Monday, September 9, 1996

Week of 09/09/1996

In Defense of the Online Services..
Is the rise of the Internet really the end of the online services?
- by David Matthews 2

OK… unless you are REALLY a newbie, you probably noticed that this article is coming from a web server that is owned and operated by America Online. It is an online service that right now boasts over 6 million people- the size of a good size metropolis or a small country!

And yet, there are many people who say that AOL, as well as Prodigy, CompuServe, and The Microsoft Network, are on their way to extinction. Their reason? Because of the wide scope of the Internet, the cheaper online costs of the Internet Service Providers, and the ease of Internet browsers by Netscape and Microsoft.

Are they right? Well maybe..

It is true that the online services have had to adapt to the Internet. AOL alone recently released it’s latest operating system that contains more links to the Internet, as well as a new browser capable of handling the HTML3 language normally seen in Netscape and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. And AOL, as well as the other online services, are seeing a drop in their rate of new members, and even in their established members, in lieu of the Internet Providers.

It is reasonable to assume that because of the Internet that it would be unlikely that there would be any more online services in the near future. But does that mean the end of the online services in general? Hardly!

For starters, the online services provide people with an easy-to-use operating system where they can get access to E-mail, news, weather, stock quotes, and other services at just a mouse-click away. They are designed for the newbie user. On the other hand, the Internet requires a browser, an E-mail platform, a newsgroup platform and server, chat programs, and any other add-ons and plug-ins.

In addition, the online services offer many functions that are exclusive for that service and not the Internet. For instance, AOL has a section for both Marvel and DC comics, while MSN not only has a section on the Internet for Star Trek fans, but most of it’s exclusive information is restricted to MSN subscribers only. The American Civil Liberties Union may have a site on the Internet, but if you really want to chat with them on issues you’ll have to sign on with AOL.

Plus, online services, for better or for worse, are family-oriented. If you are concerned with what your children could access you have greater control over content through the online services than with an Internet Provider. That isn’t to say that they are infallible in their protection, but they do have a greater means of control over what kind of content gets transmitted within their service. They also provide areas for children and teenagers to communicate and express themselves amongst their peers that are monitored for their protection.

And with the rise of the Internet, the online services are now providing it’s members not only access to the Internet, but also a place for them on their web servers. One of the "dirty little secrets" for America Online subscribers is that each of it’s 6 million plus members has 2 megabytes of free space for each screen name on their web servers at no charge! Not only that, but AOL can help them set up a web page for them if they don’t know how to do so. Such offers will certainly allow online services to keep their subscribers coming back for more.

However, there are still some problems with the online services that need to be addressed, specifically HOW the online services bill their members. The online services still charge by the HOUR, compared to the trend of Internet Providers like Netcom that have completely abandoned it’s hourly charges for unlimited monthly subscriptions. This is an important step for online services if they wish to continue to be competitive against the Internet Providers, and which ever online service that can resolve that problem will certainly be the one that will stay in business when all the others fade away.

So while it is true that the online services have been hurt by the rise of the Internet, it is too hastily to believe they will be disappearing anytime soon. On the contrary, they are being forced to adapt to the Internet, and as long as they continue to offer something unique to the public they will continue to survive.

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