Is AOL a dark horse candidate?

August 3, 2005

aolasking Nowadays, everyone is always focused on how Yahoo, Google, and MSN are battling it out for dominance on the web. Strangely enough, no one ever mentions AOL in the same sentence. I mean, it’s no surprise given their long and storied history (who doesn’t have a stack of AOL 3.5″ floppies and CDs a mile high? 😉 ), but you’d think other people would’ve notice all the pieces they’ve been quietly amassing.

Check this out:

  • Browser? Check. Take a look at AOL Explorer. It’s in beta and it uses the IE core, but it’s pretty nice. Actually, it’s really nice. Nice slick interface, intuitive keyboard shortcuts, full IE compatibility (nice for the intranet when you run MSFT products), neat sidebar panels… it’s got quite a bit in there.
  • IM? Check. AOL was the first major player in the instant messaging space when they started opening up AIM to non-AOL members. And of course, since we are integrating Plaxo with AIM in the next version, it’s only going to be that much cooler 😉
  • E-Mail? Check. The new AIM Mail gives you 2GB of space (egregiously large thanks to GMail), once again a slick interface, and IMAP access. Whoa, a free web mail that I can actually use with whatever native mail client I want? Through IMAP instead of annoying POP? That’s pretty sweet.
  • Web Search? Check. AOL Search might not be the best just yet; but as I’ve said before, I think web search will be commoditized within the next few years – in other words, your search results across the major engines will be comparable. At that point, it’s not who has the better algorithm in some random edge case, it’ll be who is providing the better features and comprehensive package.
  • Browser Toolbar? Check. Even though they’ve got a full blown browser, they still have an AOL Toolbar. Hey, if the other guys have one, AOL’s gotta have one too 🙂
  • Photo Hosting? Check. AOL Pictures is in Beta 2 and has some neat features. I haven’t checked them all out since I’m all about Flickr, but they’ve got one!

See what I’m talking about here? They’ve got all the right pieces and they’ve got millions and millions of existing users too. The most impressive thing is that to my knowledge, they’ve been cranking out all this stuff at an amazing pace. If they’re able to tie everything together and provide a truly integrated experience, I think they might truly be a dark horse candidate for being the “winner” of the current Internet wave.

We’ll see what happens, but it’s definitely interesting 🙂


No Responses Yet to “Is AOL a dark horse candidate?”

  1. […] MSN Search and 38 from Yahoo! (and this site is in Yahoo!’s directory!). Then I saw Mark Jen’s post on AOL and how AOL might truly be a dark horse candidate for being the “winner” of the […]

  2. Susan Says:

    Hi Mark,
    I hope you can help me with this. I upgraded my AIM recently and it added a task bar. I already have Google (which my husband thought I need, but I never use it) and Yahoo. How do I get rid of the AOL one? I only use AIM and do not have AOL. Now remember I am technologically challenged. Please don’t ask me any math questions or how to program anything other than my DVR on my TV. LOL I really HATE AOL trying to take over my computer. When a page loads slowly, AOL kicks in with an error message. I really appreciate any help you can give me.

  3. markjen Says:

    Hi Susan – I’m not really sure why AIM had a task bar included. Did you download the beta version I linked to in my blog post?

    I haven’t seen the task bar you speak of, but if you have to uninstall AIM and reinstall another version, that shouldn’t be too bad. I don’t think AIM 5.9 has a task bar (I might be mistaken though).

  4. Susan Says:

    LOL…You had to ask me the “BETA” question didn’t you? I have NO idea what that is. I downloaded this version months ago. I told you I am VERY technologically challenged. The task bar has the AOL icon, Mailbox, Maps, Shopping, etc. Perhaps they are called “quick links”? Everytime I would sign on to AIM it would ask me to upgrade. I would always click “remind me later”. Then one day I had no option and it automatically downloaded the new version, which I think is 5.9. I just looked and can’t find what version it is anywhere. Also, I may not have made it clear that this task bar is on my IE page and is there whether I am signed onto AIM or not. OMG, I just got rid of it myself! I clicked on the AOL icon and removed the check by the AOL taskbar. DUH! LOL Sorry to bother you. I shall go back to my Pop Culture where I belong! Thanks!
    Susan…yes I am blonde!

