America Online has decided to pull the plug on AOL Journals, the blogging initiative I was a principal of for four and a half years, effective at the end of this month, and some of the folks who had journals there (or still do, for the next month) have asked me if I have any thoughts on its demise.
The major thought is that it doesn’t actually come as a surprise to me. AOL Journals, like a number of AOL initiatives of the time, was something of a member retention maneuver: i.e., a product to give to members so they wouldn’t leave the service and go somewhere else. Since that time, however, AOL has moved toward advertising as a revenue model, so member retention initiatives don’t really matter much anymore. I personally can’t remember the last time I actually signed on to AOL; I don’t know that an actual AOL client actually exists anymore. But I do visit AOL-owned sites with advertising on them (most notably Engadget); I don’t suspect my pattern of use is remarkable.
And the fact of the matter is that while AOL Journals did have a core, committed community, that community was far smaller than the ones on other blogging software, like LiveJournal or Blogger. That didn’t put it in good stead when it came to advertising revenues (AOL started putting ads on AOL Journals a couple of years ago); there’s no point putting ads where not a lot of people are going to see them. Basically, once AOL threw its lot in with advertising as a primary revenue source, AOL Journal’s days were numbered.
This happened before with AOL; when AOL switched over from an hourly rate to a flat monthly fee, a lot of areas on the service disappeared because their business model was predicated on the previous way of making money. There were lots of complaints then, too, but at the end of the day AOL is a business and acts that way, whether the year is 1996 or 2008.
I do feel immensely sorry for the AOL-J community there, however. My understanding is that AOL is going to open up a migration path for AOL Journals to another blogging service (it looks to be Blogger, which makes sense because Google — Blogger’s parent — is a stakeholder in AOL) so people who want to keep blogging can port the contents of their blogs there and keep going. But make no mistake that it’s going to tear up the community, since people who port over won’t necessarily know how to find each others’ blogs immediately, and I suspect more than a few of these folks will either mess up the transition (one of the attractions of AOL Journals was its simplicity of use, much like the attraction of AOL in general) or simply decide not to blog anymore. It’s disheartening to be thrown out of one’s home, even if there’s somewhere else to go.
So: Not surprising, but sad all the same. I hope all the folks still on AOL-J find new homes and keep in touch with each other, and find some way to keep their community going. I think some of them will.