It's the Community Stupid or We Were Right... Duh!
My old partner in crime and online community, Scott Loftesness pointed me toward the article in the latest NYT article about AOL getting it damn act straight.
New York Times: Back to the future at AOL. Saul Hansell reports on the shift at AOL back to offering a service which builds a sense of community. Amazing -- that's exactly what we had back at CompuServe in the early 90's -- before AOL bought that service and essentially ruined it by turning it into AOL's "value brand" instead of continuing to grow it for what it really was: a premier enthusiast's community.
This focus on community will be reinforced in the new 8.0 software, due out in October. It has 100 new features ranging from improved filters to prevent junk e-mail to more choices for the color and sound of the service. But much of the focus is on features like "match chat," pop-up windows that invite people to join chat rooms of those who share their interests. (AOL members have long listed their hobbies and other interests in the member directory.) "We have 1.4 million chat rooms each day on AOL, but the No. 1 complaint we get is that `I can't find people to talk about what I want to talk about when I want to talk about it,' " said David Gang, who is overseeing the development of the 8.0 software.
Excuse me while I rant a moment-- When AOL took over CompuServe we tried and tried to explain to the AOL management of the day, exactly what made CompuServe both different and successful. Simply put: WE HAD COMMUNITY. AOL had chat. CompuServe had deeply rooted, long running communities of interest, which were run professionally by a group of business partners, and their hard working assistants who understood the concept, because many of us had actually INVENTED IT. The best AOL could offer us was Britney Spears on a web page and communities without form or real management.
CompuServe Members as a whole were long time early adopters who utilized the forums and communities on the CompuServe service to expand themselves personally and professionally. Loyality was high-- but it only went so far.
AOL saw absolutely no value in what service the CompuServe forums and communities gave to the customer. Their first priority was to sign up members, and call us a discount service, which we never WERE-- and make us look and feel like AOL. This was something the long time loyal CompServe membership found unacceptable. But AOL refused to listen to reason.
AOL has treated the CompuServe Business Partners as if we were aging
leapers lepers ;-) who needed to be put out to pasture fast. The Biz Partners were repeatedly promised we would be given a fully web-enabled shell to be able to allow the public to access the forum communities. It never has worked as promised despite three or four half-assed attempts. And finally, over time AOL systematically chopped forums and cut the payments to the CompuServe Business Partners to the point where many of the founders left or had their forums closed. With people unable to at least meet their minimum expenses many Biz Partners left bitter with AOL's business tactics, to find jobs in other areas of the industry. Many times without contractual notice, because AOL was clueless they had to actually follow their contracts.
What remains today is a bare shell of what CompuServe's service once was. It is a pity because AOL had it all in it's hands at one time.