Its Back to the Customer for AOL

By eweek  |  Posted 2002-10-15

Its Back to the Customer for AOL

NEW YORK—America Online is returning to its customer-centric roots, trumpeted company executives who kicked off the start of a multi-million-dollar AOL 8.0 marketing campaign here on Tuesday.

"Watch out Bill Gates and Microsoft. Here we come," quipped Richard Parsons, CEO of AOL Time Warner, to rousing audience applause.

Microsoft is slated to launch its rival next-generation Internet-access service, MSN 8, in New Yorks Central Park next week.

AOL made its version 8.0 product available to existing members for download starting last week. As of today, company officials said that 1.7 million members have downloaded AOL 8.0. AOL also began distributing version 8.0 disks today at more than 660 chains nationwide, including Target, Circuit City, Blockbuster, various grocery and convenience stories and even at U.S. Post Offices.

According to AOL, the 8.0 release sports more than 100 new and enhanced features, including new e-mail filtering, parental controls, screen-customization and call-waiting capabilities.

Parsons told hundreds of AOL employees, invited AOL community and forum leaders, press and other guests at the Lincoln Center kick-off that "the real stars are you—the people who have been AOL members and subscribers for years."

"Sometimes success can be your own undoing," Parsons acknowledged, without elaborating further. He added that the company is using the AOL 8.0 launch as a "symbolic representation to a return to focus on the members."

Parsons wasnt the only member of the AOL brass who addressed the invitees. AOL Time Warner Chairman Steve Case, America Online Chairman and CEO Jon Miller, and even a surprise guest—Ted Turner, head of the AOL-Time-Warner-owned Turner Broadcasting Corp.—offered up remarks. AOL lined up a number of media stars, as well, including comedian Dana Carvey and musicians Alanis Morisette and Laura Pausini, to participate in its launch party.

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But the most-celebrated celebrities at the AOL kick off were the hundreds of members—many of whom were transported and housed at AOLs expense—who represented the various online communities which have come to form the backbone of the service. AOL executives highlighted some of these communities—including a breast cancer survivors group; a "Pregnancy Circle" of women who became pregnant around September 11 of last year; and a handful of kids who won an AOL-sponsored Harry Potter look-alike contest.

The new features of AOL 8 took a distant second place to the greater- and lesser-known stars. But among them are:

  • Additional e-mail filtering and organization;
  • Customization throughout the product, ranging from a choice of welcome screens, to new buddy sounds, wallpaper and other instant-messaging personalization options;
  • A community-chat search engine, called MatchChat;
  • Additional parental controls, including a "Guardian" report card feature for monitoring childrens online activities;
  • Additional news alerts and reminders for both desktop and mobile users;
  • An automatic reconnect feature that will allow users whose connection is interrupted to be returned automatically to the last area visited;
  • Call-waiting (for an additional few dollars per month), which will allow online users to see the number of someone calling them while on a shared dial-up line;
  • And a multiple-simultaneous login facility for broadband AOL customers.

    One of the announcements which drew the most applause was AOLs eleventh-hour decision, at its members request according to officials, to eliminate all third-party pop-up adds with version 8.0. The only pop-ups that version 8.0 users will see are those services and ads that AOL itself delivers to its members.

    Mary Jo Foley is editor of Ziff Davis Microsoft Watch. Click here to get your free 14-day trial.

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