For other uses see AOL (disambiguation).
|Type:||Subsidiary of Time Warner|
|Foundation:||1983 as Quantum Computer Services|
|Location City:||New York, New York (operations in Dulles, VA)|
|Location Country:||United States|
|Key People:||Randy Falco, Chairman & CEO|
Ronald Grant, President & COO
|Industry:||Internet & Communications|
AOL LLC (formerly America Online) is an American global Internet services and media company operated by Time Warner and was headquartered in Loudoun County, Virginia until late April 2008 when it was moved to new offices at 770 Broadway in New York City . Founded in 1983 as Quantum Computer Services, it has franchised its services to companies in several nations around the world or set up international versions of its services.
AOL is perhaps best known for its online software suite, also called "AOL", that allowed millions of customers around the world to access the world's largest "walled garden" online community and eventually reach out to the internet as a whole. At its zenith, AOL's membership was over 30 million members worldwide, most of whom accessed the AOL service through the AOL software suite.
With regional branches around the world, the former American "goliath among Internet service providers" once had more than 30 million subscribers on several continents.In January 2000, AOL and Time Warner announced plans to merge. The terms of the deal negotiated called for AOL shareholders to own 55% of the new, combined company. The deal closed on 11 January 2001 after receiving regulatory approval from the FTC, the FCC and the European Union.
America Online, Inc., as the company was then called, was led by executives from AOL, SBI and Time Warner. Gerald Levin, who had served as CEO of Time Warner, was CEO of the new company. Steve Case served as Chairman, J. Michael Kelly (from AOL) was the Chief Financial Officer, Robert W. Pittman (from AOL) and Dick Parsons (from Time Warner) served as Co-Chief Operating Officers. The total value of AOL stock subsequently went from $226 billion to about $20 billion. Similarly, its customer base has decreased to 10.1 million subscribers as of November 2007, just narrowly ahead of Comcast and AT&T Yahoo!.
News reports in late 2005 identified companies such as Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Google as candidates for turning AOL into a joint venture; those plans were apparently abandoned when it was revealed on 20 December 2005 that Google would purchase a 5% share of AOL for $1 billion.
On 31 March 1997, the short lived eWorld was purchased by AOL, forcing the 115,000 users to subscribe to AOL. The ISP side of AOL UK was bought by The Carphone Warehouse in October 2006 to take advantage of their 100,000 LLU customers which made The Carphone Warehouse the biggest LLU provider in the UK.
|AOL release timeline|
|1989||America Online for Macintosh received as a popular Apple Macintosh BBS|
|February 1991||AOL for DOS launched|
|January 1993||AOL 2.0 for the Apple Macintosh released, |
AOL 1.0 for Microsoft Windows 3.x launched
|June 1994||AOL 1.5 for Microsoft Windows 3.x released|
|September 1994||AOL 2.0 for Microsoft Windows 3.x released|
|June 1995||AOL 2.5 for Microsoft Windows 3.x released|
|June 1995||AOL 3.0 (Win16) for Windows 3.x/Windows 95/Windows NT released|
|June 1996||AOL 3.0 for Windows 95 released|
|July 1998 / June 1999||AOL 4.0 (Casablanca) and Refresh 2 released|
|September 1999||AOL 5.0 (Kilimanjaro) released|
|June 2000||AOL 5.0 for 9x/NT/2K (Niagara) released|
|October and December 2000||AOL 6.0 (K2 - Karakorum) and Refresh released|
|September 2001||AOL 6.0.2 for XP launched|
|October and December 2001, May and July 2002||AOL 7.0 (Taz) and Refresh 1, Refresh 2, and Refresh 2 Plus released|
|October 2002||AOL 8.0 (Spacely) released|
|April 2003||AOL 8.0 Plus (Elroy) launched|
|August and September 2003||AOL 9.0 Optimized (Bunker Hill / Blue Hawaii) and Refresh released|
|May 2004||AOL 9.0 Optimized SE/LE (Thailand / Tahiti) released|
|November 2004, July 2005||AOL 9.0 Security Edition SE/LE (Strauss) and Refresh released|
|August 2005 to March 2006||AOL Suite Beta launched (cancelled)|
|September 2006, March 2007||AOL OpenRide (Streamliner) launched|
|November 2006, April 2007||AOL 9.0 VR and Refresh (Raga) released (AOL 9.0 for Microsoft Windows Vista but also works with Microsoft Windows 98, ME, 2000 and XP)|
|September 2007||AOL Desktop for Mac Beta released|
|October 31, 2007||AOL 9.1 (Tarana) released|
|December 2007||AOL Desktop (aka AOL 10.0) launched|
|May 2008||AOL Desktop for Mac 1.0 officially launched|
|September 2008||AOL Desktop 10.1 released|
|February 2009||AOL 9.5 released|
|as opposed to an Internet service provider.|
Prior to mid 2005, AOL used volunteers called Community Leaders, or CLs, to monitor chatrooms, message boards, and libraries. Some community leaders were recruited for content design and maintenance using a proprietary language and interface called RAINMAN, although most content maintenance was performed by partner and internal employees.
