The AOL List: Defections

David Cassel (
Thu, 5 Dec 1996 20:19:27 -0800 (PST)

			   D e f e c t i o n s


"It's freakin' impossible to get online in Rhode Island," one subscriber
told the AOL Insider.  "You have charged us up front for a service you
have no intention or ability to provide."  "[Y]our complaint has been
echoed by several other readers,"  AOL's staffer responded--but likened
delays to lines at a health club.  Still, complaining continued.  "Lately
on average it has been taking me 40-50 tries to get onto AOL."  Even the
AOL Insider had to phone four numbers Tuesday before connecting. 

Another reader said the staffer's advice on Flashsessions was too
glib--since Flashsessions "don't work unless you can get online"--and in
fact, the Washington Post reported AOL blocked 10% of incoming calls
Tuesday night.  And problems didn't end after connecting--the AOL Insider
wrote that "This morning I made the rounds of all the usual suspect Web
search engines...Yahoo, Infoseek, Altavista...and was turned away at the
door at each one of them on the first few tries." 

But then they went on to proclaim that "when a web site turns you away,
it's usually because of too much traffic ON THE WEB SITE, not because of
too much traffic on AOL."  

Straight-faced blame-shifting?  Just minutes ago I witnessed this exchange
in AOL's "Tech Live" area. 

	TLA MCJ:     it may take up to 48 Hours for them to answer mail
	STR8EDGBOB:  It has been a week...

That was a customer complaining about AOL's billing department.  In
response to the suggestion of phoning them, the subscriber answered they
had waited on hold--for over an hour. 

Suspicions about "Tech Lies"--and other AOL services--may be justified. In
1995 a subscriber asked how to send e-mail to eWorld--and was told "They
don't have internet access, you can't."  AOL's Multimedia Online magazine
answered a question about e-mail delays by saying messages sent to the net
"may get tangled up in the intricacy of the Internet itself."  Then
offered their solution: "get all your friends onto AOL."  TipWorld's
gossip columnist even reported that a customer complaining about AOL's web
browser was told that "the Internet-related industry is limited by what
the Mac can may want to consider getting a PC." 
( Inexplicably, AOL transferred the columnist's
follow-up call to a conversation in progress--where he could only listen
helplessly to discussions of responses for "the big fat guy".  ("What are
they _on_? Airplane glue?" wrote a poster in

Another complained that callers to customer service were told "all
operators are busy...please call back later."  AOL's promises only led to
disappointment: "Some of you may recall the days when you often would have
to wait on hold for 20 or 30 minutes to talk with us," Steve Case wrote in
June--but "hold times when you call us for help have been cut to about one
minute."  Last week a caller waited 20 minutes while calling AOL--to tell
them not to double his rate. 

"The common sense principles of consumer protection do not end in
cyberspace," wrote the Massachusetts Attorney General--announcing that AOL
had agreed to seek affirmative consent from as many users as possible
before switching them to $20-a-month billing--and providing retroactive
refunds until April 10. 

Meanwhile, AOL is losing Atlantic Monthly--"the first rolling snowball in
what some say will be an avalanche of defections," Advertising Age wrote.
And Wired magazine shut their AOL area Friday--one of the service's first
publications.  "It's kind of sad that our AOL forum is coming down," their
editor told me.  "I'll miss the gang on AOL, but a lot of the AOL members
that got on AOL with us in 1993 now have Web sites of their own." 

Advertising Age sees it differently--"CONTENT PARTNERS LEERY OF AOL'S
REVENUE PLANS," read their headline.  With the flat-rate pricing plan,
will there be enough compensation?  "I wanna hear what AOL's thinking is,"
one content provider told me, heading into this week's "Partner's
Conference"  in Arizona.  "I especially want to hear what my fellow
content providers are saying."  The plan?  "I'm gonna do a lot of
listening.  Especially heading into contract negotiations." 

AOL's new price plans could have the ultimate impact.  What would happen
if a single user created five screen names--and then sublet them.  They
could offer unlimited AOL access for $4.00 a month--or $2.00 a month, for
TCP/IP connections. 

Time will tell.


The month before AOL went offline 19 hours, they took out help-wanted
classified ads in trade magazines.

The ads said "At America Online, we dominate the programs we design..." 

        David Cassel
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