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AOL exec responds to anger... on someone else's blog


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December 03, 2005

AOL exec responds to anger... on someone else's blog

Stephen Baker

AOL An AOL exec finally responded to the brouhaha over the ads on AOL Journals. Bill Schreiner, VP for AOL Community Programming, posted a response on the magic smoke journal. His message: We've listened to you and we didn't respond well. But we're sticking with the ads, and for those of you who stick with AOL Journals, we're adding exciting new features.

Isn't it strange that Schreiner posts this on someone else's blog? If he's the VP of community programming... wouldn't you think he'd have a Journal of his own? Leaders of other communities, from Technorati, to Six Apart, have faced outcries from their public, and they've responded on their own blogs. They're part of the community, and I think it makes a big difference.

Schreiner went to Magic Smoke, a journal run by Joe Loong, an AOL employee who manages the AOL Journal's main page (and who refers to Schreiner as "my boss's boss's boss.") It makes it appear as though Schreiner had to burrow three levels down the hierarchy to find someone at AOL who participates in the community he's heading up.

There are loads of comments to his post on Magic Smoke. They make for good reading on the relationships between big companies and their communities, and between advertising and self expression. Take this one for example:

Are you telling me that you don't understand why personal expression and advertising cannot coexist? Try this: a 'South Beach Diet' ad flashing above an entry about anorexia nervosa. Does that destroy the experience the blog author is trying to create? Can you really tell me it doesn't destroy that author's personal expression?

Comment from theresabluegirl - 12/4/05 2:11 AM

Now maybe if AOL had Google smarts, it could drop relevant advertising onto the journals. But would it be any better for a journal writer to be posting about, say, sexual frustrations--and to have a big Viagra ad flashing above? Probably not.

06:59 PM

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Thanks for following up on this. I didn't expect AOL to remove the ads although that would have been nice. I did however expect a more concerned reaction. I think AOL has already put this behind them, along with the importance of the idividual bloggers. The priority shift is obvious, it is no longer about the members but the advertisers. This isn't about the bloggers, its about the hits generated by the blogs. AOL doesn't seem concerned about the loss of any bloggers so long as they keep registering hits to report to their advertisers. They pride themselves on good customer service and relations. We silly bloggers thought by that they meant us, the members but its clear now that the advertisers are the priority customers here. This is definitely NOT the company I signed up with 7 years ago. Very, very disappointing.

Posted by: Dorn at December 4, 2005 02:56 AM

Very good point. Why doesn't the man who makes sweeping decisions re: blogs have one of his own? I think that's what Jason Calacanis was trying to make recently.

And why again, does a senior vice president not listen to his employees, the ones with blogs, the ones who work most closely with the customers with blogs, the ones who had to take the brunt of the anger of bloggers, all of whom, at least on their blogs, have soundly criticized the addition of advertisments on those blogs?

Perhaps his proclamation that AOL Journals is really no different than AOL chatrooms or AOL message boards is enough to convince folks that he really doesn't get blogs. Or bloggers. And I certainly do not want to utilize a platform that, frankly, doesn't get what I'm about or what I'm doing.

And instead of a thank you for your years of patronage and contribution in making AOL journals what it has become, we get a pat on the head as we're shoved out the door.

Ah well. Sometimes loyalty causes one to stay at the party far too long, and a shove out the door is just what one needs.

Posted by: Jennifer G. at December 4, 2005 03:19 AM

Amen, Dorn. Admittedly, this problem is endemic in any media, where your primary customers and sources of revenue are the advertisers, not the subscribers - but this is a horrible distortion of the net's business model.

Posted by: Sneakz at December 4, 2005 03:30 AM

Bill did nothing to endear himself to the community, and if anything has encouraged some people sitting on the fence to make the choice that is right for them in the face of AOL's incredible lack of professionalism and customer service. The list of Exodus journals is sitting at 153 and counting.

This is not going away. Thank you for this post.

Judith Olivia HeartSong

Posted by: Judith HeartSong at December 4, 2005 03:33 AM

I thought it was insulting that he didn't have a blog...and had his 'message' copied and pasted into another AOL employee's blog. He should have sent an official AOL email if he couldn't bother using a blog! Shame Shame on AOL

Posted by: Vivian at December 4, 2005 03:41 AM

Bullseye, Mr. Baker.

Posted by: Andrea at December 4, 2005 04:29 AM

I also thank you for your follow up on the goings on at AOL journals. Good ole Bill spoke the rhetoric that I somehow suspected he would. I knew that once the ad's showed up they would not come down. Their total disregard for customer reactions and concerns is what has taken me totally by surprise. There could have been compromise, a period of adjusting had they come forward at the beginning, but AOL has gone about this all wrong. Too little, too late! More importantly, Bill never even addressed the total mayhem that was created with the addition of the patch that brought the ads to the journals in the first place. There are those out there who still cannot save a post, or use the new spell checker, and there is still no size 12 font that works. Looks like a big paper weight to me.

