AOL Journals, 2003 – 2008

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.

13 Comments on “AOL Journals, 2003 – 2008”

  1. This is why it’s stupid to trust someone else’s web service with your data. Even if they provide a migration path, it’s guaranteed to be a huge hassle.

  2. I’ve seen two journals so far whose writers currently plan to quit blogging. I hope that they’ll reconsider before the month is out.

    And it is sad. I remember when all this stuff was shiny and new, and there was a real community spirit on AOL. Maybe the last of that spirit can be spent in mutual support to get everyone who wants to continue onto the new platform and in touch with each other.

  3. Now you mention it I haven’t seen anybody called an AOL Lamer in years. Once upon a time every other magazine you bought had a AOL connection disk stuck to the front cover.

  4. Once upon a time every other magazine you bought had a AOL connection disk stuck to the front cover
    Ahh yes, the ones that offered more free hours in a month than actually existed in a month. I found one of those in my house recently, actually.

  5. Mmph. It’s always a shame when a community gets broken up, but as Larry D’Anna points out, it’s always a risky proposition putting one’s eggs in any “free” basket. Everything costs someone something, and if it’s not getting paid for, it’s going to go away sooner or later – even this cozy little blog here’s having Issues with the back-end, as painless as we all hope transitions will be.

    Services like Blogger, Livejournal, Facebook et al – you know, fine and stuff, but if you get serious about any kind of online presence, then it’s time to get your own hosting. Even then, ISPs go bust.

    Such is life in the luminiferous æther.

  6. I remember losing the first online community I was in, back in 1994. The forum software it ran on was horribly buggy and obsolete, and the university no longer wanted to support it. There was much outcry and outrage, but in the end it just died. Only a few people transplanted over to Usenet. :(

  7. What do you think about AOL email account? Do you think that will continue, I know their browser stinks! What do you think will be next with them. Should we start getting new e-mail addresses?

  8. As an oldie going back to the days of 300 baud on Compuserve (I still remember my PPN), I’ve seen a number of such communities grow, flourish for a time, and then be disbanded by changes in their host’s technology or business model. Although there were attempts to preserve them elsewhere, all I’m familiar with basically disintegrated, never to be resurrected.

  9. Oh Man! Oh well, now I can start embroidering stories about the good old days at AOL journals.

    Before “By the Way” goes into the ether — If you remember where it is, you once did a post on a drawing of a cat that Athena did. (I think that she said it was about a space cat). The cat was mostly yellow and the drawing was all wonderful, I have gone back to look for it a couple of times, can’t find it.

    If you have time and remember — where is that (space) cat?

  10. As one can see by my email address [I have a contingency one] it’s still alive for the nonce.

    The communities are dead. There used to be a rich and lively SF community there ten years ago.

    I still have Michael F. Flynn noodging me to return to the Creationism v Evolution and Religion in Politics message boards after AOL closed all the Old Style boards January 2007.

    The web browser is less than pleasing.

    Previously [I still check my mail through v6] I could open six or seven messages simultaneously, answer mail, check news, and drag quote snips [“I never said that! Ooops, I did. Sowwy.”] from other threads to a response in a matter of seconds.

    The change to a one page at a time flat view was like going from an Olympic dash to a hippo mud wallow.

    The nearly had me begrudgingly accept the trade-offs when they let me download high-quality music videos, with no expiration date, as long as I watched a short commercial first back then in Xmas 2006.

    Of course, the “no expiration” lie was exposed by mid-January.

    Remember: “Change is easy. Improvement is hard.”


  11. Although I am still an AOL customer, I have been using their dedicated client less and less recently. My town’s local cable company was recently bought out by the national behemoth, Rogers, and I’m waiting for the transfer of power to be complete so I can ditch the DSL for cable internet. I’m pretty sure I’ll be ditching the AOL at the same time.

  12. As one of the original developers of AOL Journals, I am sad to see it go. Our team was dedicated to creating a blogging platform that was both easy to use and contained innovative features. We did pretty well on our first try, but for complicated corporate political reasons, we were pulled from the project before we had a chance to really make it a great product. It then lived in a kind of purgatory for about a year before a new team was able to start working on it again. The amazing thing is that the new team shared our the goals of the first team and continued to believe in the community and improve AOL Journals. Unfortunately, the lost year was the difference between becoming a real player in the blogging field vs. staying a niche product.

    I’d like of offer my thanks to the writers who made great journals by sharing their lives, the programmers who created the product, and to you, Joe and all the other community leaders who brought it all together.

    I hope the Blogger transition works, and I hope that people don’t get discouraged and stop writing.

    Thank you for letting me be part of creating something that made people happy.

  13. I started a blog in 03′ and worked on the first anniversary directory. I spent hours notifing people that we were having the directory for the 1st anniversary published and asked them if they wanted their blog to be included. There was a woman working with me who had a blog about her multiple personalities and how they worked together, but for the life of me I can’t remember her name. God! Her blog was so incredcible. And I remember a guy who had a blog about his home in the woods in the Kentucky hills and he wrote about being without modern conviences. Back then I read about 100 blogs on a regular bases. Now, I can’t think of any of them other than these two. I don’t even remember the name I had given mine at the time, but I was doing 2 of them then. The latter one is the only one I can find today. I had original stories and poems in the first one, and I can’t find the directory anywhere. Does it still exist?

    Rose (msroseko004)

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