Some Cheese With Your Whine?

Oh AOL.  You’re so pathetic.  You don’t even have to say anything.  You just ARE pathetic.  Sad.  Completely backwards.  Technologically retarded.

When I hear you saying things like this:

An Open Letter to Gmail: Happy Halloween! We love your costume!

you should know it does not make me want to sympathize with you. It really just makes me pity how you’ve managed to squander such potential.

You had the entire freaking population eating our of your hand with those dial up CDs.  For years, people thought AOL was the internet.  But maybe you got a little too comfortable.  Maybe you kept pushing dial-up long past the point when it was still useful.  And there was backlash.  And now your image stinks. (along with your attitude, apparently).

So there’s your first problem.  Your image.  You could figure cold fusion and people would think they’d have to use your crappy dial up service to get to it.  Or deal with your abysmal customer service when the reaction didn’t yield as much energy as they’d like.  You’ll notice that even in the comments to your post, most people confuse the online mail product with the old AOL Client (now in, for some inexplicable reason, in version 1.5b6 for Mac!).  Tough break there.

Your second problem is, and has always been, your interface.  It is pretty much unusable.  You could have all the features in the world, and if people can’t find them you might as well not have them in the first place.  I used your webmail client back when I worked for you it was very difficult to navigate.  Having used GMail for years now and AOL Mail a few years ago with the old interface, I’m not afraid to say: the new interface is a BLATANT RIP-OFF of GMail’s (just like 2 years ago when you ‘redesigned’ your homepage and it ended up looking exactly like Yahoo!).

That last note is easily solved.  Hire some good UI and graphic designers.  (Oh wait.  You just fired them all. Crapola!)

But the core problem is more insidious.  In every product of yours that I’ve seen (product, mind you — your AIM service API is actually quite nice) you suffer from feature overload.  You throw in the kitchen sink on every product, and enable everything by default.  And nobody can find anything.  Google’s strategy, by comparison, has always been simplicity: get users used to a new, easily assimilated paradigm with a few twists, then introduce optional complexity.

So yes.  You could’ve done everything that GMail does way before they did.  But I’m a pretty advanced user and I couldn’t find half of the features you’re talking about.  I quickly got frustrated and left.

In the end, though, what does it matter?  You’ve lost.  It’s not even a contest.  I can’t think of a single one of my friends who still has an account.  Most of them are

You lost this war years ago when a) Google offered its users a truckload of free disk space, b) they started with an invite-only Beta program that made them sound exclusive and c) spent a huge amount of time QAing their code before they released it (another little something you’ve never been very good at).

Give us all a call when you want to play with the big kids.  After you’ve had some time and think about what it is you think you actually want to be good at, how you can distinguish yourself from your competitors, and why you think we should pay attention to you.

Until then, I think you need a time out.  Go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.

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  • Christian

    Actually, gmail sucks, but if you are a convert to the religion of Google you won’t see that. The only reason I have a gmail account is because I had to get Google messenger at a job I had for a few months. At first I thought, “Fine, I’ll get a messenger account with them like I had to do with Yahoo for my prior contract position.” BUT it told me if I wanted a Google messenger account that I would be forced to get a gmail account along with it. I thought, “Wait, when I got the Yahoo one it didn’t force me to also get a Yahoo e-mail account,” so on that account Google is a bunch of freakin’ losers. And now that I’ve used that gmail account a little bit I have had numerous instances of sending e-mail to people and them not getting it or them sending me e-mail and me not getting it. But in the eyes of 99.9% of the world’s population Google can do no wrong so they turn a blind eye to crap like the stuff I’ve mentioned. And almost everything they’ve ever offered has been a copycat of some other company’s existing service. I do use Google services for some things, just not everything. It seriously cracks me up when I see people like rats following the Google pied piper.

  • Jeff


    to each his own, I guess.

  • Christian

    So I didn’t have good points? I don’t care if Google exists and does their business and I do use them from time to time (though some aspects of their search algorithm could definitely use some help). What I do think is funny is that they copy other companies but act like they’re being original and the saviors of mankind while the general public walks around in a trance with their arms out like Frankenstein’s monster droning/chanting, “Google . . . Google . . . Google . . . ”

    I don’t want to go in the opposite direction and say people should never utilize their services but no one has ever been able to refute the points I have brought up against them. I even went on their own official Google blog and said, “Hey, your motto is Don’t Be Evil but you forced me to sign up for a gmail account so I could also use your messenger service. That strikes me as something like evil.” And they never responded. But society has given them a free pass so I guess I should learn to like it.