Posted by: Auntie Lyn at December 4, 2005 04:29 AM

Hi :)

Thank you so much for contining the follow the antics of AOL. The events of the last few weeks, since November 15th "Black Tuesday" have been some of the most hurtful times I have personally experienced since I have been online. Most of the negativity has been perpetuated by AOL.As a blogger who has been there since the day the journal community opened, I can tell you, looking back, it's as if they encouraged us to begin a thriving neighborhood,for the sole purpose of having some nifty advertising space and not tell us that. Underhanded. Tacky. A lie by ommission is still a lie! I told Mr. Bill what I think and what he might do next...don't think he will. Sigh.

Posted by: Carly at December 4, 2005 06:46 AM

Great entry, Stephen.

AOL Exec's response is as pitiful as expected, unfortunately. What I heard from Mr. Bill's message to the unhappy bloggers is: "Banners are staying. Good luck. Good Bye. If you stay with us, we got some "exciting" new features coming."

Total disregard and uncaring attitude for their customers. I know the business world is a cold one, but for some stupid reason I thought we had a true family community in Jland. Boy, was I kidding myself!!!!

Anyway, those of us who left, are settling in over in Blogger (and other sites). Life moves on. I've always refrained from speaking negatively of AOL, but I can honestly join the masses now and agree whole heartedly AOL SUCKS!

Hope you have a wonderful holiday, Stephen. Thanks for all the coverage on our exodus.

love, Anna

Posted by: Anna at December 4, 2005 07:12 AM

I thought it was pretty tacky for him to post the letter on Joe the journals editor's blog. I agree with you...if he thinks AOL journals is so wonderful, why doesn't he have one himself?

Personally, I don't think he has one because he couldn't stand the heat!

Posted by: IndigoSunMoon at December 4, 2005 07:59 AM

The whole way that AOL treats it's customers is unforgiveable.

They no longer value the customer at *any* level - and there is no such thing as member only privileges.

It's clear now - it's time to leave.

The train is derailing, and the conductor chooses to remain asleep.

So be it.

Posted by: andrea at December 4, 2005 08:51 AM

Thank You for your piece! I had just emailed Mr. Schreiner earlier today about how easy it would be for their IT people to have a set up option to check the relevant ads. One would be passionate to to promote ads for art if your journal was about art etc. You would also get more clicks on the ads because of the audience obviously reading the journal topic! Who do they have employed at AOL that they cannot think of this. I will be one moving my journal very soon! He also made an assumption that the smoke has cleared! Right! Basically he was saying we have heard you "Loud & Clear" so enough we are not changing our minds! Ugh! Ya, Julia Roberts says AOL listens but do they do anything about what their customers want! NO!

Posted by: Psychfun at December 4, 2005 09:28 AM

Excuse me while I try to figure out how to post over the flyout ad that obscures your blog, Mr. Baker. Did you notice it? Did you complain about this to your employers? No? Why not? It annoyed me. By the way, may we have the URL to your boss' boss' boss' blog?

I, for one, was happy that Mr. Schreiner took the time to answer us. To presume that AOL wasn't responding until Schreiner did, is bad reporting. You didn't do enough research. Perhaps only listening to the angry few who urged you to blog about this? In fact, Mr. Loong, Mr. Scalzi and others have been present and responsive. This small crowd just didn't like the answers. It might interest you to know that purity of thought and philosophy aren't the drivers for many of your sources. It is common knowledge in AOL's blogging community that a number of the most vocal are operating on free AOL accounts. I guess paying for ad-free accounts on other sites might pinch their pocketbooks. Poor babies.

Posted by: Sara at December 4, 2005 09:47 AM

The man obviously doesn't know much about blogging. He also could use a bit of empathy towards the members who have supported the service for so many years.

On my 10th Anniversary with AOL today... I'm very saddened.

Posted by: Jackie at December 4, 2005 10:44 AM

Great post, as usual, Stephen.

Posted by: Bill Riski at December 4, 2005 10:46 AM

Thanks for staying with this story. We all appreciate your attention, insight and the spotlight you are able to shine on this mess.

It's clear from reading all the comments and some of the related blog entries generated by Mr. Schreiner's letter that he has only alienated (nearly) everyone even further. I hadn't yet seriously considered quitting AOL entirely until I read that letter. Now I know that's what I must do, after 12 years as a subscriber. This will mean updating my email address to dozens of people and businesses, reposting about 500 journal entries and moving over a dozen web pages, but that's how it goes. The few loyalists who say "shut up and leave already" have no idea how much work - and how much pain - is involved.