In 1999, a class action lawsuit was filed against AOL citing violations of U.S. labor laws in its usage of CLs. The Department of Labor investigated but came to no conclusions, closing their investigation in 2001. In light of these events, AOL began drastically reducing the responsibilities and privileges of its volunteers in 2000. The program was eventually ended on June 8 2005. Current Community Leaders at the time were offered 12 months of credit on their accounts.
AOL's use of remote volunteers dated back to the establishment of its Quantum Link service in 1985.
AOL has faced a number of lawsuits over claims that it has been slow to stop billing customers after their accounts have been canceled, either by the company or the user. In addition, AOL changed its method of calculating used minutes in response to a class action lawsuit. Previously, AOL would add fifteen seconds to the time a user was connected to the service and round up to the next whole minute (thus, a person who used the service for 11 minutes and 46 seconds would be charged for 13 minutes). AOL claimed this was to account for sign on/sign off time, but because this practice was not made known to its customers, the plaintiffs won (some also pointed out that signing on and off did not always take 15 seconds, especially when connecting via another ISP). AOL disclosed its connection-time calculation methods to all of its customers and credited them with extra free hours. In addition, the AOL software would notify the user of exactly how long they were connected and how many minutes they were being charged.
AOL was sued by the Ohio Attorney General in October 2003 for improper billing practices. The case was settled on June 8, 2005. AOL agreed to resolve any consumer complaints filed with the Ohio AG's office. In December 2006, AOL agreed to provide restitution to Florida consumers to settle the case filed against them by the Florida Attorney General.
In response to approximately 300 consumer complaints, then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office began an inquiry of AOL’s customer service policies. The investigation revealed that the company had an elaborate scheme for rewarding employees who purported to retain or "save" subscribers who had called to cancel their Internet service. In many instances, such retention was done against subscribers’ wishes, or without their consent. Under the scheme, consumer service personnel received bonuses worth tens of thousands of dollars if they could successfully dissuade or "save" half of the people who called to cancel service. For several years, AOL had instituted minimum retention or "save" percentages, which consumer representatives were expected to meet. These bonuses, and the minimum "save" rates accompanying them, had the effect of employees not honoring cancellations, or otherwise making cancellation unduly difficult for consumers.
Many customers complained that AOL personnel ignored their demands to cancel service and stop billing. On August 24 2005, America Online agreed to pay $1.25 million to the state of New York and reformed its customer service procedures. Under the agreement, AOL would no longer require its customer service representatives to meet a minimum quota for customer retention in order to receive a bonus.
On June 13 2006, a man named Vincent Ferrari documented his account cancellation phone call in a blog post, stating he had switched to broadband years earlier. In the recorded phone call, the AOL representative refused to cancel the account unless the 30-year-old Ferrari explained why AOL hours were still being recorded on it. Ferrari insisted that AOL software was not even installed on the computer. When Ferrari demanded that the account be canceled regardless, the AOL representative asked to speak with Ferrari's father, for whom the account had been set up. The conversation was aired on CNBC. When CNBC reporters tried to have an account on AOL cancelled, they were hung up on immediately and it ultimately took more than 45 minutes to cancel the account.
On July 18, 2006, AOL was rated #4 in an article entitled, "10 Worst Computer Gimmicks of Recent Times." http://www.pcfastlane.com/features/10-worst-computer-gimmicks-of-recent-times/
On August 3 2006, Time Warner announced that the company would be dissolving AOL's retention centers due to its profits hinging on $1 billion in cost cuts. The company estimated that it would lose more than six million subscribers over the following year.