  5. J Says:

    Does AOL have anything to do with blogging? This might be one key part of the puzzle that they are missing. All the big players, Google, MSFT, and Yahoo! have gotten into blogging, has AOL?

  6. markjen Says:

    Hi J – Actually, I looked around and found this: AOL Hometown. It looks remarkably like MSN Spaces, but I haven’t had time to fully check it out yet…

  7. I don’t think they “get it” yet. I’m not gonna download and install a browser without at least seeing a screenshot, let alone buying into how it’s better than what I’ve already got.

    The same goes for email, browser toolbars, and photo hosting. IMAP is nice, but it’s a single feature targeting a very small niche market.

    And dude, as for search… it’s powered by Google. See:

    In order for them to come out as a dark horse candidate, they’re going to have to do a lot better than this!

  8. markjen Says:

    Hi Adam – Good points. Maybe I’ll do a review of the AOL Explorer when I get some time, but I think it’s a pretty reasonable first attempt. I don’t think AOL is ready to take over in the next year or so, but 3-5 years out, when they really get some of these products mature, I think they might be a force to be reckoned with.

  9. Looks like the trackback ping from my blog didn’t show up on your blog, Mark. Here’s the link:

    Mark Jen gets it: AOL will take everyone else by surprise.

  10. FYI, AOL has a blog offering called AOL Journals (which seems to redirect to now) for paying AOL members, and AIM Blogs for free AIM users.

  11. Adam Herscher,

    The AOL Explorer browser is still in beta — yes, I don’t think they’re expecting lots of folks go to and download it yet. However, if you want screenshots, you could check out the AOL Downloads page for the AOL Explorer Browser. There’s a link from that page to a (admittedly cheesy) Flash demo of the browser’s promised features.

    AOL’s offerings might not be “better than what you’ve already got,” but the majority of Internet users “don’t got much” to use your phrasing. For them, AOL bringing all of these products and offering them has a lot of value to those people. People who have other things to do other than mess with this wacky Internet thing.

  12. Dossy,

    Very good point.

    What do the majority of internet users who do not use AOL, MSN, or other rich clients already have?

    They have Internet Explorer, preloaded with Favorites and Toolbar links to MSN services and content (email, shopping, etc), and they’ve got a default start page of MSN when their browser launches.

    For AOL to be successful with their new AOL Explorer web browser and other efforts, they will need to provide something so much better that it gives the average user some real incentive to go download and use it instead of what they already have.

    The classic examples I like to give are Winamp and Netscape. Both were incredibly popular until peoples computers began shipping with products that met their needs (Media Player and Internet Explorer). They no longer had to go out of their way to download Winamp and Netscape, which didn’t provide better experiences and subsequently crumbled.

    If AOL Explorer is not targeting users that already use IE and do not use the AOL rich client, then it’s essentially targeting its own users who use the rich client, which is a zero sum game in the short term, and puts them up against IE and Safari in the long term (which again, in order to conquer, they would need to deliver something better than).

  13. markjen Says:

    Hi Adam – I completely agree. In it’s current form, the Beta AOL Explorer isn’t providing enough of a rich experience to cause most users to download. However, I trust that they are adding features as we speak and I’m pretty impressed with what they’ve got so far. Their tabbed browsing works quite well, they have a built-in RSS aggregator, and you can readily customize the browser (you can add custom JavaScript menu items and custom side panels).

    I’m hoping they’ll continue to innovate… after all, they’ve got to be better than IE7 by next year 🙂

  14. I hope you’re right, and they do give ie7 a run for their money! Competition is greeeat for all of us.

  15. betting Says:

    Personally I use Google for my searches. But I think Yahoo and indeed AOL will have a bigger say in the world of search engines in 2006. great article Mark.

  16. antepost Says:

    AOL will be one of, possibly the biggest search engine by 2007. It is making all the right moves and with a bit of a media push I think we will see msn drop out of the big three.

    Dont be suprised to see msn myspace become a paid service either.

  17. Хорошая статья. Буду ждать продолжения. Эта тема безусловно интересна всем.

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