Friday, October 21, 2011

AOL Tales

The other day I got a funny e-mail from AOL. The subject line: "Thanks for being with AOL Mail since 1995."

Yes, it's true. I still use the same e-mail address that I've used since I first ventured online. While others have hopped from one provider to another for various reasons, I've stayed put.

To be honest, it's more out of laziness than anything else. I don't want to have to inform the world that I have a new e-mail address, so I just keep the old one.

But I've never had many complaints about AOL, or America Online, as it was known in the beginning. Sure, I paid for it, at least at first -- my dialup service fees were something like $23 a month, if I remember right. When I got a DSL connection, in 2004 or so, I tried to unsubscribe, like thousands of other Americans who no longer needed dialup. But AOL -- known at the time for tenaciously holding on to customers -- instead sold me a $4.99 monthly plan that allowed me to keep my e-mail account. (Sucker!)

That arrangement went away pretty quickly as AOL realized it couldn't compete with all the free e-mail providers. AOL became free too.

AOL does have a bit of an image problem. When I was job hunting in 2009, it was suggested that I might want to change my e-mail address, because @AOL brought to mind a grandma in Peoria, someone naive to the ways of the Web -- a digital newbie. So I signed up for a gmail account, but I never used it. I figured if someone is so painfully style-conscious that they're going to make assumptions about me based on my e-mail address, I might not want to work for them anyway.

AOL noted in its e-mail to me that a lot of things have changed since 1995, when "Toy Story" was released and eBay was founded. ("One of the first items sold is a broken laser pointer, bought for $14.83 by a self-proclaimed collector of broken laser pointers.")

And to thank me (and presumably other customers) for sticking around, AOL sent a link to a printable paper doll. I thought, "Boy, I bet nobody will take the time to put that thing together." And then I promptly did. I printed it out (it's supposed to be blue, but for some reason mine came out black) and assembled it in about 20 minutes.

He looks vaguely prehistoric, which may not be the message AOL intended to send, but oh well. I like him anyway.


The Bug said...

I had to giggle at your thought that no one would bother with the doll & then you promptly did. I would have too.

What I remember most about AOL is throwing away what must have been hundreds or dozens of CDs that came in the mail.

Steve Reed said...

Yeah, those CDs were obnoxious. I remember seeing stacks of them strewn all over the sidewalk in New York. Apparently at some point there was a protest movement aimed at coercing the company to stop sending them out -- someone collected tens of thousands of them to return them to AOL.

Barbara said...

I somehow bypassed AOL in my email odyssey. I wonder what percentage of their customers have been around as long as you have. What incentive do they have to keep you now that you no longer pay them?

It's interesting to think about all the physical electronic media that is becoming a thing of the past: Beta videos, VHS videos, floppy disks, 3" diskettes, and on and on and on. Everything is becoming digital, meaning that we may never have to touch it again!