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5 years ago, aol still used aim internally for everything that people use slack for today. Group chats, bots, notifications for builds, etc, etc.

Then gradually individual teams picked up slack and within maybe 18 months, we went from 100% aim to a gigantic corporate slack team.

That was the end of AIM, I think. Aol and yahoo both use gmail internally so I suspect they’re going to shitcan their email services eventually, too.

I think it’s remarkable how badly aol fumbled the ball on AIM twice — first by not turning it into a social network, and second by not turning it into enterprise chat.

All it would have taken was some investment instead of continuously laying off everyone that worked on it.

It is hard to move the ball forward when you reorg every year and have minor layoffs almost every year to keep OIBDA moving in the right direction so the execs get larger bonuses. So many people were in self preservation mode with no interest in anything that was "risky" and might put their bonus at risk. Similar things happened with how they managed MapQuest.

Also, if you think they missed a chance on AIM, it is nothing compared to what they missed on email. They could easily have made aol mail free and still kept charging for the client. Ted Leonsis admitted at a meeting once that this was his largest regret.

> It is hard to move the ball forward when you reorg every year and have minor layoffs almost every year to keep OIBDA moving in the right direction so the execs get larger bonuses.

Is there a an established term for this already? If not I'd like to call it stock market disease due to the usual reason for it.

Executive compensation often comes in the form of equity, but are there cases where execs are obligated to hold the equity over a long time horizon? Say 10-20 years? That seems it would align incentives better for everyone, no?

There are some. Exxon's performance shares vest 50% over 5 years and 50% in retirement, with a 10 year minimum. One of the problems with this approach is in order to get executives to forgo their compensation for that many years you often have to pay them more, which gets into pay magnitude concerns.

Norway's sovereign wealth fund Norges is starting to encourage companies to adopt very long term time horizons for equity awards and to move away from the specific, complex performance-vesting plans most US companies rely on today, though most institutional investors and companies are skeptical of that approach.

>One of the problems with this approach is in order to get executives to forgo their compensation for that many years you often have to pay them more, which gets into pay magnitude concerns.

That is logical; however afaik there is almost no data to indicate magnitude of CEO pay is an indicator of company performance. I would bet you that long-horizon-tied CEO compensation would be correlated, though.

Quarterly Capitalism.


Capitalism will eat itself

Wall Streetitis?

so isn't this capitalism working as it should?

they literally killed their own golden goose with stupidity. why shouldn't others disrupt corrupt crap business?

> they literally killed their own golden goose with stupidity

I think this statement misleads readers.

Was there organizational stupidity? Always, in every organization. What kept AOL from capitalizing on messaging and social media was lock-in to the subscriber business model, which when combined with market defined quarter-to-quarter EBIDTA driven board goals did not permit leaping at what the people at the core of the (AIM) business knew were the possibilities.

About the only thing they could have reasonably got away with would have been some kind of spin-out, which was always opposed by the subscriber revenue side's logic. Guess what: the folks with the multi-billion $ revenue stream win those arguments.

So, not stupid. Bound by the market and biz model, and not managed by suicidal execs. So in the long run it took folks with tens of billions of dollars of private risk money to take that leap.

Huh. Do you think investors are happy with how it turned out? Is there any significant interest group that's happy with how it turned out? If not, I'd have a hard time calling that smart.

I get that the people with power may have maximized their personal short-term financial outcomes. Which is certainly one way to define smart. But it strikes me as a very narrow one.

Look at Bezos, for example. He's spent the last couple of decades mostly ignoring what investors wants on a quarterly basis. And Amazon's gone from strength to strength because of it. If AOL's execs were smart, then that makes Bezos stupid. If that's the case, I guess I'd rather be dumb.

Yes, I think the investors were happy with that. They cashed in in a few quarters and moved on to invest in whatever was popping at the time, rather than having to squirrel away that money for another 5-10 years waiting for a high-risk venture to succeed. The folks who would have been happy to do that weren't buying AOL stock, they were putting their money in VC or private equity.