When AOL gave clients access to Usenet in 1993, they hid at least one newsgroup in standard list view: alt.aol-sucks. AOL did list the newsgroup in the alternative description view, but changed the description to "Flames and complaints about America Online". With AOL clients swarming Usenet newsgroups, the old, existing user base started to develop a strong distaste for both AOL and its clients, referring to the new state of affairs as Eternal September.
Later, AOL discontinued providing access to Usenet on 25 June 2005  . No official details were provided as to the cause of decommissioning Usenet access, except providing users the suggestion to access Usenet services from a third-party, Google Groups. Currently, AOL provides community-based Message Boards in lieu of Usenet.
There have been many complaints over rules that govern an AOL user's conduct. Some users disagree with the TOS, citing the guidelines are too strict to follow coupled with the fact the TOS may change without users being made aware. A considerable cause for this was likely due to alleged censorship of user-generated content during the earlier years of growth for AOL.   
In early 2005, AOL stated its intention to implement certified e-mail, which will allow companies to send email to users with whom they have pre-existing business relationships, with a visual indication that the email is from a trusted source and without the risk that the email messages might be blocked or stripped by spam filters.
This decision has drawn fire from MoveOn, which characterizes the program as an "e-mail tax", and the EFF, which characterizes it as a shakedown of non profits. A website called Dearaol.com was launched, with an online petition and a blog that garnered hundreds of signatures from people and organizations expressing their opposition to AOL's use of goodmail.
Esther Dyson defended the move in a New York Times editorial saying "I hope Goodmail succeeds, and that it has lots of competition. I also think it and its competitors will eventually transform into services that more directly serve the interests of mail recipients. Instead of the fees going to Goodmail and EON, they will also be shared with the individual recipients.".
Other members of the antispam and blogging community are broadly critical of moveon.org and the EFF's attempts to characterize this as a "shakedown".
Tim Lee of the Technology Liberation Front posted an article that questioned the EFF's adopting a confrontational posture when dealing with private companies. Lee's article cited a series of discussions on Declan McCullagh's Politechbot mailing list on this subject between the EFF's Danny O'Brien and antispammer Suresh Ramasubramanian, who has also compared the EFF's tactics in opposing Goodmail to tactics used by Republican political strategist Karl Rove. Spamassassin developer Justin Mason posted some criticism of the EFF's and Moveon's "going overboard" in their opposition to the scheme.
The dearaol.com campaign lost momentum and disappeared, with the last post to the now defunct dearaol.com blog - "AOL starts the shakedown" being made on 9 May 2006.
See main article: AOL search data scandal.
On August 4, 2006, AOL released a compressed text file on one of its websites containing twenty million search keywords for over 650,000 users over a 3-month period between March 1, 2006 and May 31, intended for research purposes. AOL pulled the file from public access by August 7, but not before its wide distribution on the Internet by others. Derivative research, titled A Picture of Search was published by authors Pass, Chowdhury and Torgeson for The First International Conference on Scalable Information Systems.
The data are being used by Web sites such as AOLstalker for entertainment purposes, where users of AOLstalker are encouraged to judge AOL clients based on the humorousness of personal details revealed by search behavior.
See main article: List of AOL acquisitions.
AOL (Time Warner) has sold a number of its sub-companies in Europe. AOL Europe has six million users, but its subscription base had been steadily declining. In 2005, 287,000 European AOL online users migrated to other service providers. In September 2006, AOL Germany's ISP business (AOL Deutschland GmbH & Co. KG) was sold for $863m (€675m) to Telecom Italia. AOL's German web portal (AOL Deutschland), however, is now operated by then newly founded AOL Deutschland Medien GmbH which still is a subsidiary of Time Warner. Today, AOL Deutschland offers virtually all free services of AOL.com (see below) in German versions as well as some own products, such as an AOL VISA card.[https://kreditkarte.aol.de/](German)
AOL has several versions of its service for different countries. http://corp.aol.com/about-aol/international-sites/
AOL's recent software incarnations have provided different combinations of security features, usually involving McAfee's VirusScan and Firewall software.
On August 2, 2006 AOL announced a plan to offer "many" of its services for free, with or without an AOL Internet connection."
On Friday, 25 August 2006, AOL announced that it had signed a deal with several major movie studios to open an online video store allowing users to "download to own" full length movies and television shows. The deal was signed with News Corporation's 20th Century Fox, Sony Corp.'s Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, NBC Universal's Universal Pictures, and corporate sibling Warner Home Entertainment Group