AOL’s Ugly Webhosting Shutdown

AOL could take a lesson from our lame-duck President and go out in style.

In its favor is the fact that AOL email can now be collected via IMAP. Yeah! (No folks, I don’t use AOL myself, but I still have clients who believe they’ll lose contact with the world if they close their AOL accounts.) But on the negative side of the ledger is the way the Information Technology Specialists that populate AOL’s decimated Virginia offices have phased out their webhosting services.

Once upon a time, every AOL subscriber got “free” software, dial-up access, and “free” webhosting at Over time, that free software became bloated adware, laden with network problems, and PC “maintenance” tools that slowed user’s machines down to a crawl. Meanwhile, the dial-up service that propelled AOL’s growth became a Model T, found only in extreme backwaters.

Today, the software’s been discontinued. No loss. AOL as ISP is history. No problem. AOL no longer charges for its “services,” having long since morphed into an ad-supported business model. Nothing for nothing. And as of 10/31/2008, AOL’s webhosting has shut its doors.

And there’s the rub. AOL didn’t just shut down the servers and disappear. That wouldn’t have been nice, but it wouldn’t have been awful either. And AOL didn’t offer subscribers with websites on their servers a forwarding service. That would be the professional thing to do. No, the folks at AOL decided to send all links to Hometown Has Been Shutdown (HHBS).

The problem with that is twofold. People who have the old AOL address for a website won’t know if it’s moved or defunct. And if they use a search engine to locate a moved website, the results page will continue to show the AOL address, leading folks back to HHBS. Round and round we go …

Dear AOL. I know it’s probably too late and/or too much trouble to provide the folks who paid the bills all those years with forwarding for moved websites. But it wouldn’t be hard to deliver an error 404 page for removed websites. That’s the standard protocol and would eventually get search engines to drop the defunct AOL website URLs. Delivering a live and changing page (HHBS is a live blog with comments) causes search engines to maintain the erroneous listings.

So, dear AOL, if you can’t provide forwarding, and won’t follow WWW protocol by delivering error 404 pages, how about writing the search engines — heck there are only a handful left — and asking them to stop indexing any URL that includes or or

Geez, if Bush can do it gracefully, so can AOL.

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