chowdhury and Torgeson for The First International Conference on Scalable Information Systems.
The data were used by websites such as AOLstalker for entertainment purposes, where users of AOLstalker are encouraged to judge AOL clients based on the humorousness of personal details revealed by search behavior.
User list exposure
In 2003, Jason Smathers, an AOL employee, was convicted of stealing America Online's 92 million screen names and selling them to a known spammer. Smathers pled guilty to conspiracy charges in 2005. Smathers pled guilty to violations of the US CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. He was sentenced in August 2005 to 15 months in prison; the sentencing judge also recommended Smathers be forced to pay $84,000 in restitution, triple the $28,000 that he sold the addresses for.
AOL's Computer Checkup "scareware"
On February 27, 2012, a
AOL continues to market Computer Checkup.
NSA Prism program
Following media reports about
Hosting of user profiles changed, then discontinued
At one time, most AOL users had an online "profile" hosted by the AOL Hometown service. When AOL Hometown was discontinued, users had to create a new profile on Bebo. This was an unsuccessful attempt to create a social network that would compete with Facebook. When the value of Bebo decreased to a tiny fraction of the $850 million AOL paid for it, users were forced to recreate their profiles yet again, on a new service called AOL Lifestream.
AOL took the decision to shut down Lifestream on February 24, 2017, and gave users one month's notice to save photos and videos that had been uploaded to Lifestream. Following the shutdown, AOL no longer provides any option for hosting user profiles.
During the Hometown/Bebo/Lifestream era, another user's profile could be displayed by clicking the "Buddy Info" button in the AOL Desktop software. After the shutdown of Lifestream, this was no longer supported, but opened to the
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