Twitter, Facebook, And Google Owe Everything To AOL


When, in his first memo to the troops, new AOL CEO Tim Armstrong wrote that his plan is to “make AOL and its sister properties the most powerful brands on the Internet.” we observed that he was hallucinating.

But when, in the same memo, Tim wrote “AOLers are responsible for some of the most important innovations on the Internet,” he wrote something that’s true.

In fact, some of tech’s most successful companies and today’s hottest startups owe everything to a few early innovations.

Here are three examples:

Twitter is just an evolution of the AOL instant messenger “away message.”


Facebook’s “social graph” is just a fancy “buddy list” from America Online’s early days.


Google search terms are just more efficient America Online “keywords.”


There’s more, too! All ad networks owe a debt to AOL’s 2004 acquisition, The concept of a brand advertising-supported portal first gained firmament with the America Online home screen. Consumers learned to email hearing Elwood Edwards say “You’ve Got Mail.”

But bringing up all these age-old triumphs and bringng back the executives who oversaw them for pep rallies in Dulles will only get Tim and AOL so far.

If AOL is going to resuscitate itself, it needs to focus on what it is now:

  • A massive online media property that’s been entirely unable to convince advertisers to treat its publications like they would Condé Nast’s.
  • An ad network where agencies take their client’s money when they’re looking for reach and nothing else.
  • A social network that only English tweenagers love.

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