Eightball and Thundercloud's RANT

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Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #121 - February 10, 2006
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AOL - The Anachronistic Behemoth

News Article:  "...America Online will begin charging businesses to send commercial e-mail to its users in the first wide-scale use of authenticated e-mail to reduce s*p*a*m. But some marketers affected by the plan, set to start in several weeks, call it e-mail taxation designed to create a new stream of revenue for AOL. The certified e-mail system would require advertisers to pay $2 to $3 per 1,000 messages. The plan is optional, though AOL and its tech partner, Goodmail Systems, cannot guarantee that all non-certified e-mail with Web links and images will be delivered. "This is all about protecting consumers from s*p*a*m, phishing, viruses and fraud," says Richard Gingras, CEO of Goodmail. ..."

It's no wonder that AOL subscribers are leaving in droves. AOL seems be run by a bunch of greedy buffoons who don't have a clue about the Internet environment in which they operate today - and who don't show much genuine interest in the needs of their subscribers.

Those running AOL continue to make one foolish decision after another. And, the cumulative affect of these poor decisions will, hopefully, drive this anachronistic behemoth out-of-business; and hopefully sooner rather than later. It can't come soon enough for us.

We've watched AOL make one blundering move after another - and yes, we've chortled with delight when every quarterly report shows that AOL subscribers are leaving in droves. AOL's "Big Brother" approach to Internet services is out-of-touch with common sense. Unlike Midas, who had the golden touch, AOL has the opposite kind of touch. We can tell you one thing, we will never allow AOL to extort us - if AOL's subscribers are "banned" from getting our newsletter, we suggest they get a Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo email account and subscribe to our newsletters. Or, better yet, show AOL what you think and get a different ISP.

We are very curious how AOL will know the difference between an address that is a non-AOL friend vs. a newsletter. We just don't see how that is going to be possible. And, most s*p*a*m - "fake" newsletters are sent from an address of what appears to be an individual not a company. Once again, AOL blunders its way into another bad decision. Its a joke is what it is. Not only does AOL force its own users to view ads in order to view their email and now they are doing this? What about all the folks who use AOL who have paid to receive InfoAve Premium. We're not going to buy into AOL's extortion scam - so who's getting hurt? Right. You are. We are.

While AOL might well try to extort millions from small, legitimate companies like ours, it will fail, simply because many small companies cannot afford to pay ransom to AOL and others will object to it on principle. And others, who can afford to pay, may not do so simply because they're not going to allow themselves to be extorted.

There's no question that Goodmail sold AOL a real bill of goods. All AOL can see is $$$. But AOL's imperious management, who have a history of making blundering decisions; bought it. Their extortion scheme won't stop s*p*a*m. And, in the end, will cause AOL to lose money.

One thing is for sure: AOL customers will continue to receive oodles of s*p*a*m even after this extortion scheme is in place. We are certain that AOL won't be paying any ransom to itself when it sends its own s*p*a*m to its customers; which they're well-noted for doing. AOL customers are forced to watch blinking, flashing, annoying ads when using AOL's own email program. This makes AOL's email program ADWARE. Not only does AOL charge its customers a higher fee than almost any other ISPs charge, it serves up advertisements to its customers almost everywhere they look. All these blinking, flashing ads are an attempt to extract more revenue from fewer and fewer subscribers.

But, once again, it will be AOL's subscribers who lose the most. Many of the recent decisions of AOL's management have driven AOL subscribers to other Internet Service Providers. AOL's greed and arrogance is made possible by the wealth and power the company accumulated back in the days when it was the one and only "national" ISP and enjoyed a good reputation. Times have changed. Now, under huge financial pressure, AOL has become a company governed not by the needs of its customers but by the greed of its management. A greed that is fueled by a need to make more and more money with fewer and fewer subscribers - money they will have to use to try to right their rapidly sinking ship.

