It Was Once An Internet Giant – But Who Owns AOL Today?

For many people in the US and abroad, the first taste of the wonder of the internet came from AOL. It was one of the first true internet giants, and at its peak it was one of the most valuable companies in the world. But what happened to AOL, and who owns AOL today?

What is AOL and why is it so important?

Born as Quantum Link in 1985 – long before HTTP, HTML, browsers, and the World Wide Web existed – America Online (AOL) offered email, online chat, news, file sharing, and instant messaging along with a selection of Internet games.

Rebranded to AOL in 1989, the company was in a perfect position to serve up Internet-enthusiastic Americans when the web—more or less in the form it is today— debuted in 1991.

You’ll notice that we use the word “web” instead of “internet” until now. This is because the World Wide Web is what you use right now. You can access it through browsers, type in URLs that start with HTTP or HTTPS, and click on links to easily move from one page or site to another.

The Internet is a file The platform that makes the web possible. It is a vast network of interconnected computer networks that dates back to the 1970s and uses the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) suite to communicate.

The web has made it easy to use the internet to connect with friends, browse from one site to another, or even set up your own server at home. You didn’t need to be particularly technical to get access to what the web had to offer – it just worked.

The Web and AOL with it were ready to change the world.

AOL’s Rapid Expansion

The technical barriers to entering the new and bloated world of the Internet were low, but the financial requirements were not. I needed a computer of some sort, a copper phone line, and a modem (a technology that’s been around since the 1920s).

One of the cheapest modems at the time was the CompuCom SpeedModem Champ, which retailed for $169 — the equivalent of $350 in 2022.

Prices fell rapidly as demand and manufacturing capabilities grew, and in 1993, AOL began a massive campaign – as its name suggests – to get America online.

The campaign, which lasted several years, saw AOL’s mass CDs sent to every household in the US, and later in the UK, Europe, and even further afield.

The idea was simple: AOL made it easier than ever to get online – just insert the disc into your device, and follow the instructions to physically connect your computer to Router And the phone line, and that’s it, you’re connected to the Internet.

For users who didn’t quite know what to do with the internet at home, AOL has developed a web portal to show them the best this brave new world has to offer – including partnerships with knowledge bases like National Geographic and Smithsonian, chat clients to talk to their friends, a version of Special for kids from AOL, along with curated site lists and categories – all for a low hourly fee.

AOL offered free trials of 100, 500, 750 or 1,000 hours to attract leads, and if that doesn’t work, they’ll send you a new CD next week as well. And the week after that, and the week after that too. If you were the kind of person who refused to embrace the modern age and kept buying newspapers, there was bound to be an AOL CD hidden in the sports section.

In an interview with Take CrunchJan Brandt, former head of marketing at AOL, revealed, “At one time, 50% of CDs produced worldwide bore the AOL logo.” That’s a lot of CDS, and in many homes, the surplus has been used as coasters, bird liners, clocks, and birthday cards.

With this level of saturation, AOL could not help but succeed, and by 1997, AOL had 34 million subscribers.

AOL was making Much of money and rapid expansion. Over the next few years, it acquired Netscape (a rather big deal), MapQuest (a rather big deal), and a dominant stake in Time Warner (a huge deal). This gave AOL Time Warner a combined value of $360 billion (about $600 billion in 2022, adjusted for inflation). For reference, Amazon is currently valued at around $1,100 billion.

The decline and fall of an online empire

The early 2000s was a tough time for internet companies; The bursting of the dotcom bubble peaked during the period covering late 2001 and early 2002 and saw Internet-based companies lose up to 75% of their value. Although AOL has continued to push new products over the years, in 2005 Google – the new king of the Internet – announced its plans to buy a stake in AOL.

In an effort to support their business, AOL began giving away email accounts, free storage, and domain names assigned to non-AOL customers. At the same time, they raised prices for customers and moved their call centers abroad.

By 2007, there were only 10 million AOL subscribers worldwide—the company began closing down its physical holdings, ditching nonessential businesses, and making increasingly exotic purchases—like the Bebo social network.

Eventually, AOL split from Time Warner and began a long period of buying and selling other media companies, distribution networks, and questionable tech ventures. Verizon bought AOL for $4.4 billion in 2015 and another sick web giant, Yahoo!, for $4.5 billion in 2017.

Together, the two companies were renamed “Oath,” with a promise to relaunch “one of the most disruptive brand companies in the digital space.” It’s fair to say that AOL, as part of Oath, has failed to achieve anything noteworthy as of this writing.

The two companies were sold together to private equity firm Apollo Global Management for $5 billion in 2021, while Yahoo! It was revived, dropping the AOL name altogether.

end of line for AOL

AOL has had a long and arduous journey, from its humble beginnings at a time when no one saw a web browser to becoming synonymous with the web. But then, it also experienced a massive decline – from being a $350 billion tech empire to becoming a buy-and-get-one-free private equity discount fund.

The company’s new owners saw fit to group each of their new assets under the “Yahoo!” Unless Apollo sees some urgency in reusing the brand name, AOL appears to have been relegated to the trash heap of Internet history.

Those CDs, though? There is still a lot around.

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