A spiffy HTML-5 based mobile web portal may not seem like a big deal for many content providers.  I would even go as far as to call such a portal a “standard” for popular web services.  But for America Online, the jump into the mobile market is a significant one, showing not only a change in focus, but a change in approach as well.  This being, AOL has recently launched a new mobile site that allows users to access services such as AOL Mail, Engadget, and AOL News from their mobile devices.  Additionally, AOL has launched an official Android application that allows a more seamless tie-in with the device itself.

As big of a leap this is for AOL, the company’s decision to venture into the mobile market shows one thing: that they are desperately trying to maintain their user-base my gaining new users and keeping the ones they already have.  Think about it.  When was the last time you heard good news about AOL?  When was the last time that AOL was popular?  While they were a huge part in the development of the Internet as we know it, many people have ventured away from AOL over the years.  This has left AOL fumbling to try and find ways to make their services more appealing to users.

In 2006, AOL changed their focus from being a completely paid service (for the exception of subsidiaries such as AIM and MapQuest), to becoming a free online portal.  This change allowed users to, in exchange for being bombarded with advertisements, get free @aol.com email addresses, download and use the AOL software on top of an existing Internet connection at no cost, and take advantage of all of the internal newsgroups, chat rooms, and communities that AOL had to offer.

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At the time I thought that AOL’s move was somewhat desperate, as they had been loosing users by the boatload for so long and were obviously trying to do damage control in order to stay alive.  Now, with the introduction of a new and improved mobile site, it is obvious that AOL is attempting to recoup itself and gain users by selling them on the mobility aspect of their services.  In other words, in the era where handheld devices dominate our culture, AOL is trying to be “hip” again.

But, from the direction that AOL seems to be heading, their chances of becoming “hip” again are about the same as “mom jeans” becoming “hip”.  Having said this, many people are quick to judge AOL for it’s less than appealing history, and are simply unwilling to even consider hopping back on the AOL bandwagon.

So this leaves the ultimate question: is AOL destined for failure?  And, the reality is with AOL’s public image as it is, it is highly unlikely that the one-time Internet giant will ever be able to be anything near what it was before.


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