Facebook is the New AOL

US Robotics 144 modemMy first access to the Interwebs was via InfiNet in the early 90s. I worked for Landmark Communications at the time and had a brand spankin new 14.4k modem. I remember all my friends and family were on America Online (AOL). I was on Prodigy.

That was back when we loved gifs and hated jpegs. Gifs would fade into view as they were downloaded, jpegs would scan from top to bottom. A 100k image was torture back then – you just went to go get a cup of coffee or went to sleep while things downloaded. You found out about new websites by truly ‘browsing’ from one page to the other.

While the web continued to evolve, AOL was battening down the hatches. I could visit websites using Netscape and all my friends on AOL were stuck within the boundaries of AOL. You used AOL Keywords to find things, you didn’t browse! As web pages began to take traction, everyone was fleeing AOL – no matter how many free months of service they received via floppy.

AOL responded late in the game and by the time they launched their integrated browser, Netscape was king and no one even used AOL with the exception to get their mail. Remember “You’ve Got Mail!”? (The UI actually popped that sound up when you did – it wasn’t made up in the movies.)

AOL, the king of the networks and guardian to the Internet, couldn’t invent fast enough. The bottom line was that AOL couldn’t compete with the hundreds of thousands of companies that were starting to put up web pages. Pretty soon, AOL was being used simply to get some free Internet time rather than for the software they had cherished. As people fleed, so did the advertisers and the custom applications built by those advertisers. AOL simply turned into an Internet Provider – and an expensive one with severe limitations in bandwidth and usage.

I’ve been pretty sarcastic about Facebook for a while now. In my opinion, Facebook is simply the new AOL. They’ve built out applications, not to expand out, but to keep companies and people within their turf. Anything outside of the Facebook is a threat, and they’ve already begun to attack.

As it took years to down the giant that was AOL, I’m sure it will take years for Facebook as well. However, I have no doubt in my mind that nothing can compete with entrepreneurial spirit of the planet – not even Facebook. Facebook is the new AOL, but it will only last until something newer, flashier, and fancier comes along and eats its lunch.

Facebook should be embracing integration outside of its walls, not fighting it.

Facebook should learn from AOL.


  1. 1

    Interesting connection Doug. Couldn’t this also be true with most other software companies that have web-based products and don’t provide an API or integrate with 3rd parties? Did AOL fail because they failed to invent or failed to open up connectivity? I am not a Facebook fanatic or expert but it seems they at least have an API and user access to externally built apps.

    • 2

      They do have an API, but it’s only to bring your features and functionality into their application, not vice versa. About the only external application they have is their authentication api… which builds a dependency upon their service.

      I believe a better example is Salesforce, which provides APIs where a user can actually build an entire application utilizing Salesforce’s Web Services or API but never actually has to go to Salesforce.com.

  2. 3

    I’m totally on board with you Doug. Which is why I’m dumbfounded Facebook has yet to sell out. They are so obsessed with building a bigger Facebook that one day they are going to wake up and realize they have a bigger and better neighbor and their company is going to plummet in value.

    By the way, I loved Prodigy! That service was way ahead of its time.

  3. 4

    I like your take on AOL and why they were flanked by browsers liek netscape navigator. What got me to your post however was my feedreader caught the Landmark Communications reference. I’m a former Landmark employee as well and had an email address @infi.net. Crazy!

    I think what’s different about fb vs AOL is that fb is not regarded as the Internet for dummies. And fb is, to an extent, open for developers to utilize the network. AOL email addresses are still 20-30% of any consumer list. I don’t know anyone who uses their fb messaging system as their primary address. In my opinion, they are fundamentally different animals.

    You are right about the fact that someone will take them down. Now, tell me how someone is going to flank Google.

    Thanks for the post!

  4. 5

    It is refreshing. I still remember my first 14.4kb modem. Never heard about google that time. Now, they are the king.

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