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Beautiful Decay of AOL (invisibleup.neocities.org)
116 points by Tideflat on Dec 26, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 52 comments

I think this classic Onion piece from 2000 is always worth referencing in these situations - back then, using the internet for movie times and recipes was the subject for humor http://www.theonion.com/article/area-man-consults-internet-w...

We've come a long way in a short time, but AOL (etc) deserve to be remembered for inspiring what was possible, even if they ultimately failed in the execution.

They They were mocking his behaviour, but all those things were possible when that article was written, they were mocking him breaking conversation to look to see things up.

Society has changed so that it is now acceptable, technology has improved so it is quicker to look those things up but the article wasn't mocking the idea that those things were online.

It's still not socially acceptable to break convo to do a quick search

It's done all the time with no offense. I'll frequently be talking to friends or coworkers and done point of contention will come up, somebody will offer to Google it on their phone, and everyone will urge them to do it.

Still better than ignoring the convo and doing a quick search :)

I so wish you weren't getting down voted.

I agree, since a downvote is inappropriate. But I must say that the post does not reflect my experience at all.

I don't know why the author's tone is so mean and snarky. Yes, the web won (inevitable and thank goodness), but it's not like many 19-year-old web pages are still around and serving working links either.

And for all its fundamental closed-ecosystem walled-garden flaws, AOL brought the first taste of the Internet to millions. We should celebrate the accomplishments and learn from the failings, not dance on the graves of the vanquished.

I didn't read it as 'mean and snarky'. Author sounds genuinely in awe and the quantity of material on there. It's an archiver's dream I imagine.

> it's not like many 19-year-old web pages are still around and serving working links either.

Define many.

  mysql geocities
  Welcome to the MySQL monitor.  Commands end with ; or \g.
  Your MySQL connection id is 93532573
  Server version: 5.0.45-log Source distribution
  Type 'help;' or '\h' for help. Type '\c' to clear the buffer.

  mysql> select count(*) from master;
  | count(*) |
  | 44366377 | 
  1 row in set (0.01 sec)

If 44 odd million qualifies as many then there are many such pages, and there are many more besides the ones that weren't caught here and on the archive. The old web is very much around, it is just tiny compared to the new web which is one of the reasons people think it has disappeared.

Yes, old pages do die permanently, but achive.org is doing an absolutely outstanding job at capturing it. The bigger cause of information mortality is not neglect but outright murder, and murder on 'the open web' is a lot harder than murder in a walled garden.

AOL is a special case, and facebook is trying very very hard to be the new AOL. Don't underestimate the risks of not learning from the past, the author is in my opinion not so much dancing on the grave of AOL as they are warning us about our possible future.

I reread it, and there isn't so much snarkiness against AOL itself as much as the 90s culture AOL brings.

To someone who didn't experience it first hand, a lot of 90s trends seem utterly ridiculous, and unlike the silly trends of the 60s/70s... 90s trends are well preserved and available for everyone to see and poke fun at.

Exactly. AOL was the face of the Internet (ISP, chat, email, web) for years. In relative terms, AOL was arguably the most successful Internet company of all time. And that didn't happen by accident; there are good lessons to be learned.

The same goes for Yahoo! when someone writes a blog post about them in eight years.

Agreed. There is a lot of history here, and it's still working! I call "amazing" on all of that. Wonder if there is still some revenue, or contracts keeping it alive, or just nobody cares, or too much trouble to kill it off...

Another AOL legacy is retention. You can't really say no without them just leaving AOL on the table. A coworker years ago used to get on for free just stringing them on...

He used to laugh about it, until that tactic worked! He ended up paying them for a while when he ran into hard times. Never without his AOL.

That experience turned him into a strange sort of fan. Disliked AOL, but loyal just the same.

Funny you mention that. My home page has been up for going on 21 years now. (:

It used to look a lot better than it does now though.

This is really old fuzzy memory, but at one point there was some kind of administrative or staff plugin for AOL that would let you put in a sub-site-ID and jump straight to some of these things. A bunch of people started using a several-years-old superbowl message board to trade warez. It was like operating out of an abandoned stadium... but over 28.8.