It's not like investors keep investing in the same company all their lives. They are probably happy that AOL made so many millions, and they probably invested in something else when they stopped making so many millions.

The execs are probably not as happy as the investors, but they are still somewhat isolated from the fate of each individual company via their golden parachutes, and they can find jobs as experienced execs in some other company.

There are approximately a fixed number of shares out there for a company. When you say investors moved on, that's not exactly true; somebody bought those shares. Somebody took the losses as AOL declined. And although some investors surely were happy to move on, they would surely would have been happier if the stock kept doing well, if they didn't have to move on.

Good investors diversify. It's possible that people who invested in AOL wanted them to keep the same business model and not try anything new, because they also invested in the other companies that were trying the new things.

True. But aside from Amazon who has gotten away with that? Yes, it's a great example. But it's an outlier's outlier.

Toyota's another great example. They went from Japan's post-WWII decimation to the world's largest car company. They did it through an intense focus on increasing customer value and reducing waste. US automakers couldn't come close to matching their quality or effectiveness. This despite Toyota's attempts to teach them through efforts like NUMMI.

I think their unique culture has declined over time, but it was still powerful enough to give us the Prius. Now ubiquitous, at the time, it was revolutionary.

If looking at the mark they made worldwide, I feel the Hilux serie is even stronger than the Prius. Of course "the Hilux war" is a bit harder to use in a marketing campaign.

Toyota owes A LOT to Bell Labs. I'm not so sure they can thank Wall Street for being unnaturally forgiving.

Sorry, I haven't heard about this. What does Toyota owe to Bell Labs?

Also, I'm not sure that Wall Street had much influence on Toyota. I can't easily tell when they first listed on US markets, but it was long after their company culture was set.

It's a strange feature of an economic system where the incentives require that successful participants blow themselves up. It requires that new=good and old=bad.

It doesn’t require that all. If anything, we are now seeing the opposite where top companies with considerable resources are remaining agile and innovative, effectively out-competing many new startups.

You're right... for now. We're seeing incredible concentration of wealth. Eventually they will become lazy and overly bureaucratic. Google, Apple, and Facebook in particular made their mark by dismissing customer service and by not addressing customer complaints, creating a culture of the "one true way". That culture + monopoly status will create (and is creating) a toxic miasma.

Apple has fairly good service if you show up at one of their stores with a broken device. Google and Facebook will also sometimes provide good service for actual paying customers, just not for users.

Also, the big technology corps are fighting their lack of internal innovation by buying smaller competitors. The executives are well aware of company lifecycle theory.

In technology especially, inertia is a liability. Not really surprising that most tech companies don't make it that long.

What is more surprising is that our attachment to institutions includes for-profit businesses. Really, we should, as customers/consumers, just go with the best service, but culturally we can't help but think that something is lost when an old, useless company goes away.

It's not required that successful businesses blow themselves up, but if they do make poor choices, they will suffer, and perhaps pay with their existence, for those choices.

It's not required. But just the same it should always be a what-if possibility. I'd say the poor choices come from a tunnel vision approach to those decisions.

Ultimately, in the context ans scope they are made, they are probably great decisions. However, reality is more far reaching.

Not always blow themselves up. Just continually reinvest. In their people, their products. The problem with our economic system is how short sighted corporations have become.

He isn't saying others shouldn't come along to replace them. Only that the AOL people realized their mistakes too late.

Mostly this, or that they didn't even really care. It was all about preservation and riding out the gravy train.

I'm not sure who or what you're arguing against. It's a good thing when fuckup companies are replaced by better ones; that doesn't mean it's a good thing that companies keep fucking up.

Tangentially, publicly-traded companies are strongly incentivized to keep growing at all costs until they collapse under their own weight, rather than just finding a market and serving it well year after year. I dunno if capitalism is to blame specifically, but it certainly seems perverse.

Yes it is. They didn't get the job done, so other firms stepped in and did it better.

Contrast this with communism, be where we'd all just be forced by law to use whatever AOL gave us, forever.

