America Online Inc. made a slew of announcements Thursday that signaled an increasing move for the company away from a being solely a proprietary Internet service provider to a company that makes its money from its content.
AOL users will now be able to get their E-mail, send instant messages, read bulletin boards, and access AOL content -- all without logging on to the service. Instead, as part of the "AOL Anywhere" campaign, all that information will be available to subscribers over the Web, from any terminal that they access.
"AOL is really now more of a content company," said Jill Frankle, senior analyst at IDC/Link in New York. "The strategy behind the AOL.com deal is that they have to put their content out there onto the Web."
AOL.com is the company's site on the Web and will now be the home base for users who want to access their AOL information away from the service. The company began a beta test Thursday of its NetMail service, which allows Web-based access to E-mail. The MyNews personalization service, which will let users access their favorite message board, content channels and stock portfolios, will be introduced in the next few weeks.
AOL is following in the footsteps of Microsoft, which moved much of the original content of its Microsoft Network service to the Web.
But many analysts saw Microsoft's move as an attempt by the company to rescue the service after a series of missteps. AOL's move may be more of a pre-emptive strike to move things over to the Web before they're forced to. The new service is designed to keep customers happy with the AOL service, wherever they are.
E-mail users will get a boost from the deal AOL announced Thursday with Qualcomm Inc. that will let them use Qualcomm's Eudora E-mail systems to access their AOL E-mail. Senior VP David Gang said AOL is working with Lotus, Microsoft, and Netscape to offer similar services for those companies' E-mail services.
AOL also announced that Qualcomm would be distributing AOL's Instant Messenger service, which allows users to maintain a list of friends online and send and receive messages in real-time. The service is currently available on AOL, and the company signed a deal to offer it through Netscape's Navigator browser earlier this fall. Officials said Thursday that the service has a "buddy list" of 15 million people and processes 160 million messages per day.
"Instant messaging is a key application," said Barry Schuler, president of creative development at AOL Networks. We see it in the corporate market, we see it in the consumer market. It's a great way to get [people] exposed to the brand."
The company also formally announced the new version of the AOL service, version 4.0.