AOL's email extortion plan is nothing more than the manifestation of its own internal greed. AOL does everything publicly under the guise of "protecting" its subscribers. If AOL were sincere then why doesn't AOL get rid of the training wheels it provides its users? If they really cared about their subscribers and keeping them "secure" - why haven't they invested more into educating their users, and making them self-reliant? Instead they pile on more and more training wheels.

Why do they continually bombard their subscribers with more and more ads? That's easy; they're losing subscribers by the millions - they have to find ways to generate more and more money from fewer and fewer subscribers. Now AOL's remaining subscribers are subjected to more and more ads as AOL tries to keep the income flowing from fewer users.

The email extortion plan is nothing more than a ruse to raise more revenue. Now they're going to try to generate money by extorting companies, big and small, who send email to AOL subscribers. In many cases these subscribers have requested these newsletters and email. And in the case of our InfoAve Premium have paid a subscription fee to receive newsletters. The users who have requested emails and newsletters and the ones that have paid a subscription fee for newsletters and mailings are the ones who will be inconvenienced and hurt.

It seems to us that if AOL really did care about its subscribers they'd formulate a different agenda. They'd actually help their users by educating them, not by being a big brother to them. In reality it's really not about their users at all - it's all about dwindling subscribership and dwindling income. In short, it's all about money. They're desperately trying to keep the AOL boat afloat and weather the storm of substantially (and continually) declining membership. AOL's actions appear desperate because they are desperate.

In recent times, every single time AOL has tried to be innovative they've failed. AOL hasn't been an innovator for fifteen years. Now, in order to try to save their company they once again reach into areas that are sure to bring about even more problems for this already greatly troubled company. Today their innovations are not about bringing better service to their customers, they are based on how much revenue they can bring. Doesn't AOL know that they only exist because of their customers and without customers their advertisers aren't going to stick with them? Does AOL really think that extorting legitimate companies into paying fee for the privilege of sending email to their members email is beneficial to their subscribers? In the end, it will prove beneficial to no one. More subscribers will bail out of AOL and few companies will be stupid enough to pay AOL even one single penny to send mail to their subscribers. What AOL has here is a no-win situation. Too bad they can't see it that way.

If AOL gets away with this attempt at extortion, who knows where it will end up? Will those of us with friends on AOL have to purchase a special "stamp" for the privilege of sending mail to AOL subscribers? If it becomes a significant revenue stream for AOL then you can expect to see the day of "email stamps" arrive. Other national ISPs will see dollar signs if AOL succeeds. And the reasons we will be given for the need for email stamps will be to protect people from "spam" - but that would be a lie. It's all about money, of course, not about protecting users from spam. If AOL succeeds, then the "email stamp", the subject of endless urban legends for years, will become a reality; and email may very well cease to be free.

We can only hope that this new extortion scheme which apparently is now on the road to implementation, will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. We hope this arrogant and foolish decision is the one that puts this anachronistic behemoth out of its misery. For good.

Added on February 22, 2006 - Please Read!

MoveOn.org recently published this plea to its members:

"The very existence of online civic participation and the free Internet as we know it are under attack by America Online.

AOL recently announced what amounts to an "email tax." Under this pay-to-send system, large emailers willing to pay an "email tax" can bypass spam filters and get guaranteed access to people's inboxes--with their messages having a preferential high-priority designation [1].

Charities, small businesses, civic organizing groups, and even families with mailing lists will inevitably be left with inferior Internet service unless they are willing to pay the "email tax" to AOL. We need to stop AOL immediately so other email hosts know that following AOL's lead would be a mistake.

Can you sign this emergency petition to America Online and forward it to your friends?

Sign here:  http://civic.moveon.org/emailtax/?id=6931-4752788-CBkn5P_9nv.lB7NFyRoZNA&t=2

Petition statement: "AOL, don't auction off preferential access to people's inboxes to giant emailers, while leaving people's friends, families, and favorite causes wondering if their emails are being delivered at all. The Internet is a force for democracy and economic innovation only because it is open to all Internet users equally--we must not let it become an unlevel playing field." "

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