I know you're being facetious, but under a Communist society it's likely that there would be several popular hobby projects, similar to open source community's efforts. Things like AIM would be developed in private or cooperatively, just as modern software is written, but without the influence of capital and wage labour.

It is capitalism working as it should.

But it is still sad to see something that was such an important part of internet culture and history die like this.

But perhaps that is just the nostalgia speaking.

That’s fascinating that you guys ended up choosing Slack.

I’m surprised because it seems like with the infrastructure already setup, AOL could’ve built an internal enterprise MVP and got a real leg-up on the rest of the competition. Missed opportunity for sure.

It was less a intentional choice (early on at least) and more motivated by how painful using aim group chats for software development was. Slack wasn't even centrally managed for the early days of use.

(Although AIM itself started as kind of a unwanted skunkworks project, when there was an off the shelf solution available, people weren't that driven to build their own)

That was the brilliant part of their go-to market strategy. Rather than negotiating with enterprise executives, they let each team start its own microinstance and try it independently. It's much easier to get a 20 person team to try it than a 10Ks of people organization; but word-of-mouth and a quality product can get enough 20 person teams in a 10Ks organization to switch that eventually the whole enterprise signs up.

Or gone with a free alternative like Mattermost & added the necessary bells & whistles.

Mattermost today is extremely competitive with Slack.

If Mattermost is competitive with Slack, that's a serious indictment against Slack.

Mattermost's clients are awful. Just awful. The phone apps are effectively unusable (incredibly buggy and suck down battery like no tomorrow), and the desktop electron app is a complete hog. It doesn't even handle its faux tabs properly (takes half a second to switch, and it resets the position to the end every time you change a tab, which is... dumb), and the scrollback handles high-volume channels very poorly (I have to click "Load more messages" at least 20x times every time I want to scroll back to the beginning of the day). Now imagine every time you switch tabs you have to click "Load more messages" a bunch of times to see earlier messages because it resets when you switched tabs.

If this is the future of messaging, then holy shit. It's almost a parody.

Mattermost is a pale, pale shadow of Slack. It's nowhere close to competitive and I doubt it ever will be.

Mattermost idealistically might be competitive with Slack, but right now it isn't. Most people who only care about usability and features will choose Slack over Mattermost. Just use the apps for a couple days and the differences and issues between them are clear as day.

I'd like Mattermost to succeed. But it needs to do a lot of catching up still.

Before Slack there were other examples in corporate chat solutions like Lync which had a good run. It's not like corporate messaging is new. Wonder why that was missed. AOL too consumer focused?

They more or less stopped development on aim like 5-6 years ago.

Is there a word for what one might refer to as "institutional/organizational burnout"?

I feel like it's related to the age of leadership and trends in the current cult of personality du jour, and its interaction with promotion, branding and marketing. Shit happens, and the inertia of social groups is tough to steer over time, as sensibilities and fashions change, people get old, and graduating classes of the current generation ascend to power.

I have no data to back this up, but my gut tells me it happens a lot more at companies where the CEO isn't a founder, or doesn't have a high degree of ownership.

When the CEO controls a lot of the stock, they seem to care a lot less about quarterly results, whereas when the CEO gets most of their money from bonuses tied to stock growth, that is when you see most of these games.

If that's true, it seems the lesson here is to give your CEO a bunch of stock instead of a bonus based on stock performance?

I have no data to back this up, but my gut tells me it happens a lot more at companies where the CEO isn't a founder, or doesn't have a high degree of ownership.

Agreed, once the original vision is gone something else takes its place and it is just a ghost of what it was.

This goes hand in hand with the owners/founders being more focused on product development, engineering and innovation. Engineering and innovation are costly when marketing or bizdev/accounting/metrics runs your company which typically happens when the founder leaves. Engineering takes a back seat to decision making, marketing tries to pump revenue out of a product that may be successful not but is not being iterated or innovated on, or the next big thing is not worked on because the company is fat and happy until the grace from that innovation runs out. People join during times of success to latch on and cash out, when the hard work of innovating comes along, those people are gone.