Sounds like Yik Yak

It was called AOHell. There were a few variations under different names. Just found a box of floppies at my folks house. Cant wait to see what the time capsule holds

Lots of fun with that one.. Fake (but valid) credit card generator, mail bombs.. I'm surprised users of that didn't get arrested. Luckily the statute of limitations ran out on that a while ago! Not that it would affect me or anything..

Not sure if it was here on HN or somewhere else, but that reminds me of a story about someone finding odd conversations in his blog comments.

When he inquired the people involved about what they were doing he found them to be school kids that used the comments section of blogs as makeshift chat rooms to get around school site blockers.

It wasn't a plugin, it was just a search bar with a feature called keywords. Typing in the keyword would take you directly to the page of that section of AOL. I remember the woman who started the astrology page was making money hand over fist.

There was also a way to automate actions to occur on login. My PC motherboard or RAM went flaky and started crashing after a few minutes in Windows. Not enough time to do much. So I wrote a login script that would go to my email and each of my message boards and newsgroups, downloading any new messages quickly enough before it crashed. Then I'd boot to DOS and take my time reading and preparing responses. Then reboot to Windows and hope the responses all got sent before the system crashed.

Many, many, many years ago, I took over an office space from Matt Goldman, who was one the founders of The Blue Man Group. His full time job, before starting Blue Man, was duplicating AOL disks. Day after day. Just one of those tidbits of AOL history.

For some strange reason this reminded me of DeadAIM by Jdennis. Man AOL really handed the modern web to Facebook.

Aol is still around, you know. It's mostly an advertising company now, though. BTW, if any one with AWS or devops experience wants a job at Aol, let me know, we're hiring like mad right now.

Technically Aol is Verizon now ;). Cheers from an ex-Aoler.

What I keep wondering is why do we keep boxing ourselves into these little walled gardens, when the world is so wide and the web so flexible?

It's cyclical. Having one protocol with multiple open clients prevents rapid (if any) innovation, and creates an opportunity for walled gardens to steal the market. And then once the walled garden converges on the local maximum, it creates an opportunity to build a stable open protocol. Which then lasts until someone comes up with the next big innovation that the open standard is too ossified to support.

For all the shit that AOL gets, they basically got the entire country on the Internet. Even the biggest unicorns today have nothing on AOL at its peak.

AOL offered an easy way to get on the Internet using a MODEM and an Install Floppy or CD-ROM.

I ran a PC Shop in 1995-1997 I was run out of business by Big Box stores offering low cost PCs using the AOL $500 Internet Rebate that locked people into a 3 or 5 year AOL $35/month contract. I tried to convince people that they could get on the same Internet with Brick.net and if they paid for a year in advance they would only pay $9.99 a month total and save money over using AOL. I sold a $700 PC Clone with GNU/Linux or Windows 95, and the Big Box stores sold the Packard Bell system with the same specs for $200 after the $500 Internet rebate.

I hear there are people still paying AOL for dial-up access on older Macs and PCs. So I am not surprised to see the old AOL clients still work mostly.

The Basilisk II emulator needs some system files to get CD and TCP/IP networking to work in Windows. http://basilisk.cebix.net/

Here is how to get online: http://www.emaculation.com/doku.php/basilisk_ii_online_guide

Some people use Sheepshaver instead http://www.emaculation.com/doku.php/sheepshaver_online_guide

You also need an old version of SDL and GTK+ to make it work with Windows.

These Mac emulators could be upgraded to the latest technology for the latest SDL and GTK+ libraries, the source code is available.

The hard part is getting the Macintosh ROM, Apple made System 7.X available for free, but getting the ROM is hard. You'd need access to a 68K Mac and a floppy drive to copy the ROM to and copy it over to a modern computer using a USB floppy drive and only the 1.44M format is supported not the 880K format. Some ROMs are on the Internet and I won't link to them for piracy issues, but they should be found via web searches.

In the case of SheepShaver at least, there’s a Mac ROM that can be extracted from a freely available Mac OS update that works just fine. Not sure of the legality of that, but it’s got to be better than downloading ROMs of Macs you don’t own.

