New York Times: Back to the future at AOL

Saul Hansell reports on the shift at AOL back to offering a service which builds a sense of community. Amazing — that’s exactly what we had back at CompuServe in the early 90’s — before AOL bought that service and essentially ruined it by turning it into AOL’s “value brand” instead of continuing to grow it for what it really was: a premier enthusiast’s community.

This focus on community will be reinforced in the new 8.0 software, due out in October. It has 100 new features ranging from improved filters to prevent junk e-mail to more choices for the color and sound of the service.

But much of the focus is on features like “match chat,” pop-up windows that invite people to join chat rooms of those who share their interests. (AOL members have long listed their hobbies and other interests in the member directory.)

“We have 1.4 million chat rooms each day on AOL, but the No. 1 complaint we get is that `I can’t find people to talk about what I want to talk about when I want to talk about it,’ ” said David Gang, who is overseeing the development of the 8.0 software.

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