Q&A (3): AOL's Bulkeley on MSN and outages

You've got a lot of content up there - sport, weather, news, arts, there's even an area called life. What is there left that will draw people to online services?

Someone said an area called death!

It's the same with your company. You don't just let everybody write an article. It's not just 'more'. We'll use whatever technology is out there. It's not just content. It's [also] getting people to chat to each other. 25 per cent of our users' online time is spent talking. Think of your friends who aren't technical. What do they want? Probably not what your colleagues want. Everyone's not a total gear-head installing plug-ins.

What about rival services... MSN seems to go for much more of a TV-like 'programming' approach.

Yeah, it's all shows. There's some difference in background between our people and their people. Ours tend to be more journalists. Theirs are more TV, multimedia people

I just think the [MSN] service is slow and it drives me a little nuts. It's black, which is OK if you're 24, not so good if you're 60 years old.

In the light of the much-publicised outages, what's the situation now with AOL's back-end services?

A lot of it was down to the flat-rate [pricing] deal. There was a huge surge in demand, people staying online all day. You wanna plan for that capacity. It's got more press because more people are using it. If BT went down for 12 hours and there were no phones, there'd be a lot of noise. Believe me, it was down a lot more four years ago. People are taking it seriously but there are still going to be problems for the next few years. Eventually there will be [sufficient] resilience and redundancy.

We're building: $350 million on infrastructure this year. 600 square feet of computers a day.

There must have been shades of schadenfreude when MSN had its problems recently.

Yeah, ha ha! See what it feels like!

So what should we be looking out for from AOL?

We've got 55 staff [in the UK]. We're moving in the next month within the Chelsea/Fulham area. Next year we'll have maybe 80-100 staff.

In two or three weeks we'll have a native Windows 95 version. In about September we'll have a new version of the software with IE 4.0.

We're looking at services like personals, banking; anything that makes it easier to do things online than normally.

Making money in the UK yet?

I don't know that many vendors who are, but we're close. Germany broke even in 18 months so we're doing well.