TIME technology

A Brief Guide to the Tumultuous 30-Year History of AOL

Time Warner To End Deal With AOL, Spinning It Off Into Separate Company
Mario Tama—Getty Images AOL corporate headquarters on Broadway May 28, 2009 in New York City

The dial-up Internet pioneer was founded on May 24, 1985

It was May 24, 1985 — 30 years ago this weekend — that the company now called AOL first came into existence. In honor of that anniversary, which comes just after the oft-derided company returned to headlines, here’s a quick look back at its turbulent history:

In 1983, Steve Case was a recent college grad with a home computer and modem who got a job at a company called Control Video, which sold Atari games. It collapsed shortly after he arrived. “Out of the ashes, Case crafted Quantum Computer Services,” TIME later reported. “His idea was to create an online bulletin board for owners of Commodore 64 computers. It wasn’t a sexy niche, but he thought it might have potential. From 1985 onward, Case nurtured Quantum from a few thousand members to more than 100,000.”

In 1991, Quantum was renamed America Online. By 1993, AOL introduced its own email addresses, a Windows version and access to the rest of the Internet for its users. Those moves led to some backlash—which soon became a recurring theme for the company.

At that time, one of the biggest sources of tension was that the Internet had previously been available mostly for people affiliated with colleges and universities. Users were used to dealing with “newbies” in the fall, as freshman acclimated to protocol, but now there were new users flooding in every day. “But the annual hazing given clueless freshmen pales beside the welcome America Online users received last March, when the Vienna, Virginia-based company opened the doors of the Internet to nearly 1 million customers,” TIME reported.

By the time AOL went public, the service had fewer than 200,000 subscribers, but TIME later reported that number soon climbed. In 1997, AOL announced they’d acquired CompuServe, riling many loyal CompuServe users. The backlash was echoed the following year when AOL picked up Netscape. The company faced more pushback from users when they switched from an hourly to a monthly pricing plan and launched a major membership drive that led to a traffic surge that couldn’t be handled by AOL’s existing modems. Still, it was, TIME noted, “a novel problem—too many customers,” and the company continued to grow.

By 2000, AOL was the nation’s biggest Internet provider and worth $125 billion. The company merged with Time Warner (then the parent company of TIME), and executives of the combined firm announced that they expected AOL Time Warner to grow 33% in the next year.

By 2002, it was clear such grand predictions were unrealistic. “Despite its powerful brand and unrivaled global member base of 34 million, the AOL division has seen its once stratospheric subscriber growth slow, its ad revenue fall and its international operations bleed money,” TIME reported. “The much ballyhooed broadband move–in which networked homes will enjoy high-speed connections to movies and music whenever they want–is off to a rocky start.”

The following year, Case—who had already taken a diminished role in order to spend time with an ill family member—resigned. “As the Internet bubble burst and advertising slid into recession, the company’s executives were slow to adjust their lavish profit-growth promises to Wall Street, which struck back hard,” TIME reported. “Having tumbled from a high of $56.60, the price of AOL Time Warner’s widely held stock stood at $14.81 at the end of last week, representing an almost $200 billion collapse of shareholder wealth. Levin was forced out. So was chief operating officer Bob Pittman, who had come from AOL. And now goes Case himself.”

AOL was down, but not out. The company split with Time Warner in 2009 and continued to chug along, making money off of its dial-up business and acquiring media properties like the Huffington Post in 2011. Now, AOL is the one being acquired.

Read more about how AOL is coming “back from the dead” here

Read a profile of AOL from 1997, here in the TIME Vault: How AOL Lost the Battles but Won the War

TIME Amazon

5 Secret Amazon Prime Perks You Don’t Know About

Inside The UPS Worldport Facility Ahead Of Earnings Figures
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images A package shipped from Amazon.com moves down a conveyor belt during the afternoon sort at the United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) Worldport facility in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Tuesday, April 21, 2015.

The subscription service is about much more than free shipping

Every year when my Amazon Prime membership is about to auto-renew, like the tens of millions of other members, I take a step back and wonder if the $99 per year price is worth it. To be sure, I wring that much value out of the service simply through its free two-day shipping alone. But with that benefit also comes the guilt of shopping online and not in my own community.

So what keeps me re-upping my subscription? There’s a slew of other Amazon Prime benefits that, when all added up, are worth much more than the shipping savings alone.

