have commented since, is geared toward instant messages, online chat, and real-
time interaction, creating a culture where a hasty "Me, too!" is acceptable
comment--another culture clash, since Usenet norms consider such messages a
waste of bandwidth.
A second problem, in Reid's opinion, was that AOL's software interface confused
mailed replies (private) with posted follow-ups (public), encouraging AOLers to post
publicly messages which to old-timers seemed more appropriate for mail. Quoting,
a staple on Usenet because follow-up messages may arrive before the originals,
was not available. Reid also complained that AOL's threading--the facility that
shows how a series of messages on the same topic relate to one another--was
weak, and that features built into Usenet to allow newer postings to supersede old
ones (used with regularly updated messages such as FAQs) were not enabled.
There was no search facility (common in Usenet newsreaders), and limits on the
number of articles in a single newsgroup the AOL software could show further
restricted users' ability to find, and therefore read, FAQs.
The biggest problem for the embattled alt.best.of.internet specifically had to do with
AOL's suggested list of newsgroups for its members to try out to get acquainted.
It's understandable that the service would want to put alt.best.of.internet at the
top--it was a great showcase for Usenet. But the result was that as all those
AOLers trooped to the edge of their world and stepped off (I imagine this as one of
those long parades of goofy, green-haired aliens dropping through a trapdoor in the
game Lemmings), they exhibited normal, human behavior--that is, they hit the first
newsgroup they came to and said, Hello, world. And they got flamed.
As one AOLer complained to alt.best.of.internet in May 1994, in response to the
presumption that all AOLers were bozos, "Is this any kind of behavior for people in
an electronic community? Just because AOL subscribers PAY for their Internet
access, not have it provided free through a university, some other users are
assuming that they are uneducated morons."
Some of these things have been fixed since 1994. But the deeper problem had to
do with AOL's decision to make the "Usenet feature" look as much as possible like
the colorful graphical world of the rest of AOL. Consequently, many AOLers may
not have understood that they were not on just another part of AOL, and so they
couldn't possibly have registered that the standards of behavior were different. In
any case, there is a natural tendency to assume that whatever service you first use
is the way online should be, and that anything that deviates from that is wrong.
Many people started with online services like AOL, CompuServe, or Prodigy partly
because these came bundled with new computers, but also because for a novice
these services were substantially easier to set up than a direct Internet access
account. This balance began to shift in about 1995, when Internet service providers
like Netcom and Pipeline began marketing their services nationwide, including
software packages that were designed to be easy to set up and use. The advent of
the World-Wide Web as the most important unifying interface to the Internet helped
a great deal.
Further resentment was created on the Net side by AOL's habit of advertising itself
as "the Internet, and a whole lot more," further confusing where the boundary, if
any, might lie. AOL also took it upon itself to improve upon certain Usenet
conventions: some newsgroups are listed on AOL by descriptions supplied by the
service rather than their actual names. For example, alt.aol-sucks is listed as
"Flames and complaints about AOL."
It's fair to say that AOL as a company can't have understood how many problems
its interface was going to cause for its members and for the Net at large. Although it
was slow to change, it did correct most of the mistakes Reid listed over the next
two years. However, it made errors again when it launched its Web browser, which
irritated Webmasters (the people who maintain Web sites), who were left to field
AOLers' complaints when the company's browser didn't support some common
Web features correctly or failed to update pages regularly enough on its proxy
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