February 21, 2006

Present in the Industry

My woman - that is, my wife, who it turns out DOES read my blog, and would henceforth liked to be referred to as "my woman" (she finds "my wife" to be too 1950's) - anyway, "my woman" has been known to give me a fair amount of grief for not being "Present". She says I'm often thinking about other things when I'm supposed to spending quality family time with, well, my family. So I've really been working on being "Present" (though working on this post might be considered evidence to the contrary :)).

In a similar way, one of my specific goals here at AOL is to help us be more "Present in the Industry". It bugs me a little (read: a LOT) that when people talk and think about Internet companies and the behaviour transformations driven by technology, AOL often doesn't even make the top 10 (Google, Yahoo, Amazon, E-Bay, Microsoft, Apple, Skype, MySpace ... yada yada yada). Or the articles tend to be stand-alone "What ever happened to...?" style COMPANY articles - they're not enough about our products, technologies, and services in a real competitve business context (side-by-side reviews, recommendations, etc.) , i.e. the relevance of our efforts in the industry.

Now (historically), that's not THEIR fault, its ours.

good news is I think this is changing. We're STARTING to show up on the same page with other relevant, competitive Internet technologies (which means we're STARTING to matter again), in small ways, though its still with some surprise ("Maybe its a fluke?", they think; "If only it didn't say 'AOL'", they write).

We've had a lot of internal
reformation and disentanglement that we needed to achieve here over the last year/year-and-a-half - both technically and organizationally. And though we are FAR from done, I think we're indeed over the hump - these emerging AOL technology and employee blogs are but one, small, visible sign of this.

Our progress in this regard, I expect, is going to be accelerating much more visibly, in some
substantial ways, over the course of the next year. As these things become more public, I'll be expanding my discussion here to cover our increasing efforts across our whole technology base to be MUCH more present and transparent, "in sych" if you will (sorry - inside joke :)), with the Internet community at large - with products, services, and, yes, technology.

If AOL is going to become relevant again, if we're going to be "Present in the Industry", we're going to have to erase the boundaries between AOL and the Internet, and between AOL and your computer . We need to become an increasing part in the clickstream and thoughtstream of an increasingly connected world - in the browser, WITH the browser, and beyond the browser.

And I believe that this is as much a cultural transformation for us as it is a technological one.

Our karmic niche is pretty simple (no, not
this one, wiseguy. :P): We democratize the Internet - making powerful things accessible. Too often, especially during the heady boom/merger days, I think we realize AOL took the "So easy to use no wonder its #1" mantra a little too literally. Understood the wrong way, it can became about being "dumbed down" instead of "empowered".


Anonymous said...

Totally agreed. And it bugs me too that we're still labelled as "that old ISP company" in the industry despite having done/doing some cool stuff.
Btw, having nothing better to do over the President's day weekend, I decided to jump into the blogosphere too. Let's see how it goes...

Anonymous said...

Do you honestly hope to crack into the (non AOL user) browser market with AOL Explorer? I think it would make much more sense for AOL to go hardcore into developing Firefox extensions or plugins for IE if you forsee the browser experience being central to AOL being "Present in the Industy."

Sree Kotay said...

Ah, the old AOL Explorer/IE v. Firefox question. The short version of the answer is "Yes", because:

(a)I think owning the full experience is important
(b)I think the browser "engine" is about as important to consumers as what language we write our code in.

Note that not everyone (even INSIDE AOL) agrees with me here.

The longer version sounds like it needs to be a post I need to finish sooner rather than later (I started with part 1)...

Sree Kotay said...

Trekker: NICE blog - you definitely accepted the gauntlets that have been tossed your way - well done :)

Anonymous said...

Being present in the industry just does not stop with blogging or participating in technorati forums. Its about getting to conferences, speaking and presenting ideas, meeting with people who use your products and want to consume your products. While Justin and I may have been trend setters at AOL (particularly Justin), I am so so happy to see everyone starting to get involved in the community. As I have found out it definitely is time well spent. Finally after years and years at AOL of saying "we need to listen to our users" our key contributors and lower/middle mgmt is getting the feedback we so desparately need to make a great product.

Sree Kotay said...

Totally agree, Greg. I view the blogs and postings we're increasingly seeing from AOL folks as a positive spiral: both reflection and causation of deeper cultural changes.

Anonymous said...

Check out AOL's sponsorship of eTech. We consciously chose to go as, Shawn is talking about our microformat, and Greg and Stephen are talking Open AIM. Slowly but surely we'll drag the company kicking and screaming.

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