Posts Tagged ‘Webmail’

Some Cheese With Your Whine?

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

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.