kottke.org posts about AOL
Over on Quartz, Zach Seward takes a neat look at the 14 year rise and fall of AOL through the zeitgeist-y lens of clues for that short, double vowel word being used in the New York Times crossword.
Mar. 29, 1998: Netcom competitor
Jun. 17, 1998: Chat room inits.
Oct. 4, 1998: Part of some E-mail addresses
Eric Simons is a 19-year-old entrepreneur who lived for two months in the AOL HQ in Palo Alto. Simons was given a badge while participating in Imagine K12, an education incubator housed at AOL. When the program ended, Simons's badge continued to work. So he stayed, sleeping on one of three couches, showering in the gym, and eating for free in the cafeteria. There's a walled garden joke in here, maybe even a domain squatting joke, too.
For someone with neither money nor an aversion to sleeping on others' couches, the AOL building had plenty of allure. "They had a gym there with showers," Simons said. "I'd take a shower after work. I was like, 'I could totally work here...They have food upstairs, they have every drink on tap. This would be a sweet place to live.'"
It's too bad Simons didn't keep a Tumblr of his two months living at AOL, he'd have a book deal already. (via ★asimone)
Some Facebook employee wrote a rebuttal on Facebook to Facebook is the new AOL:
my former PayPal colleague Yishan Wong, now an ass-kicking, name-taking engineer at Facebook, lays the "Walled Garden" rebuttal smackdown on Kottke, Arrington, et al. you go, Yishan... you just go.
And then. Oh, the irony:
Doh! guess Yishan's post is only visible to his facebook friends... okay, so maybe semi-permeable garden, perhaps.
Mmmm, invisible smackdown.
I wanted to clarify my comments about Facebook's similarities to AOL. I don't think Facebook is a bad company or that they won't be successful; they seem like smart passionate people who genuinely care about making a great space for their users.1 It's just that I, unlike many other people, don't think that Facebook and Facebook Platform are the future of the web. The platform is great for Facebook, but it's a step sideways or even backwards (towards an AOL-style service) for the web.
Think of it this way. Facebook is an intranet for you and your friends that just happens to be accessible without a VPN. If you're not a Facebook user, you can't do anything with the site...nearly everything published by their users is private. Google doesn't index any user-created information on Facebook.2 AFAIK, user data is available through the platform but that hardly makes it open...all of the significant information and, more importantly, interaction still happens in private. Compare this with MySpace or Flickr or YouTube. Much of the information generated on these sites is publicly available. The pages are indexed by search engines. You don't have to be a user to participate (in the broadest sense...reading, viewing, and lurking are participating).
Faced with competition from this open web, AOL lost...running a closed service with custom content and interfaces was no match for the wild frontier of the web. Maybe if they'd done some things differently, they would have fared better, but they still would have lost. In competitive markets, open and messy trumps closed and controlled in the long run. Everything you can do on Facebook with ease is possible using a loose coalition of blogging software, IM clients, email, Twitter, Flickr, Google Reader, etc. Sure, it's not as automatic or easy, but anyone can participate and the number of things to see and do on the web outnumbers the number of things you can see and do on Facebook by several orders of magnitude (and always will).
At some point in the future, Facebook may well open up, rendering much of this criticism irrelevant. Their privacy controls are legendarily flexible and precise...it should be easy for them to let people expose parts of the information to anyone if they wanted to. And as Matt Webb pointed out to me in an email, there's the possibility that Facebook turn itself inside out and be the social network bit for everyone else's web apps. In the meantime, maybe we shouldn't be so excited about the web's future moving onto an intranet.
 And I'm definitely not, as more than one person has suggested, "bitter" about Facebook's success. Please. Just because you disagree with something doesn't mean you're angry. The only reason I even wrote that post is that I got tired of seeing the same people who think AOL sucked, that Times Select is a bad business decision for the NY Times, that are frustrated by IM interop, and that open participation on the web is changing business, media, and human culture for the better trumpeting that this new closed platform is the way forward. ↩
 Aside from extremely limited profile pages, which are little more than "hi, this person is on Facebook and you should be too" advertisements. Examples here.↩
Earlier in the week, I made a comment in passing in a post about Vimeo:
you do know that Facebook is AOL 2.0, right?
A few people picked up on it and speculated what I might have meant by it. In reading those posts and poking around a bit, I found a post that Scott Heiferman made just after Facebook Platform launched in May:
While at Sony in 1994, I was sent to Virginia to learn how to build a Sony "app" on AOL (the #3 online service, behind Compuserve & Prodigy at the time) using AOL's proprietary "rainman" platform.
Fast forward to Facebook 2007 and see similarities: If you want access to their big base of users, develop something in their proprietary language for their people who live in their walled garden.
Scott pretty much nails it here. I've no doubt that Facebook is excited about their new platform (their userbase is big enough that companies feel like they have to develop for it) and it's a savvy move on their part, but I'm not so sure everyone else should be happy about it. What happens when Flickr and LinkedIn and Google and Microsoft and MySpace and YouTube and MetaFilter and Vimeo and Last.fm launch their platforms that you need to develop apps for in some proprietary language that's different for each platform? That gets expensive, time-consuming, and irritating. It's difficult enough to develop for OS X, Windows, and Linux simultaneously...imagine if you had 30 different platforms to develop for.
As it happens, we already have a platform on which anyone can communicate and collaborate with anyone else, individuals and companies can develop applications which can interoperate with one another through open and freely available tools, protocols, and interfaces. It's called the internet and it's more compelling than AOL was in 1994 and Facebook in 2007. Eventually, someone will come along and turn Facebook inside-out, so that instead of custom applications running on a platform in a walled garden, applications run on the internet, out in the open, and people can tie their social network into it if they want, with privacy controls, access levels, and alter-egos galore.
Update: I've clarified my AOL vs. Facebook thoughts here.
Congrats to the Vimeo team on the launch of the latest version of the site. Here's the announcement post. The login/signup page is awesome. I also like how Vimeo has found room in the crowded video-on-the-web field, even though YouTube dominates the space. Vimeo is to YouTube as Facebook is to MySpace...not in terms of closed versus open (you do know that Facebook is AOL 2.0, right?) but in terms of being a bit more well thought out and not as, well, ugly (and not just in the aesthetic sense).
Weblogs, Inc. bought by AOL? If so, this is a perfect match.