"I have talked to several people lately who are on AOL...they truly don't even know how to get to the world wide web from AOL... "
my friend Jeff Hartzer
At the beginning of December I decided to re-enroll with America Online at their cheapest level ($4.95 for 3 hours per month) as a secondary dial-up account in case my primary service provider is busy or down -- rare but it happens. This also allows me to see how my web pages look through the world's biggest ISP. In addition, I have clients who use AOL. If they are having problems, I can help them directly so they don't have to deal with AOL's tech support, which is mostly disguised robots.
My first days of online experience were with AOL and their 25 free hours or whatever it was, and a few months beyond. This was pre-web ascendancy, circa '94 or so. America Online was a closed system and you had no real connection to the internet except for email -- when it got through. However, this did lead to my intense distrust of them, because I had a hell of a time getting them to stop taking money out of my checking account. I figure they had to pay for all those diskettes they were mailing somehow.
So, I went back on AOL begrudgingly and minimally, out of professional necessity. The ubiquity of the damnable giant forced me to feed their kitty a little bit. I usually don't like to deal with billion dollar corporations, but I've decided that, in general, one can lead a more peaceful life if one gently accepts that the McDonalds' and the WalMarts of the world will get you once in a while. Due to their overwhelming resources, they simply have the bases covered too well. To escape them completely is to make your life inconvenient at times. I know people who would rather go hungry than eat at McDonald's. I am not one of those.
This philosophy was my excuse for getting back on AOL. 13 million AOL users means you are going to run into them, and probably often. If ya can't lick 'em, join 'em. Then, within a week, I heard the worst bit of "internet news" that I had heard since the first time I logged in. AOL was buying out Netscape.
In the meantime, I had been trying to figure out how my latest client, through her AOL account, could check her email on the new domain I had so enthusiastically sold her. I have yet to really succeed. AOL has stuff built into their stuff that keeps it a closed system, or as much as they can get away with one, what with all those non-AOL.coms out there. It is possible to check outside email, but it ain't easy. You have to get into a third system, like the email interface that Matt used to link to on his Start page.
I was already as disgusted as ever was with AOL when I found out they were buying Netscape. My use of Netscape was my last great stubborn act of defiance against Microsoft. Even though Internet Explorer is a better browser, I used Netscape. I use Windows and all the MS stuff that you probably do. I have to, because everybody else does. You know that song. But now I have a new attitude towards Microsoft. Like IE, Microsoft products are generally much better than whatever else is available. Greater resources. The WalMart of software.
AOL is trying to control internet usage through their own subscribers' ignorance. If you don't know the web, AOL has plenty of news and distractions within their own interface. They don't need to show you around the web. A newbie would not feel the need to get on the web. That's why Jeff's friends don't know how to get there on AOL. They never tried.
I know this: Using Microsoft Word or whatever, does not piss me off while I use it (much). Using AOL does (a lot). I feel quite restricted by AOL because I know the freedom many of their users do not. AOL, IMHO, is a greater evil than MS. If you have AOL-afflicted friends try to help them. Or if you are one yourself (you at least know how to access the web, so recovery has begun!) spend less time in their chat rooms and on their news/entertainment pages. Follow the suggestion I received when I emailed tech support for my domain host (where my client's domain is also located) regarding what I could do about the email access problem described above. He said, "The best advice I can give is to find another ISP."
And like Jeff says, "So many folks seem to use AOL and relish their experiences, however, they don't know how to open their front door for a look outside at the world. Join the web and see the world...traverse AOL and see AOL. Internet savvy is a good thing to have...Let me repeat that a journey through the finest AOL halls is not a WWW journey. And there seem to be plenty of people who are very content to stay indoors at AOL."
My AOL email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. But if you write to it, I probably won't get back to you for a couple of weeks.
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