Here are five of the lesser-known Prime perks:

Unlimited Photo Storage: If you’re the digital, yet sentimental type, this one Amazon Prime add-on is worth the entire year’s subscription price. Utilizing the company’s cloud storage offerings, Prime members can archive all of their photos to Amazon’s servers for free. With no limit on the amount of pictures nor any restriction on how many photos you can upload per month, this is a crazy deal that every Prime user should take advantage of. Photos can be uploaded through your web browser, with the Amazon Cloud Drive app, or with the Cloud Drive Photos app, available for Android, iOS, and of course through Amazon’s own app store.

Music: From Spotify’s updated offerings to Apple’s impending new service to the celebrity backed Tidal, everyone is after your streaming music money. But Amazon customers may want to pause for a beat before subscribing elsewhere, because with Prime Music they’re already getting access to more than a million songs and hundreds of playlists.

To be fair, the competition has 20 or 30 times more tracks, but if music isn’t your main jam, Prime Music is at least a good, inexpensive way to stream ad-free and at your convenience. From classics like Simon & Garfunkel to catchy tunes like Uptown Funk, it’s a varied collection that definitely out-rocks your iTunes library.

Streaming Video: In the good old days of television, you used to be able to pick up the remote, flip through the channels, and find at least one thing worth watching. Today, despite a dizzying number of cable channels, that seems like a distant memory. But Amazon’s Prime Instant Video has an unexpectedly great selection of movies and television shows ready to watch on everything from TV-connected streaming boxes to tablets.

‘For instance, Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City, two Comedy Central shows drawing rave reviews, are up on Prime, ready for downloading. A deal between Amazon and HBO means the cable channel’s entire back catalog of great original programming (like The Wire) is at Prime members’ fingertips. And Amazon is pushing as hard as Netflix to make its own programming. The company even won two Golden Globes for its comedy Transparent. Not bad, for a throw-in feature. Oh, and Prime members flying JetBlue can also watch their Amazon-streamed content while airborne, for free.

Prime Now: In my experience, Amazon’s free two-day shipping with Prime is plenty fast, but I’ve never tried to use it in a pinch, like to refill an empty container of dishwashing detergent or to buy deodorant after forgetting to apply it in my morning routine. But Prime customers in select locations from Atlanta to Austin can avail of this ultra-quick delivery at no extra charge — so long as you can wait for two hours. (One-hour delivery is available for $7.99.) So how does the company deliver items as varied as peanut butter and headphones? If your answer is “drones,” you’ve been reading too many rumor websites. The actual answer is underground, not through the air.

Members-Only Deals: “Membership has its privileges” might be an old American Express tagline, but Amazon has given the concept new life in the 21st century by offering its shoppers a wide range of perks. For instance, some of Amazon’s most aggressive discounts come via its Lightning Deals, and beginning last holiday season, Prime members got early access to some of these sales.

MyHabit, an Amazon-owned website that offers up to 60% off designer brand clothing and home goods, runs daily events that start at 9 a.m. Pacific, but Prime subscribers get access a half-hour before the online crowds. And in the future, Prime subscribers will get exclusive access to Amazon Elements, a line of staples made by the company with input from its customer reviews. And you better believe these goods will be great; Amazon already removed the Elements diapers because they weren’t working out for parents and babies. That leaves only baby wipes in the line for now, but they beat Costco’s Kirkland brand wipes in a price-per-sheet showdown. But expect more products to come in the future — another reason to renew, I suppose.

TIME Uber

Uber is One Step Closer to Picking You Up in a Self-driving Car

Uber on mobile phone
Victor J. Blue—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The ride hailing service is testing a self-driving car as part of push to eliminate the cost of drivers

Uber users are a step closer being chauffeured around town in driverless cars.

The ride hailing service has started testing a self-driving car as part of plan to automate rides and eliminate the cost of drivers, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times.

The test car was recently spotted on the road in Pittsburgh, where Uber has opened a research lab. The car, with “Uber Advanced Technologies Center” emblazoned on the side, had what appeared to be equipment for autonomous navigation affixed to its roof.

A spokeswoman for Uber told the newspaper that “This vehicle is part of our early research efforts regarding mapping, safety and autonomy systems” without providing further detail.

Uber executives have voiced interest in self-driving cars in the past. In recent months, they have poached a group of robotics specialists from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to staff the effort.