There was once an Apple Development CD that was given out with all sorts of Mac ROMs and System install files and other things. I used to have a copy of it but lost it.

I think it was given out before Steve Jobs came back to Apple. It was at a developer conference. They wanted developers to support the Macintosh at a time when Apple was struggling financially. The files on the CD could be used with emulators so they could get more Mac developers that way.

I remember people well selling copies of that CD online for a while. Then it ended up on The Pirate Bay before it was taken down or lost seeders.

That sounds like the Macintosh "Legacy Recovery" CD. You can still find copies floating around the web.

Actually for years if you were a registered developer (which cost ~$500/year iirc) you got a monthly CD-ROM and issue of develop magazine (which was very good). The CD-ROMs periodically had archives of pretty much every major stable OS release (along with the current and bleeding edge releases, developer tools, and an On Location free text retrieval index that worked better than Spotlight does now).

I remember that! The developer membership was really expensive, but if you were a student you got it for $99/year.

Between the free shirts, the monthly mailings, and the hardware discounts it was totally worth the high price.

AOL was a garden with a picket fence. Old people remember the predecessors to aol -- Prodigy (an IBM/cbs/Sears joint venture!) and CompuServe.

Aol brought the Internet to the masses.

You forgot GEnie. :)

QuantumLink for life. (Actually, I couldn't afford QuantumLink and used bulletin boards, instead.)

because most people are not explorers. They want a packaged tour.

Most people presented with a blinking ftp or gopher or even browser address prompt, stare and blink right back. At a total loss what to do, at a loss to even figure out what the need to do to start learning what they could do. But given a brightly colored display of few constrained, familiar options (weather, celebrity gossip, sports, etc) they can ingest and start to learn new medium.

Distribution is a big reason. Distribution hasn't become a protocol and won't for the foreseeable future. Medium shows folks really want to be heard above all else and will trade a lot for distribution.

Google and Seo was a good hope but Seo takes a long time. A good medium post can get blown up in a day.

We all have living rooms. We can all go to the store and buy liquor. And yet... So many of us would rather go line up to get into a bar and pay outrageous prices for liquor... Because those places are more crowded than our living rooms.

Because ISPs have made it damn hard to run servers on on consumer connections.

This is particularly a port-web phenomena, as now everyone expects to do everything via the web. And it is quite a bit more connection straining than say IRC.

People don't care about freedom?

I think (at least hope) people do care about freedom, but they're just not even aware that freedom is an option. So we should at least try to educate them about the option of freedom.

I believe a lot of people aren't aware that with AOL internet, you could run a web browser while connected and have access to the normal www. That was the case in the early 2000's - was it different before then?

It's amazing how differently time move online vs meatspace. Take computing out of the picture and 2007 isn't very long ago at all. Look at a few web pages from then and it feels like 20 years ago.

AOL used to have an active hacking scene. Some of that is also still archived:


The camo and leather fashion section is interesting as the second US Gulf War was just getting underway. Makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up in a Oceania is at war with Eastasia. kind of way.

Fascinating how the comments here are uniformly praising AOL.

How do we archive this?

I was working on this at one time back in late 2014. A bunch of people used scripts I made to start downloading all the file areas. Then... AOL removed the files in January 2015. They also removed support for AOL 4.0 or 5.0 and below last April, and that was the version that a very incomplete Python client was claiming to be.

The research I did into archiving AOL helped me find this: http://lizardhq.org/2015/12/05/aol-desktop.html

Hopefully I'll do enough reversing to fix and finish the custom client one day. Newer clients wrap the login and just the login in some form of SSL/TLS. Which I still need to figure out.

Maybe people can help. There's a channel at efnet #aohell and plenty of information on the archiveteam wiki.

That is a very, very good question. I'm not sure if anyone actually knows right now, in many ways it's a wild west I think. Not important enough for people to struggle over with making money but part of our shared heritage, locked away in an AOL vault that is slowly having concrete poured into it.

AOL -> geocities -> friendster -> myspace -> facebook, the next AOL.

if, in 20 years, we view facebook the way everyone now views AOL, I will be a much happier old man.

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