This seems like the appropriate time of year for this..... :)
As I look back on my time at AOL, here's how I view the technology "periods" we, as a once-but-no-longer technology-team, rode through:
- Year 1: Stablize the base (and prepare for the future)
Basically, we cleaned up some significant technology architecture and cleared the ground for AOL on the web. Among many other things, the process slowed (too briefly) from feature competition to clean-up and we improved core business and product metrics (for example, what we call "Abnormal Disconnects" or "AD"s significantly; 25% to 60%) across the board. This is particularly significant when you imagine that in previous years the company struggled for every single percentage point gain (every percent of AD mapped to [EDITED FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION] difference in membership churn). Particularly, important in this was disconnecting Identity and Connectivity (capitalization intentional) throughout our application and content stack - one of the key things to prepare for the future.
- Year 2: Unwall the garden
In 2005, we went from one major product ship (with one slipstream update) to shipping a signficant number of new products, both on the desktop and on the web, including AOL.com itself. Though it still required deep cross-coordination, AOL built out significant new infrastructure, transforming as well as just force-fitting a lot just to gain the opportunity to learn, and have our products be available for the first time on the web-at-large. A lot wasn't right, but was necessary to learn what the company didn't yet know it didn't know.
- Year 3: Embrace the web
There is/was a lot that this idea implies, both technically and... karmically (for lack of a better word). Its why I had accepted the added responsibilities over the last year - to renew the soil of our core services (i.e., mail and IM), publishing and search infrastructure, and business technologies platform. This year has been about really embracing and evangelizing what the Web means from a development, deployment, and infrastructure perpspective. Its been not just about technology change (even the old in-client AOL "Welcome Screen" is - finally! - in HTML), but embracing the change in role implied by embracing the the web eco-system.
Overall, slower than I would like (and loooong overdue: as I tell my folks all the time - "not Rocket Science, barely Computer Science"), but ultimately valuable - growing pains and all.
From the product side of things, I'd say things were more muddled than I would like. Not that it wasn't enjoyable, but I had influence more than authority, and I've learned a few things in my time at AOL about that.