I remember my first internet experience. I was just starting at Southern Miss and my new roommate, Keith, had a computer. He offered to put it in the living room so everyone in the house could use it for work. My brother and I happened to have an AOL disk, so we installed it and went online.
The first thing we did was go into a chatroom. Maybe now it seems silly, but the second thing we did online was get a Prodigy disk, install it, go online and into a beginner’s chatroom and ask, “What does “lol” mean?” With the answer in hand, we went back to AOL and went on to down hundreds of dollars over the next several months. As my brother and another roommate spent a lot of time looking at porn, eventually Keith moved the computer into his bedroom.
By then it wasn’t hard to get the money from my parents to buy my own PC.
Just thinking about those heady days makes me misty-eyed. Now we all know AOL was a walled garden, but in the beginning, we had no idea. We thought that’s what the internet was. Eventually we found out that if you used Internet Explorer or Netscape outside of AOL, when your connection broke (as regularly happened), you wouldn’t lose your webpage.
What was it that made AOL so successful in those early days? Was it the community? Not for me. I have one friend from online who I still talk to from those days. Was it the games? No, I hated Slingo from the first game of it I played.
I think it was just ignorance that kept everyone paying for so long. My first attempt to use another ISP was the first time I ever heard the term Winsock. It drove me back to AOL where I waited until Netdoor came along. Even after that, when someone asked how the internet worked, it was pretty easy to grab one of the thousands of discs AOL was distributing and send them on their way.
Everything ends, though.
Of course in my mind our modern equivalent of AOL is Facebook. It has chat, it has games, it has instant messaging. All the banality of AOL without the hourly (then monthly) access fee.
There are some differences, though. AOL supplied you with news and information. With Facebook, your friends supply you with news and information. While AOL used the Associated Press, your friends might not be the greatest or most reliable sources of news.
Farmville is as ubiquitous as it is terrible. I know one person who plays it, but at least she is aware it’s just a time filler. It really is a Slingo for the modern age. And just like Slingo, it’s aging housewives who keep it going. Worse than AOL, though, are the forced updates you get via Facebook about people’s progress…that is until you learn how to hide them.
Facebook has groups just like classic AOL did. It helps you keep up with your friends, family and coworkers, just like AOL did. It also has the ability to completely soak up hours of your time just like AOL did.
The biggest thing it did just like AOL, though, is it wore out its welcome. Where a year ago, I was a regular user, now I hardly log in. The thing is, again, just like AOL, when your great aunt Lillian has a Facebook account, just how cool can it really be? Let’s not forget that Aunt Lillian just got online with her new DSL, so you will be educating her about the ‘net one painful message at a time.
It will be interesting to see if Facebook can hold all its users or if they eventually all migrate away. People are pretty fickle. Already Myspace is down for the count having been completely steamrolled by Facebook. What about Brightkite and Virb? Will they turn Facebook into the new new AOL?
Only time and user interest will tell.