Last October the Google people did something, I don't know what, that involved "dressing up like AOL" for Halloween. Again I don't know what exactly. The bottom line however is that the AOL mail bloggers, the company people who author a blog about AOL's mail system, wound up sniping back in a post entitled An Open Letter to Gmail: Happy Halloween! We love your costume!. The post tongue-in-cheekily chides the Google people for introducing e-mail and other related apps behind AOL's own introductions (or popularizations) of them as far back as the early 90s or even late 80s.
Update regarding the motivation of AOL's post: Apparently the title was a play in reference to Gmail's ongoing resemblence to AOL, the very point of AOL's satire. The deal being they are "dressing up like AOL".
The post was clearly meant as a creative and comical marketing retort, and, it was factually correct. For instance, AOL Instant Messenger, on AOL, was a definite precursor to ICQ, which was itself a precursor (and, which AOL bought), to just about every other internet-centric instant messaging program introduced.
Unfortunately for the levity of the post, however, the world just isn't ready to josh with AOL in AOL's favor. Even at its blog. A peruse of the reader comments in response to the posting demonstrates an ongoing contempt for the company, still smoldering after so many years of aggressive marketing, philosophical clashes about an open versus walled garden, "Wheel of Fortunish" web that many people believed AOL would have let the web become had it managed to keep everyone "dumb" over the real possibilities. And, this is not to mention blatant customer wrangling to keep people from unsubscribing as they predictably wised up to broadband and a more user-driven content web destiny. For all the innovation it humorously gloats in its posting, AOL never could figure out how to develop a one-click online cancellation tool.
Turns out, people are still pretty ticked.
I was an avid AOL-hater. You can still find my old rantings against them if you do the right Google searches. However, I will give them credit for a number of things in this posting that go beyond their "lead" in introducing people to the wonders of connectivity - however limited they wanted the free stuff to be. And more importantly, I give them credit for the posting itself. It was at least an effort to be conversational and spirited, despite being somewhat markety about it (old habits die hard). On that point, they are more closely following something the Google people invented. But whatever.
Most telling of all, however, is that AOL hasn't responded to the booing and cussing in the theater of its Google jab by removing the post or seemingly censoring any of the commentators. Oh god, how they must have contemplated either. They also don't appear to be deploying work-from-home-posting-to-message-board sock puppets to come in and cushion the blow with "You all are crazy, I love AOL" counter sentiments. Likely, I surmise, because such postings would be instantly suspect anyway, and the last thing AOL wants, ever, is more consumer distrust heaped on a tall mountain of it already.
Rather, they seem to be taking the medicine in a stiff upper-lip way that somehow suggests to me they they finally respect the web for its brutal consumer vocalism. They're playing it cool and letting the frost burn a little. I hate to concede it, but you do have to admire it for that one step toward redemption.