Ancient AOL Suffers Breakdown; Panic Prevails Across the Internet

AOL’s email service has been out of commission since 4:10 AM today.  Panic is spreading rapidly across the Internet because one of the biggest and least popular email services seems to be completely out of commission, panic that is exacerbated by the fact that AOL (once upon a time known as America Online, and later as AOL-Time-Warner, and then AOL again) is where many of the most technically challenged residents on the Internet get their email…and I’m one of them.

I’ve been on AOL since 1989, enduring the slings and arrows of my peers in the software world, who continually make fun of me for keeping my AOL address.  I do that for two simple reasons: my AOL address is my name, and everyone who knows me from way back when knows how to reach me at alanmilner@aol.com.  (Those are the same reasons I have kept the same cell phone number since 1985, but I am not going to publish my cell phone number here, although you could find it with very little effort.)

Today’s outage was more than merely inconvenient.  I am in the middle of a campaign to win a seat on my homeowners association’s board  of directors, and I was right in the middle of sending out emails to around 900 of my neighbors, when my service went down….at around 4 PM today, 12 hours after the AOL says their service was interrupted.

I sent out my email blast and when I tried to check to make sure it had gone out, I got a message saying that I had to log in again:

FIRST, I got the standard, one-size fits all “Ooops” message:

 

AOL Ooops

Okay, that’s no big deal.  I tried again later and got this message:

AOL Alert

That’s sounds ominous.  Maybe sending out the same email 900 times constitutes unusual activity. If so, where do all of those bulk emails come from that I spend all day deleting?

But I’m persistent.  (Software developers have to be persistent if they want to stay employed, as do journalists. Since I am both, you best believe that persistent is my middle name.)

But, when I tried to change my password, I got more bad news:

AOL's Sorry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, that sounds like they are on the case, doesn’t it?

Not exactly.  When I called the 855 number – with some trepidation – the overloaded exchange simply rejects the call.  You don’t even get a busy signal. They just disconnected the call. I give everyone, even the telemarketers from india who say they are calling from California my standard ten seconds before hanging up on them.  This was just rude. In pains me to admit this, but I didn’t even know that Verizon, which already has my cell phone account, bought out AOL back in May, but that fact added to the mix suggests that customer service is going to suffer.  The people in the Verizon stores are very nice (I have to say that because my nephew, Jason, is one of them) but it is becoming literally impossible to get anything done on the Verizon website.  When you can get someone on the phone, they are generally very helpful, but who has the time to hang on line with Verizon when AOL is down.

I have every confidence that AOL will be back up and running before I go to bed tonight but, if not then, for sure by the time I wake up tomorrow.  I’ve already gotten one phone call as a result of my email blast, so I know that actually did go out but, since around 50 percent of the people on that list are AOL subscribers, I’m not sure how many people got the messages.  Time will tell, of course.

On the other hand, a rather large slice of my life is stored on AOL.  I know I shouldn’t do that, but old habits die hard, including the old habit of trusting multinational corporations to have your best interests at heart.

Let’s face it.  AOL’s email service is free, has been for years, although I still get spam mail telling me that I am in arrears on my nonexistent monthly payments. Being free, how well motivated is AOL toward keeping its email service up and running smoothly.

Well, very, very motivated, as it turns out, because AOL’s business model relies upon the draw of the free email accounts to keep people coming back to their website, day after day, year after year.  That’s how they create the audience they need to drive their advertising revenues because, if people didn’t come back every day, all day, to check their email, AOL’s traffic would dry up, there being no original content, and very little seriously interesting content – and a lot of very annoying advertisements and self-starting video clips.

If I didn’t use AOL for my personal email, I would probably never log onto their website ever again…and Verizon knows this, so they have s strong vested interest in fixing AOl’s email before people realize that they really don’t need AOL at all.

After all, you can get free email from a lot of different sources, some of which don’t inflict obnoxious advertising on you.  I have at least half a dozen active email accounts that I use for different reasons and the truth is that AOL’s email is really rather clunky.  You can’t paste images directly into an AOL email  message, the way you can with Gmail, you also get access to a whole host of other Google features, including Google Drive and  Google Docs.

I just tried again to log into my email account and, this time, I got a screen that would have allowed me to change my password, which suggests that this is the result of an email address hack rather than a denial of service attack, although sometime the two are pretty much interchangeable.

No luck.  When I tried to change my email address, I got that damned Ooops message again.

Stay tuned.

Postscript:  Well, I did get online again at 7 PM.  Everything seems to be where I left it, and my email blast did in fact go out to the people it was addressed to, so all’s well that ends well….or is it?

The fragility of the system we now depend upon for so much of information, communication and entertainment should be a cause for concern.  Losing one’s connectivity today is rather like being thrown into solitary confinement.  If I wanted to live in a monk’s cell, I would move to Tibet.

Personally, I think it is time to back up and off load our data onto local devices. Once upon a time, when a 1 MEGABYTE hard drive was considered mass storage, the idea of cloud storage made a lot of sense.  Today, with 64 GIGABYTE thumb drives in everyone’s pockets, the question arises: how convenient is the cloud, when the internet goes down, and how safe is your data when you are depending upon a megabillion dollar corporate to protect your data.

I know one fellow who told me quite proudly that he had backed up everything on his Gmail account to his Google Drive account.  He was quite nonplussed when I explained to him that he had just backed up his data to the same place where he backed it up from. He didn’t get it then, and I am not sure he has gotten it since.

Back up, but don’t back up only to the cloud.

You have been warned.

 

 

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