Companies like Amazon, Apple, Google win because they are willing to take innovative risks, engineering is not in the back seat but a driving force and they invest most of their profits back into more innovation, Amazon is probably the best out there at this. Microsoft used to be as well and is coming back a bit but they fell into the trap above when Ballmer took over for a while, more focused on revenues and metrics than the next big step which will always put the current players out of business, or missing a step, if they don't adapt.

Just giving them stock or options doesn't really change things. Stock that vested over a 20 year period might be an incentive to look further down the line, but remember "look out for yourself first" and "be loyal to yourself not the company because the company isn't loyal to you?" All of that applies to CEOs as well.

Was thinking similarly. It feels like the issue is still more 'control'. While CEOs ostensibly have a lot of control, not all do (or feel they do), and perhaps not all actually want it. If you had control enough to feel like you were pretty sure you weren't going to be ousted next quarter for a down quarter or even a down year, you'd be more inclined to make strategic decisions that might be hard to make, but necessary for growth.


Sorry to reply with an off topic question but do you still work at AOL? If so, do you think there’s any chance AOL would consider allowing passwords longer than 16 characters? I only use AOL for junk/spam mail but even in that instance would prefer to use a strong password. When you see the “password too long” error message it’s easy to worry that the password is being stored plain text in some space constrained column.

Unless you're using a very constrained character set then 16 characters is pretty strong in my books.

What's your threat model?

NIST guidelines are for a minimum length of 8 characters and a maximum length of no fewer than 64 characters.

What is your basis for suggesting anything less than those guidelines is sufficient?



You should try plotting ease of recall vs the size of password. You will quickly realize there is a long tail beyond 16 characters.

You seem to think recalling passwords is a good idea--it's not. The desire to recall passwords leads to selecting very few passwords (if not just one) for many identities, which is very insecure.

We should be encouraging people to select passwords that they can't rememeber so that they are then encouraged to generate them with a tool (my favorite being KeePass).

"correct horse battery staple" doesn't fit in 16 characters, and has has much better recall than basically all similarly-secure passwords that do.

Longer passwords let you optimize passwords for ease of recall and security, rather than fitting in arbitrary requirements.

Even though that phrase password is 16 characters long, it has the same entropy as a 9-10 letter long alphanumeric random password (according to KeePass' generator). I agree that it's easier to recall, but it's half as secure as a properly random 16 character one.

I've used Debian's xkcdpass to generat 50 sets of 100 million passwords, then then checked for duplicates. The algorithm uses six words and a large dictionary, but otherwise resembles the xkcd original.

There were no duplicates in any of the 50 sets. (About a week's runtime on a fairly modest Intel processor.)

Given that 100m accounts is a fair fraction of the world's active computer users, that's a pretty good start.

(There are further reasons for finding passwords alone insufficient for security, but at least these are strong, and yet potentially memorable, passwords.)

Diceware will solve that problem of easy recall + secure password: http://world.std.com/%7Ereinhold/diceware.html

I consider it a good thing that I currently only know about 3-4 passwords and the rest are just unknown asterisks that get pasted in by my password manager.

Recalling passwords? That's so yester-year.

EDIT: Well, with the exception of your password manager one, if not using biometrics.

> Aol and yahoo both use gmail internall

You couldn't be more wrong about Yahoo, unless something changed in the last six months.

I quit, yahoo, in the last 6 months and they were definitely using gmail prior to that.

When did they switch from forcing all employees to use Yahoo Mail? When I left in 2015, they had disabled POP for internal mail, so we were forced to use the actual Yahoo Mail website.

> forced to use the actual Yahoo Mail website

I left in 2016 and in practice we just didn't use email at all because it was so painful to use.

I heard from a friend internal YMail would have ads too because the YMail team needed to test the ad product of YMail... which is kind of ... eh.

I had to communicate with sales constantly (worked on the front-page ads team), so email was essential, unfortunately.

What kind of work did you do that didn’t require email?

We mostly just used Slack/HipChat instead.

