The surprising evolution of these forgotten social media sites

America Online, or AOL, was another creature of the 90s that might not be strictly called social media, but had many of the same elements. Initially, AOL was the portal to the Internet for millions of people in the days of dial-up modems and slow Internet on slow computers with meager capabilities. AOL was something of a window into the world of information when websites were mostly text-based and images took a long time to load on screens.

AOL’s heyday dates back to the 1990s, when millions of people discovered the Internet through its interface. It included email, chat rooms, web browser, etc. The user interface displayed multiple tabs that could take you to shopping, travel guides, news, weather, and sports. There were games, a buddy list and advertising. Your entire Internet experience could be contained without ever leaving the AOL interface. AOL took advantage of this captive audience and continually added and updated its services until the user base began to decline as broadband entered American homes, providing users with a direct line to the Internet ( via The Smithsonian).

AOL merged with Time Warner in 2000 in one of the largest corporate mergers to date, but began to see its market share fall soon after, according to Fast Company. It still exists as a subsidiary of Yahoo and still offers email and other services, such as identity theft protection. What was one of the defining characteristics of a decade is now just a shell of itself.

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