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AOL, I’m a Detractor

February 7, 2012

“My girlfriend has a house on the Cape.” I love saying that, and on Friday night we were headed there. Our first priority after we dropped our bags was to visit next-door neighbors Charlie and Nancy. They’re retired seniors and wonderful people. I always learn from Charlie, and on Friday night I learned that as a young, single man, he volunteered to be laid off from a union job, so a father of 5 could keep his. That’s just a glimpse of who Charlie is.

As we road weary “younger kids” sat for salad and pizza, I sensed high stress in Nancy. She was proudly wearing her New England Patriots colors, so I asked if she was nervous about the looming big game. “A little,” she said, “but I’m very frustrated with my computer.” I listened and learned she’d been trying for hours to get her email working after migrating from AOL dial-up to Comcast broadband service.

Upon further review, and after pizza, I discovered that when she tried to cancel her AOL service, the fine folks there convinced her to stay on their Support & Security Plus plan for $6.99/month. Now I wasn’t on the call, but she was under the impression she needed that to keep her AOL email address, contacts, etc. I knew some of my friends that I make fun of still have AOL email addresses, and I was certain hopeful they aren’t still paying for it, so my mission became elimination of the $6.99 charge, and retention of Nancy’s AOL address and contacts. I had Nancy promise me to buy Charlie a nice sandwich once a month if I could get rid of the $6.99 fee.

Three hours later… Nancy was reading her mail at with sandwich money to spare! The value for the $6.99 plan is dubious, and it’s not needed to access AOL mail. Oh, and she was rocking it on Google Chrome, which performed reasonably well on their six year old Dell as compared to the sluuuugiiiishhhh Internet Explorer. She’ll be the hippest chick at the Senior Center now!

So… AOL. Back in 2006, PCWorld named it the worst tech product of all time, and noted back then that it had “never overcome the stigma of being the online service for people who don’t know any better.” More recently, in 2011, asked, “Is AOL Scamming Old People?” That article cites a New Yorker magazine profile of AOL’s CEO Tim Armstrong that includes this gem:

[M]any of [AOL’s subscribers] are older people who have cable or DSL service but don’t realize that they need not pay an additional twenty-five dollars a month to get online and check their e-mail. “The dirty little secret,” a former AOL executive says, “is that seventy-five per cent of the people who subscribe to AOL’s dial-up service don’t need it.”

Well, they have one less now.

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