Brian Johnson, an analyst for Barclays, said in a report earlier this week that the cost savings of self-driving cars for Uber or any other taxi-like service could be big. Removing the driver would reduce the cost of a ride at 34 cents a mile, nearly 58% cheaper than traditional new cars.

 

TIME Shopify

This Tech Company had a Blockbuster First Day of Trading Following IPO

First Day Of Trading for 2015 On The Floor Of The NYSE As U.S. Stock-Index Futures Rise After S&P 500's December Decline
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

E-commerce software company Shopify had a big day after its shares started trading

E-commerce software maker Shopify had a blockbuster Wall Street debut Thursday following an initial public offering with its shares gaining just over 50% in their first day of trading.

The company’s shares gained 51% to close at $25.86, a sharp increase from their IPO pricing of $17.

Investors piled into Shopify early in the day, sending its shares briefly above $28. By the afternoon, the stock fell from its intraday peak but still managed a big gain at the close.

Shopify, which sells software to online merchants to create websites and to process payments, ended the day valued at $1.92 billion. The company raised $131 million in the IPO.

By going public, Shopify joins a small list of other e-commerce-related companies including Etsy and Alibaba that have made their stock market premieres in the past year. Both of those companies, however, have hit turbulence since. Shares in Etsy, the marketplace for handcrafted goods, are now only slightly above their initial pricing after a big initial jump. Shares in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba have widely fluctuated since their premiere and are now around the same price as where they ended up on the first day of trading in September.

 

TIME apps

Google Maps Just Got Way Better

Traffic on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, California.
Tim McCaig—Getty Images A traffic jam on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, California.

Improved traffic data could make driving less of a nightmare this holiday weekend

Google is rolling out some new improvements to Maps in time for the traffic-heavy Memorial Day weekend. Users will be able to get more details about traffic conditions after entering a route.

For example, Maps might inform you that you are approaching construction and give an estimate for how long you might be stuck in a traffic jam. If the route is all clear, Maps will tell you that too. The app already helped users find alternate routes when dealing with heavy traffic, but it will be clearer in explaining why an alternate route is faster and the kind of incident you’ll be avoiding by following it.

Google also revealed the top trending search terms from last year’s Memorial Day weekend to give a sense of the most popular activities during the holiday. Beaches were unsurprisingly led the list of locations, followed by cemeteries and restaurants.

TIME Mobile

Here’s the 1 Trick to Getting People to Like Your Photos

Flickr study shows that filters increase engagement

Are you the kind of person who proudly attaches a #NoFilter hashtag to your photos online so that people know the pictures are authentic? Well, you’re missing out on a whole lot of likes, comments and other Millennial manna.

And now there’s data to prove it.

Researchers at Yahoo, in partnership with a professor at Georgia Tech University, have published a new study analyzing how filters impact engagement on Yahoo’s photo-sharing site Flickr. According to the study, filtered photos are 21% more likely to be viewed than non-filtered photos and 45% more likely to be commented on. Photos with filters that project warm colors tend to drive more engagement than cooler filters (though we’re unconvinced anyone ever “likes” photos filtered with Kelvin, the overly orange tint available on Instagram)

By interviewing photographers, researchers also discovered different motivations for using filters. Serious photographers use filters to correct coloring errors or bring attention to specific objects. More casual photo-takers, meanwhile, use filters as a means of personalization or to achieve a general “vintage” feel.

While the study focused on Flickr users, it’s safe to say the findings apply to Instagram as well—in fact, more than half of the photos researchers analyzed had been cross-posted from Instagram to Flickr. So next time you’re trying to ensure that your latest picture will get that coveted 11th like, embrace the filter (but again, please, don’t use Kelvin).

TIME Apple

Apple’s About to Completely Change the Way You Use an iPad

Inside A SoftBank Store As Apple Inc. New iPads Go On Sale
Yuriko Nakao—Bloomberg/Getty Images Apple Inc.'s new iPad Air 2 tablet is displayed at a SoftBank Corp. store in the Ginza district of Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, Oct. 24, 2014.

Get ready for some serious multitasking

Apple is reportedly working on a drastic redesign for the iPad, enlarging the screen to 12 inches and introducing a new split-screen mode that could display two apps at once.

