America Online

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America Online, or AOL for short, is a corporate online service provider and Internet service provider. Based in Dulles, Virginia, with regional headquarters installations in many cities around the world, it is by far the most successful proprietary online service, with more than 22 million subscribers at one point.

For many Americans through the mid 1990s, AOL was the Internet, but the rise of open access to the Internet has shrunk its user base and left questions about its future.

In 2000 AOL and Time Warner announced plans to merge, the deal was approved by the Federal Trade Commission on January 11 2001. See Time Warner for information on the merger and operations since then.



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The AOL logo used until late 2004

AOL began as a short-lived venture called Control Video, a company whose product was an online service called Gameline for the Atari 2600 video game console. Subscribers bought a modem from the company for $49.95 and paid a one-time $15 setup fee. Gameline permitted subscribers to temporarily download games and keep track of high scores, at a cost of approximately $1 an hour.

In 1983 the company nearly went bankrupt, and a young marketing veteran named Steve Case ascended to the position of CEO.

Case changed the company's strategy, and in 1985 launched a sort of mega-BBS for Commodore 64 and 128 computers, originally called Quantum Link ("Q-Link" for short). He also changed the name of the company to Quantum Computer Services. In October 1989, Quantum launched its AOL service for Apple II and Macintosh computers, in February 1991 AOL for DOS was launched using a GeoWorks interface followed a year later by AOL for Windows. In October 1991, Quantum changed its name to America Online. These changes coincided with growth in pay-based BBS services, like Prodigy, CompuServe, and GEnie.

Massive growth

Case drove AOL as the online service for people unfamiliar with computers, in particular contrast to CompuServe, which had long served the technical community. AOL was the first service with a graphical user interface (GUI) instead of command lines, and was well ahead of the competition in emphasizing communication among members as a feature.

In particular was the Chat Room, which allowed a large group of people with similar interests to convene and hold conversations, including:.

  • Private rooms — created by any user. Hold up to 27 people.
  • Conference rooms — created with permission of AOL. Hold up to 48 people and often moderated.
  • Auditoriums — created with permission of AOL. Consisted of a stage and an unlimited number of rows. What happened on the stage was viewable by everybody in the auditorium but what happened within individual rows, of up to 27 people, was viewable only by the people within those rows.

AOL quickly surpassed GEnie, and by the mid-1990s, it passed Prodigy and CompuServe. For several years Prodigy allowed AOL to advertise on its service.

Originally, AOL charged its users an hourly fee, but in 1996 this changed and a flat rate of $19.99 a month was charged. Within three years, AOL's userbase would grow to 10 million people.

AOL was relatively late in providing access to the open Internet. Originally, only some Internet features were accessible, through a proprietary interface, but eventually it became possible to run other Internet software while logged in through AOL. They were the first online service to seamlessly integrate a web browser into content.

AOL introduced the concept of Buddy Lists, leveraging their one-on-one Instant Messaging technology.

In recent years, its traditional dial-up service has been declining in subscribers and popularity. In an attempt to combat this, the AOL for Broadband service, which delivers AOL content and chatrooms but no Internet access to users who have an existing high-speed Internet connection, was launched, but in 2004 the company pulled back from this plan.

CD-ROM distribution

AOL has long maintained a massive marketing push, mailing sign-up diskettes and CD-ROMs to over 100 million households, which fueled a massive growth and helped them dominate the online field. This push produced considerable backlash, including a program called No More AOL CDs that sought to gather one million unwanted CDs and dump them at AOL headquarters. Others view AOL disks as valuable collectible items due to the vast number of CD-ROM design variations released by the company.

AOL users' reputation

People using AOL have a reputation online, unfairly or otherwise, for being excessively "noobish" - newbies who don't know netiquette. This is in part due to the fact that AOL is aimed towards mainstream users who are new to the internet. To a segment of the online population, an e-mail address ending in is a sign of ignorance, to be avoided at all costs.


Community Leaders

Prior to the middle of 2005, AOL used volunteers called Community Leaders, or CLs, to monitor chatrooms, message boards, and libraries. Community Leaders designed much of what an average member saw, using a designing code called RAINMAN.

In 1999, Kelly Hallissey and Brian Williams, former Community Leaders and founders of the website [ (] filed a class action lawsuit 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. The Community Leader program was terminated on June 8, 2005.

Billing disputes

AOL has faced a number of lawsuits over claims that it has been slow to stop billing people after they accounts have been cancelled, either by the company or the user.

Company purchases

As it grew, AOL purchased many other software companies, including:

Notable persons associated with AOL

See Also

External links

fr:America online ja:AOL nl:America Online no:America Online pl:AOL pt:AOL sv:America Online zh:美国在线


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