    Sorry, Jeff. I’m just venting. I don’t mean to go off on you.

  • Jeff

    Alright. I tried to be nice and turn the other cheek. But I’m not going to be roughed up on my own blog.

    1. My original point still stands. AOL’s whining after the fact and saying that Google stole their ideas is just sour grapes. Boo hoo. Cry me a river. If AOL had implemented the features in an attractive, USABLE package, we’d all be using AOL webmail now, and the Google people would all still be tooling around Palo Alto coffee shops looking for girls.

    2. Companies copy each other all the time. That’s how technology — and innovation — has always worked. Did people give up on building cars because Henry Ford built and mass-produced one first? Is Ford the only or most popular car company today? Do you think Henry Ford didn’t steal a bunch of ideas from people before him?

    3. Just because a lot of people use something doesn’t mean they are zombies, or as you are basically implying, stupid. I think that’s a pretty condescending way to try to make your point. People use technology for a lot of reasons. I agree with you that one of them can be because they’re popular. And another, as in your case, can be that they feel coerced to use them (as is also the case with most of Microsoft’s products). But people also use products because they CHOOSE to use them. I tried a bunch of the other webmail products. I’ve used Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL,, and webmail clients at the schools I attended. And after all of that, I chose to use GMail. I don’t think that makes me a zombie. Or in any way fanatical. That makes me an informed consumer.

    What are your points exactly? You keep saying people haven’t refuted them, but you don’t leave anything to refute. Your’re saying that people are fanatically, and blindly devoted to Google? OK. What’s your point? People are fanatically devoted to Unix. Some people think Unix will save mankind. So what.

    I’ll agree with you that Google has gotten cocky, and one of these days they’re going to get knocked down a notch. And I think that’ll be great. I’d like to see a little more old-school competition on the web again.

    And Google didn’t force you to do anything. I’m sure they’re evil in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t strike me as one of them. If you don’t want to have a Google account, don’t sign up for one. If that means you can’t use their messenger services, I guess that’s your tough luck. But you don’t expect to have a member page on Facebook without signing up for an account do you?

    I’m sorry that you’re feeling peer pressure to use something that’s actually really great. That must be hard for you. But there’s no need for you to act out and call those of us who do use Gmail zombies or imply we’re unintelligent for choosing something that actually works.

    Seriously, though, if you have such a big beef with Google, don’t use it. Imagine how hypocritical you must look complaining about all of us mindless people using Google, but then having an account yourself. How are you any better than the people you’re complaining about?

    If you want to get into this further, dude, I’ll take you on. But seriously, my beef is with AOL, not you.

  • Christian

    Sorry, this isn’t exactly about you. I choose to use some Google services myself (as stated already). It’s just the general vibe I get from the public. I had to use the Google messenger service for a job I had for a while to communicate with the other employees in different departments. The fact that I also had to sign up for a gmail account is wrong, but whatever. Why should I have to sign up for two services to use one? It’s because they are unethically suck you into the Google world. That’s the only explanation. So, here’s to Yahoo for not doing that. Uh oh, I stuck up for Yahoo on one point. I better hide now.

    The problem is not that anybody ever uses anything they offer. The problem I perceive is that the general public acts like there’s no other Internet entity out there besides Google. I’ve actually heard people say, “I ‘Googled’ something the other day and it seemed like it was blocking certain results so I didn’t know what to do.” I had to break the news to them that there are other search engines out there. I knew some would feel like I was committing blasphemy to suggest such. And then the attitude, “Sure, other companies can introduce a cool feature (and I’m not just talking about AOL here) and Google can copy it and we’ll thank Google for creating it. Thank you, almighty Google! Without you there would be nothing. All would be desolate. All the Internet would be a barren wasteland without you condescending to our level and gracing us with all you have to offer.” Jeff, if you don’t have that attitude that’s fine. But I do get that vibe from lots of other people all the time . . . more so than with the Unix thing even.

    You seem to catch some of the nuances here. I’m sort of talking to everyone here but ended up using your own site as a sounding board. Don’t take it personally. No, the mere fact alone of using gmail does not make you a zombie. But if you think I am saying that then my point is being missed.

    “I’d like to see a little more old-school competition on the web again.”

    You can help that come about by mixing it up with other companies out there. Completely jettisoning your usage of all Google services is not the answer . . . although I do know heavy Internet users who don’t use any Google services at all (not myself since I do use some) and they get along just fine.