Maybe its because I now work at an Internet Portal and thus am more aware of these things, but it seems that AOL is making all the right moves lately to become a serious competitor to MSN and Yahoo! Let’s tick off the things they’ve done over the past month or so:
1) They opened up their network and redesigned their pages. AOL has always had a bunch of neat content trapped behind their walled garden, but us on the outside couldn’t take advantage of it so it didn’t matter. Now that they’re opening this stuff up, suddenly AOL seems relevant again, no?
2) They webcast Live8 flawlessly. The way that AOL did Live8’s live cast and now have all of it available on demand is exactly the way all of us would want it: Free, organized, high-quality. It was the first time a video event was really, truly better online than on TV. That’s a watershed event, IMHO.
3) They launched their mobile search using InfoGin’s transcoding technology. Web search, yellow pages (local) and product search all derived from their existing websites (aolsearch.com "enhanced" by Google, yp.aol.com, and instore.com). Using this same technology, look for AOL to quickly get a lot more mobile content up and running soon.
4) They launched competitive online services such as the My AOL RSS aggregator home page and "AIM Mail". The My AOL page is good looking and functional giving My Yahoo! a real competitor for the first time in a year or so. And though the email is lagging everyone (Y! Mail, GMail, HotMail) it’s a core service they now offer and I’m sure updates will be coming quickly.
5) They relaunched the AOL Instant Messenger client with a nicer interface, and an innovative marketing site called AIM Fight which is really going get people (kids especially) to recruit others to download AIM and sign them up as buddies. This is a brilliant, brilliant idea.
6) They bought XDrive. I just found this out this morning, and it’s an amazing purchase. Read my post about XDrive from February to know why: They have a streaming media solution based on the MP3s and other content you store on their servers. Also read my startup plans back in March 2003 under the section "mDrive" – the idea being that every mobile phone should have their own server-side space to offload content.
7) They bought WildSeed today and created a new division called AOL Wireless Group. I’ve never heard of WildSeed, but they (like many other companies like it) make phone personalization software. This is key to improving the dismal end-user experience that mobile users have to deal with right now. Look for custom mobile AIM clients in the future, or even an AOL Phone.
Finally, remember that AOL still owns the Netscape trademark and browser as well as WinAMP and others (like AIM) and they’re owned by Time Warner, which gives them access to a huge amount of original content. I think anyone who’s forgotten about AOL or discounted them has to rethink these guys – they really are giants and they’ve awoken. Check out their list of services – it’s like a full-on portal filled with people came out of nowhere. They have 10+ years of understanding how online communities and online consumer services work, and they’re now focusing that experience on the Internet at large, as well as mobile devices. Think about it…
Definitely a company to pay attention to. Anything else I missed?