The split-screen feature was reportedly developed to take advantage of the larger, 12-inch screens on two new iPads, codenamed “J98″ and “J99,” sources within the company tell 9to5Mac.

While Apple has not officially announced the super-sized iPads, the company is reportedly considering a debut of the split-screen feature at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference this June. The feature will reportedly divide the screen down the middle or in thirds, enabling users to multitask across apps, so that they no longer have to toggle between a web browser or email. The splitscreen effect is similar to a feature offered on some Android-powered tablets.

The redesigns come amid a slump in iPad sales, as consumers shift purchases toward large screen smartphones, or “phablets.”

TIME Google

Google Wants to Patent its Creepiest Idea Ever

"The anthropomorphic device may aim its gaze at the source of the social cue"

Google is working towards a patent for a sweet-looking toy with eyes that can track your movement and ears that can perk up when you speak, according to a new patent filing spotted by SmartUp Thursday.

The submission to the United States Patent and Trademark Office shows diagrams of an ordinary toy rabbit or teddy bear equipped with cameras behind its eyes and microphones in its ears.

“Upon reception or a detection of a social cue,”the form reads, “such as movement and/or a spoken word or phrase, the anthropomorphic device may aim its gaze at the source of the social cue.”

The theoretical toy could take verbal commands and send them to “media devices” like TVs. Of course, just because Google is seeking a patent doesn’t mean the product will come to light.

TIME cybersecurity

Edward Snowden Answered the Question We’ve All Been Wondering

The New Yorker Festival 2014 - Edward Snowden Interviewed by Jane Mayer
Bryan Bedder—Getty Images for The New Yorker General view of atmosphre at Edward Snowden Interviewed by Jane Mayer at the MasterCard stage at SVA Theatre during The New Yorker Festival 2014 on October 11, 2014 in New York City.

He talked about Rand Paul, too

In case you were curious, Edward Snowden still enjoys pizza in Russia.

“Do you miss pizza? Favorite thing about Russia so far? If you could be an insect, which would you be and why?” a Reddit user asked Snowden in a recent AMA, or “Ask Me Anything.” Snowden’s response was short and sweet: “This guy gets it. Russia has Papa John’s. For real.”

But Snowden also took the opportunity to answer questions on more serious subjects. After all, the conversation was centered around Section 215 of the Patriot Act. That’s one section Snowden brought to the public’s attention in 2013 when he leaked information about the NSA’s telephone records collection program.

Snowden took the AMA opportunity to respond to a question about Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster against the Patriot Act. Snowden wrote:

It represents a sea change from a few years ago, when intrusive new surveillance laws were passed without any kind of meaningful opposition or debate. Whatever you think about Rand Paul or his politics, it’s important to remember that when he took the floor to say “No” to any length of reauthorization of the Patriot Act, he was speaking for the majority of Americans — more than 60% of whom want to see this kind of mass surveillance reformed or ended.

Snowden conducted the Reddit conversation along with Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the ACLU.

TIME

Stop Using This Painfully Obvious Answer For Your Security Questions

In fact, stop using security questions at all

We all love pizza, but that doesn’t mean you should be using it as a way to keep your data safe online.

In a new research paper, Google staffers found that those pesky security questions which are often used to help users recover passwords are one of the worst ways to protect online accounts. The company studied hundreds of millions of actual question-and-answer combos used by real Google users, and discovered people often choose obvious answers that are easy to remember — but also easy for hackers to guess.

For example, an attacker would have a 20% chance of guessing an English speaker’s answer to the question, “What is your favorite food?” by guessing “pizza” on the first try.

Even when users have hard-to-guess answers that are effective at keeping hackers out, it can be challenging for people to get into their own accounts. 40% of English-speaking U.S. users have failed to recall their answers to security questions, according to Google. When the questions are very difficult, such as asking for a person’s frequent flyer number, recall rate drops to 9%.

Some users try to be clever and make up fake answers to questions in hopes of boosting security, but that plan can also backfire. Google found 37% of people have given bogus answers to security questions, but these fake responses end up being so similar to each other in aggregate that they make it easier for hackers to guess the answers, not harder.

So, what’s the solution? Google advocates using authentication through SMS texting or alternate email addresses to boost security and help users recover lost passwords. These methods don’t rely on faulty human memory or our undying love of pizza. When using SMS as a recovery method, people are able to get back into their accounts more than 80% of the time, Google found.

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