And the Walls Came Tumbling Down

Have you heard AOL's news recently? It seems the semi-sleeping giant has been awakened by reality. After years and years of AOL's exclusive "walled garden," the walls are coming down.

According to Webopedia, a walled garden refers to a browsing environment that controls the information and Web sites the user is able to access. This is a popular method used by ISPs in order to keep the user navigating only specific areas of the Web, whether for the purpose of shielding users from information or directing users to paid content that the ISP supports.

What are the implications of AOL doing this? Many of the sites/content within AOL's umbrella including Time Warner, Moviefone, Netscape, Digital City Guides, and AOL channels will offer content to non-AOL members.

Perhaps this move by AOL is due to the fact that the competition has offered "free-walled" content for free for some time now. Or, maybe it is due to losing market share? Maybe it is all of the above.

According to, the new version of -- aimed at a non-subscribing, general Web audience -- launched in beta test form on Tuesday.



I decided to check it out myself. I was surprised that it worked perfectly with the Firefox browser. The home page looked scarce and had too much white space, but I'm sure the AOL design team will be working on improving this for the official launch. There are several channels listed on the home page including horoscopes, shopping, Moviefone, weather, sports, and finance.

To me, it looks a bit like Yahoo! and a bit like MSN. There are areas that allow users to customize content; AOL has content aggregation deals with, WebMD, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times to name a few.

Of course the goal of offering non-members a level of free content is to hopefully convert them into paying users. Do you think this will work or did AOL show up to the race when it was already over?

I think it is very late to make this sort of a move. However, AOL's Time Warner assets remain robust online and offline. The first thing that comes to mind is movies and music. AOL in the past has offered member only first-ever videos from artists like Britney Spears and Madonna. In fact, this weekend everyone was able to download clips from an Usher concert for free.

We all know AIM as the initial leader in the free instant messaging space. AOL is now offering free e-mail to users that have or set up a screen name. Although I still remain a fan of AIM, I think free e-mail is less than newsworthy. The public at large has had free e-mail for years. When Google launched its beta Gmail, it seemed like just about everyone (including me) migrated for the likes of "old" free e-mail services.

The other potential revenue-generating opportunity is online advertising. In the past, ads were limited to small pixel sizes and tight spec limitations. This opens up an opportunity for advertisers to potentially garner solid reach across many properties targeting diverse demographics and lifestyle. We'll have to wait and see who bites first.

So dear readers, how do you feel about this news? Is AOL late to the race or do you think there is potential to gain market share? Post to the SPINboard and tell me how you think life could be without walls.

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