Others appear to have come to the same decision this weekend, for the same reasons. Way to go, AOL.

Karen

Posted by: Karen Funk Blocher at December 4, 2005 12:26 PM

I'm not completely surprised Mr. Bill said "don't let the door hit you on the way out" All though I was taken was a little shocked he didn't have a little more class in the manner he chose to say it. I'm shocked that the number of loyal members means nothing to him. I've stated this over and over to anyone at AOL that will listen. If the members keep leaving (and I'm sure bloggers will not be the only ones leaving.. other will follow as their areas begin to be affected) who the heck WILL the advertiser advertise to? Each other? Of coarse my words are not being heard. AOL does not really listen.

But I do thank YOU for listening!

Posted by: Promise at December 4, 2005 09:39 PM

Sara suggests "It is common knowledge in AOL's blogging community that a number of the most vocal are operating on free AOL accounts."

That's an interesting proposition. I'd like Sara to name just three of these "free-account" protestors. Just three.

I'll GIVE her my screen name. ArmandT.

Only two to go.

Except, my account is only free on the account that another AOL SNAFU (they irrevocably deleted 18-months of my entries over a "violation" that turned out to be a link to one of their own AOL-WebMD websites). They "couldn't" (read "wouldn't") restore those entries, so the "Integrity Assurance" department (get a load of that name!) authorized 18 months of free service.

Prior to that, I was a paying customer. At the end of the free 18 months, I will likely cancel my account.

Now, all Sara has to do is come up with two other names. Just two... and I'll not hold my breath.

AOL has a well-established history of disregarding their customers and customer demand - and it shows in their steadily declining membership.

Posted by: Armand at December 5, 2005 01:16 AM

I sure don't know what's happening with AOL.. when i began with them some 9 yrs ago I would have told anyone i know to sign with them.. not anymore.

For years I had a program called ICQ.. then aol bought it out. They proceeded to load it with ANIMATED ADS and then make sure you HAD to update to their new version by shutting down all other versions!.. shortly after i deleted ICQ. (note: i am on dialup)

I was on win 98 with aol's version 6.. i couldn't understand what people were complaining about.. then a few months ago i purchased a new computer. It came with version 9se of AOL. Oh,boy.. first thing i couldnt miss was the ANIMATED ADS on my email box. I soon learned how to open my mail WITHOUT opening my email "box" so I didn't have to deal with the ANIMATED ADS. (note: i am still on dialup.. like this helps those of us on dialup?)

Anyone see a pattern here?

Now i learn about journals and start one. I am enjoying reading others and beginning to establish my own (I'm no writer but i enjoy expessing myself). BINGO.. here come the ANIMATED ADS .. AGAIN! (note: this makes for a really long upload of my journal to even write!)

I'm still waiting.. still hoping (like a dummy) that a compromise will occur.. I realize they need to make money by advertising. I may be dumb but not stoooopid! I don't know the contracts they sign with the people paying to be advertised so I don't know if it's possible.. but a COMPROMISE of a tad smaller, NON ANIMATED ADS would sure help! Not just those of us in dialup, but everyone because the movement is soooo distracting! (yeah yeah move it so we look.. heh, that would be the wrong answer!)

I pretty much took this as a lesson and have duplicated my journal to blogspot..AND.. to word where i also save it to CD.. you see I've heard that horror story of aol deleting journals..

What's next?

Posted by: DesLily at December 6, 2005 11:47 AM

Welcome to the real business of AOL; making money. Contrary to aggressive marketing campaigns, just about anyone who has dealt with AOL's customer service (which is in what country?)knows this.

I'm just so excited about the "new" features that are spoken of being added to the journals, when the journals are just seen as another venue to achieve hits, yet making more money for AOL.

Not.

What they don't seem to comprehend is the invaded their customers feel; how outraged that our space, that we paid for, and that we use, not for commercial affiliation leading to economical gain, is now being leased out, so that someone else can monetarily profit from it.

Well, generally, that kind of attitude usually results in the negative, and will eventually hit them where it hurts...the pocketbook. Thus giving other ISP's the opportunity to pick up the slack.

Sincerely,

Mary Anne

Posted by: mary anne at December 7, 2005 01:57 AM

His letter was the catalyst that made me decide to ulimately delete my two journals I have had on AOL for over two years... I have copied them to another server but it took hours, if not days, and all the entries are not yet live. As a matter of fact Blogspot thinks my main blog may be a spam blog and turned on wrod verification for me to POST ENTRIES! But at least they aren't flashing ads about finding true love over the top of it.

Thank you for this nod.

Posted by: Christina at December 9, 2005 08:41 AM


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