AOL's Journey: From Dial-Up To A New Brand AOL, the company that once defined the Internet, is turning 25. It has had its fair share of ups and downs: Its market value in 1999 was $222 billion, and today it's $3 billion. Still, the company -- which separated from Time Warner last year -- says it's reinventing itself as the world's largest start-up.
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AOL's Journey: From Dial-Up To A New Brand

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AOL's Journey: From Dial-Up To A New Brand

AOL's Journey: From Dial-Up To A New Brand

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Today, it's struggling for revenue and relevance. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH: There was a time when, for most Americans, AOL was the Internet. Here's how comedian Loni Love remembers the early days of America Online.

MONTAGNE: When we heard that little dial-up sound, that little eeeeee, and then you connected, and then you check your mail and you'd get that you got mail, you was excited. That was the thing.

KEITH: Love is known for her ability to find the humor in pop culture, on shows like VH1's "I Love the '80s," and more recently in her own Comedy Central specials. Love says AOL is close to her heart.

MONTAGNE: We were just amazed at it. But then we didn't realize how slow it was - I mean, just the dial-up alone. And if you had a picture that you wanted to send your friends, it would take, like, two hours. You could go over to their house and see the picture, come back, and it was still downloading.

KEITH: Then DSL and cable modems hit the scene in a big way, making dial-up AOL a dinosaur. Today, AOL still has about five million dial-up subscribers, and they provide a big share of the company's revenues, though it's losing subscribers fast, at a rate of 3 percent a month. To state the obvious, AOL needs a new business model, and it has one, says Alex Gounares, the company's brand-new chief technology officer.

MONTAGNE: What AOL has become today is much broader than the dial-up business. I mean, we're a great content business. There's over 160 different content sites, everything from Engadget to Daily Finance to World of Warcraft Insider.

KEITH: That last one is a videogame fan site.

AOL: Several of them are Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists and well-known sports columnists hired recently. The goal is to combine content, technology and advertising in a way that redefines the Internet.

C: agile, energetic, creative.

MONTAGNE: We're 25, so we're roughly just getting out of college. So we have our future career to go at AOL, and that's what we're focused on.

KEITH: But while the company focuses on its future, its present is a little rocky. AOL's first-quarter earnings report showed revenues down 23 percent from the year before.

MONTAGNE: I think they have very strong leadership with a focused plan, and that's half the battle.

KEITH: Clayton Moran is an analyst at The Benchmark Company.

MONTAGNE: But there's no signs in their financial or operating results that indicate this company is turning itself around yet.

KEITH: And then there's the issue of brand perception. There are a whole lot of people who, like Loni Love, still think of AOL as the dial-up company.

MONTAGNE: Now AOL is the grandma of online Web services. I mean, we don't need it anymore. It's 25 years old. It needs some Botox or something because it's old.

KEITH: Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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