Which of the below do you mean:

a) Employees of yahoo using gmail for personal purposes?

b) Yahoo, the company, uses gmail

c) @yahoo.com will be powered by gmail in the future as a white labeled product?

(Each of the above is alarming in it's own way)

It's clearly (b) from the context.

I don't know about Yahoo, but in other organizations I've seen employees using gmail, for work, because it's more convenient than the corporate/enterprise email platform.

Sure but it's usually against corporate policy and reason to fire the person. This has happened in companies I have worked in the past. People take print outs and take them outside office. This is against company policy for confidential documents).

What kind of companies are these? I have worked in a dozen companies so far and in not one of them using GMail for personal use was against the corporate policy.

GP clearly says "gmail, for work".

I think a vast majority of companies would fire (at least, call it out as against policy) if you just went ahead and used gmail for work emails because the official one is crappy.

Aol, at least, migrated their corporate email to gmail several years ago. Before that, it was exchange.

> That was the end of AIM, I think. Aol and yahoo both use gmail internally so I suspect they’re going to shitcan their email services eventually, too.

Man, that would be an absolute disaster. I have so many contacts who I can only through Yahoo and AOL email addresses. I guess I should reach out to all of them before they are disappeared. ;- )

I would assume any Yahoo service is vulnerable. I certainly wouldn’t expect major services like Mail to just go poof overnight, but my working assumption is that they could easily be gone over the next few years.

No way. Yahoo uses gmail internally? Yahoo is still prominent enough in email, it would be pretty crazy for them to shut down their email service. I assumed aol would shift their email to yahoo. Or some sort of merger with Yahoo being the lead.

And third by not mobilizing it. There is no reason Whatsapp would have won if AIM went mobile app, push notifications, done. They had a huge and passionate user base, were integrated into Apple iChat, you name it. They all blew it.

Goes to show that big corps often have no clue how to deal with their offerings.

AIM did go mobile. It was in the iPhone App Store on day 1. Push notifications didn’t even exist back then. When push notifications were announced by Apple in June 2009 as part of iPhone OS 3.0, AIM was the “partner” they used to load-test it during WWDC.

Source: I worked on AIM for iPhone.

IMO AIM struggled because: - it was a highly tuned, specialized C backend, and it never migrated to something that could be improved easily. - backend technical challenges (as well as legal issues) made storing chat history very difficult - Hardly any info was collected about AIM screennames, so it was hard to build a social graph from it - AIM registration was the same as AOL signup, and that registration process was very cumbersome, imo. - Most AIM accounts had no email address associated with them, so it was impossible to do password resets, for all the locked up AIM screennames.

As a client developer on AIM, it was hard to make a material improvement to AIM, though we certainly did try

You just assume that AIM would be better as a "social network".. but not everyone wants that, some people just want simple chat.

In fact many people think google's failure with gchat was trying to force people to use things they didn't want when all they really wanted was simple chat.

The point is that AIM was a social network before the idea was even conceptualized. The concept of a friend activity feed existed on AIM in an ad hoc manner before it was hard coded into facebook/twitter/etc: it was standard to go down your list of friends and see who was doing what based on their status message. If someone at Aol had any foresight they could have been on the ground floor of the rise of social networks.

Aol was used as a simple social network. Checking people's statuses was common practice back in the day. As was changing it. Same with your away message. Also being able to see idled people was helpful. None of these features are available or used much in modern mobile messaging. Not sure if WhatsApp status messages (not their story feature) is actively used.

> Aol and yahoo both use gmail internally

Wait ... what? Who came up with the idea of hosting your email with your competitor?

> Aol and yahoo both use gmail internally

If I remember correctly, Yahoo used to have an email service.

And to think corps used to use Zimbra for email, which at one point was owned by Yahoo!

The entire Oracle company still uses Zimbra for email.

It’s the worst piece of software I ever used. Worst than Lotus notes, worse than Eclipse. It’s the only software that genuinely makes me angry.

That is somewhat shocking that yahoo uses gmail internally.

What happened to eating your own dogfood?

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