Analysis of Commercial Online Provider

by Sarah Awood

For my analysis of a commercial online project, I choose to look at America Online. I found it very easy to subscribe to this provider. In fact, I recently got a new modem for my computer and there were several commercial online providers who put offers for trial offers in the package. I decided to try America Online because I have heard a lot being said about this provider in particular. In addition, a couple of years ago, I tried a free month of Prodigy and I thought it would be interesting to compare the two providers. Even though it was a while ago, the thing that I remember the most about Prodigy was their advertisements. At that time I had a very slow modem, but the first thing that would load on my screen would be these advertisements. So, I had to sit there look at these advertisements while I waited for the information I wanted to come up. I was curious to see if America Online used any of these techniques.

AOL made it very east to install their program, which I think is very important for the average consumer who is subscribing to these providers. It dials a toll-free number so you can get a local number to call in with. It automatically checks your modem speed, etc. for you: you do not need to enter any of this type of technical information. Then, the program automatically disconnects you from the 800 number and dials into AOL using the number you have just chosen. I then needed to enter the registration number and password that were included in the free package.

One part I didn't like was the information they need for billing. I didn't so much mind entering my name, address, and phone number, but I did not like entering my credit card number. They provide the opportunity to pay by check, but it is an automatic electronic transfer that they take from your checking account. There is also a two dollar service charge for this service. If I didn't have to do this for a class, I would have never gone beyond this point.

Some of my initial reactions were about format. For example, some of the screens were too big for my small computer screen and therefore I couldn't read all of the text in some of the windows. However, I didn't notice any of the advertisement that I had encountered a couple of years ago with Prodigy. I also jumped when it started talking to me: I didn't expect that. One interesting thing that I found out was that AOL currently has 2,000,000 members!

AOL provides a broad range of services and information, including communication, education, entertainment, and transactional services, to name only a few. Some services that it claims are only provided on AOL are the New York Times, MTV, and Time Magazine. Although, I though Time Magazine was also on the World Wide Web - I would have to do some more research into this.

The environment on AOL is very user friendly. All you need to do is click on icons to move around to the various different areas. Departments include: News and Finance, Entertainment, Travel and Shopping, Computing and Software, etc. Examples of interesting things I found were: New York Times top stories of the day, online discussions, and an encyclopedia.

I found AOL to be primarily an entertainment service, even with the educational component. I found myself thinking I could sit there and play for hours, but that indeed I would only be playing. Although it could be a good source of current news and a chance for discussion, I stilll enjoy reading the newspaper while sitting on the sofa and enjoying a good conversation with friends in person or on the phone.