Sunday, December 4, 2005

AOL Sticks Their Foot In It...


...and wipes it all over Journal-Land.


Two years and some months ago, several of us loyal (and, as it turns out, endangered) long-time AOL users set up shop in a new community offered by the service: AOL Journals. Unfortunately, as we were developing our journals and our community, AOL itself was transforming. With dependency upon the dues of subscribers no longer keeping it competitive in the 21st century ISP marketplace (read: it was no longer raking in obscene amounts of money), AOL shifted its focus to selling advertising space to bulk up its anemic coffers. And went at it with a vengeance. Each successive version of AOL—7.0, 8.0, 9.0—while purporting to include more and better features for subscribers (tell it Julia!) has been, in reality, primarily a vehicle for squeezing more advertising into every corner of the AOL experience: on news pages, into email, on message boards, in chat rooms.


Had we j-landers thought about it, we probably could have predicted that it was only a matter of time before the advertising plague spread to our little corner of AOL. But we were so comfy in our creative cocoon, we weren’t really paying all that much attention to the encroaching fungus. And AOL chose to allow us to remain blissfully ignorant, focused as we were on our own artistic endeavors. Until, seventeen days ago, they splattered the ad spores across the width and breadth of Journal Land. Forget about asking for our input, or—even further beyond the scope of believability—our permission. In the profit-driven corporate mind, we didn’t even rate a warning. It was just, one morning, bam! there they were. The ad banners, PLUS the horrendous technical hiccup that accompanied them.


We all know what happened next. The anger. The outcry. The Exodus. The shell-shock of those who remained.


After a few days of feeling utterly lost and uprooted, I came to a curious peace with the whole affair. The ad invasion was a completely impersonal, corporate decision, made by the powers that be at AOL. The concept of seeking subscribers’ input was so far off their radar screen that it was nigh unto extra-terrestrial. The course of action had been determined by the financial "need" of the company. There were no subscribers to consider. There was only the bottom line. I understood that; and, for some perverse reason, I was okay with it. It wasn’t personal. It wasn’t about me, or journal land, or AOL members as a whole. It was about making money. Just like everything else in the world. Rather than feeling betrayal, outrage, or disgust, I experienced a great swelling of loyalty. The kind of loyalty a tick feels for its host. As long as I was getting what I wanted, I could put up with the crap. Do whatever you think you need to, you idiots. I’m staying in spite of you..


As time passed, the shock and hurt waned. The dust came filtering back down to earth; people left, people stayed, people (like me) came crawling out of their foxholes waving white flags. True to character, AOL stayed mum. Not a word did we hear to signify that they heard the outcry, witnessed the exodus, gave a flying fig whether we were out here or not. Curiously, that was somehow comforting to me. It made me feel like my assessment of the situation was right on the money (pun intended…)


Apparently, the noise we made was more than just a tiny squeak easily stifled by the giant paw of dollar signs. Obviously, enough of a stink had been generated that it leaked outside the confines of AOL and into the world at large. Just in time to plunge a knife into the barely healed wound, AOL decides that maybe they are taking a public-relations hit with this whole affair. Too dismally tardy to have any positive effect, AOL authorizes some senior vice-president twice-removed to break the corporate silence and post a communiqué to us peons on an "editor’s" journal.


And what a post it is! It starts out with a really endearing salutation ("Folks:" Not, "To Our Valued Members" or "Hello Friends" or even "Dear Folks." Just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?) It immediately makes it clear that this communication is anything but an apology ("I'm not here to report that we're changing our strategy on the ads. The ads are staying for the foreseeable future. Advertising is an important part of how we make money, and we're not ashamed of that.") Goes on to explain that the community experience is still being enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of happy AOLers, in spite of the outcry by the disaffected few ("Some of you are convinced that the addition of ads destroys that experience. I am less certain of that. I can't reconcile it with the fact that we have wonderful, passionate communities thriving in ad-supported pages…" ) If that’s true, why come down off your mountaintop and speak to the lowly peasants at all?


The post continues to pretty much say don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out if you have chosen to leave. ("Some of you have moved on because of this and that's understandable too. We're sorry this change has affected the way you feel about us." Reads a little like a pink slip, doesn’t it?) Then presumes to state that those of us who have stayed have done so out of loyalty to AOL. ("You are important to this community and to us, and we appreciate the understanding and support that you've shown.") Yeah, we understand it’s all about the money. But our decisions to stay stem from a variety of personal reasons, not for the purpose of offering even one splintered toothpick to support YOU.


