America Online reached its peak as an Internet service provider with over 30 million members, leaving its competitors (Prodigy, CompuServe, GEnie, etc.) in the dust. After a high profile merger with Time-Warner, it has for the most part failed to live up to further expectations of growth.
Even though the AOL brand has suffered and is often the object of ridicule by the allegedly hipper technophiles and trendsetters out there, it set some noteworthy milestones. It brought Instant Messaging to the masses before texting came into vogue, and its Chat Rooms and Message Boards were the predecessors of today's more advanced and sophisticated social media. AOL's old-school simplicity, even in the seemingly ancient days of dial-up online connections, had its appeal.
Now, AOL is separate from Time-Warner and it is attempting to rebrand itself as a content provider. I find its newsfeeds more interesting than those of Yahoo and others, and AOL blogs, like ShelterPop, are topnotch. AOL's decision to acquire the popular TechCrunch is further evidence that it considers "content to be king" even in a time when that phrase seems woefully out of date thanks to users having so many tools to generate their own content.
We shall see if AOL can ever recapture even a fraction of its former glory. Despite the naysayers (and I know there are many), I think there is much value still left in its brand.