Feeling a little digital nostalgia 19 January 2016

Is it too early in the timeline of the digital ecosystem to be feeling nostalgic?




A couple of announcements this week have given me a weird sense of days gone by.  A time when digital seemed new and other-worldly, and so much simpler.

The first announcement was that Verizon has muted plans to re-design, or even retire, the AOL brand. The second, today, is the closure of friendsreunited.

What a shock to those of us whose early tender steps into digital were guided by AOL  - who forgets "You've got mail" (Did it really inspire the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film?), the promise of  "10 free hours" or the regular CD-ROM updates that used to arrive (they made good coffee coasters).  Even with its reputation for slow connection speeds, if you were lucky to get a dial-up connection in the first place, and the limited number of websites you could visit, it still seemed like an exiting adventure to logon and explore.

And yet, AOL quickly became dated.  Out-performed and supplanted by the likes of MicrosoftYahoo and Google - and it then suffered probably the worst merger ever.  Now, most internet users remember AOL primarily as an email service - with no idea that its still owns many other platforms and news sources such asThe Huffington Post and TechCrunch.

With such a legacy, which to many has now turned AOL into an unpalatable and out-of-date brand - Verizon has decided that it is about time to consider its future.  Time for a refresh, a re-evaluation of AOL.

Verizon's CMO, Allie Kline, has her work cut-out.  In an interview with Business Insider she comments:

Is AOL the right brand? If it is, let’s invest in it.
And if it isn’t, let’s figure out what is.
But either way, not investing in the brand is not an option.

Whatever she decides, AOL as I remember has disappeared.

And then we have friendsreunited.  I had actually forgotten it still existed.  There lies its problem. Too many other internet users had forgotten about it as well.

When it launched we were all so keen to join - seek out those school-friends, old boyfriends and girlfriends, long-lost relatives and work colleagues, those we wanted to re-connect with, re-ignite relationships.  How many re-kindled romances was friendsreunited responsible for, how many marriages (or divorces!). 

Launched in 2000, at its height the site had over 10-million users, but faced with the competition, and ultimate conquest, of Facebook, it has ultimately succumbed and finally been put to bed.

The end of an era?

The news of AOL and friendsreunited may be greeted with nostalgia and, by some, a little sadness but they do stand as monuments to the power of the internet, pioneers and ground-breakers.  They inspired many, and lit the way for what has followed.  

They also act as a reminder that if you fail to keep ahead of technological and social advances, invest in your brand and your customers, and keep an eye on the competition - you will ultimately fail. 



David King

Group Marketing Director