Having lamely breezed through the inconvenient task of the non-apology, Mr. Vice-President What’s-his-name takes the opportunity to pimp all the great new features they’re working on, for which we have supposedly been clamoring. Enhanced buddy lists? Partner Ping? What??? Not one remaining member of AOL j-land could read of impending new features without a cold dread settling upon them. Mr. "Boss’s Boss’s Boss’s" post was significantly silent about the technical disaster surrounding the last round of "improvements." Hmmmm… S’posing you just get the spell-check to work? Or the alerts? Or fix it so that I can copy and paste my entries out of my word processing program without having to go back and correct all the punctuation that posts as garbled code? Which I wouldn’t have to do in the first place, if I hadn’t early on realized that one could spend hours composing an entry in the "Add Entry" space, only to have it disappear into the ozone at the click of the "Save" button...


Let’s face it, my remaining Journal-land stalwarts. We have been dissed. Again. Just when we were beginning to wade through the debris and start rebuilding, this idiot comes along to remind us just exactly how much we don’t mean to AOL, and how out of touch AOL is with the journal community; in fact, that AOL has no concept at all of the definition of the word "community." To AOL, the community is just a bunch of houses they erected…to slap billboards on.


If AOL thinks they’ve stopped the bleeding, or possibly repaired one sliver of damage with this insulting communication, they are wrong. In fact, they’ve delivered a stinging slap to those of us who have stayed. I don’t know who comes up with your community relations strategy, AOL, but take my advice: Either get a new spin-doctor, or go back to being the impersonal financial juggernaut. Those of us who are still kicking around were much more comfortable with the "You ignore us, and we’ll ignore you" policy. Now, we’ll have to go somewhere else to be left alone.

17 comments:

  1. Bravo! ......well said!!!   Thank you for this post!

    Vivian

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  2. Beautifully said!  I think the "official response" might well run as many people off as the ads themselves.  Serves them right!

    Patrick

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  3. Very well written!!

    Peace,  Virginia

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  4. Well said, as always.

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  5. You summed my exact feelings about the foul letter.  Excellent job.

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  6. Perfectly written!
    Jodi

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  7. I've been of the Not Journaling On AOL School pretty much since this happened, but I had the same thoughts as you otherwise --
    http://journals.aol.com/upseted/JackiesQuirkyMusings/entries/258

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  8. When I read it yesterday I felt it was very condensending towards us. "You idiots, it's all about the money!"...I read that inbetween the lines. And I understand. I was upset at first because they are so obtrusive and ugly. Yet, in the "real" world of business, it is all about increasing revenue over last year. Bonuses depend on it, advancement depends on it, the stock market depends on it. We are naive if we think AOL is different. Doesn't Time Warner own AOL? This is just a fact of life. They will find a way to make a buck ("to keep rising costs down and not pass it on to the consumer")....They do need a new Spin Doctor.  That guy was terrible. Now, this is when they need a woman!

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  9. You know Lisa, I was especially offended by the "community experience is still being enjoyed by hundreds of thousands...despite the outcry by the disaffected few" aspect of his entry.  Like you said, if it were just a few, why bother.  The whole thing just pisses me off to no end and IF I were able to learn the Blogspot methods in a realtively short time...I'd be there.  Gone.  But they wouldn't care.  It's soooo sad.  Anyway....this is the best post I've seen on all of this and I hope you've taken the time to send it to AOL via email.  I vote you as their new PR person!  Hugs, Lisa

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  10. I don't think I got as far your last commeter did. I bailed at the point I realized the entry was basically saying-the ads are staying get used to it. The trouble is he took several hundred words to say it. I've gotten so tired of news, newspapers, commercials, etc. that basically say NOTHING. Might, could, up to,, maybe that 's all we hear anymore.

    Someday the sky will start falling nobody is going to pay attention not because we don't believe it but, becuase we've gotten used to tuning almost everything out.

    Jackiehttp://journals.aol.com/thesheatons/PixelsPoliticsPosiesandPussycats

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  11. Actually if he'd just said "the ads are staying, get used to it" without all the folksy fol de rol it would have been easier to swallow.

    Jackie

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  12. I'm not surprised in the least.  

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  13. I wanted to let you know the 1st Edition of the Moved J-Landers are out. I have posted them in my sidebar along with directions on how to download them if you desire to add them to your links.

    Gabreael

    http://gabreaelsbodymindandspirit.blogspot.com/

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  14. his post plum ticked me off....and I am on of the leavers.....



    but I won't leave you.


    you matter to me.

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  15. this post speaks so eloquently to the situation. This is a chilling statement on the part of aol and shows everyone, those who have stayed and those who have gone, just exactly how unimportant each individual journaler is.
    They completely fail to understand the beauty of what was created here by the journalers. But J-Land will continue to thrive because it is based on relationships and respect for each other's words.
    What a great post...
    Thanks for writing it.
    judi

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  16. Amen, sister.

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  17. Well written, and you hit the nail right on the head. Still, it all makes me sad. Margo

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