August 01, 2003
Here They Come: AOL Journals Goes (Sort Of) Live

Well, it appears that AOL has just rolled out the public beta of their much-buzzed-about new blog service, AOL Journals. (Note for you folks using variants of Mozilla: it looks like their server’s MIME types are screwed up, if you try to follow that link you’re gonna get some weird behavior. You’ll need to use IE to see the page. Wow, only two weeks since they abandoned Mozilla and they’ve already forgotten it exists! That was fast…)

I took a moment and set up a blog using the service to see how it works.

First impressions:

  • Setup of a new Journal is a breeze — only about three pages of simple questions (What do you want the title of the blog to be? Which of these canned layouts do you prefer?) and you’re up and running.
  • The canned layouts are result in a reasonably attractive site, though the AOL banner across the top of the page is off-putting (at least to me).
  • AOL Journals does a good job of respecting most of the de facto conventions of blogging — it provides an RSS 2.0 feed, and allows the user to set up a blogroll.
  • It seems to not like users putting their own HTML in their entries. Um, how exactly am I suppose to link to things??? (Editor’s Note: OK, I’ve figured this out now — the problem is that the editing interface provides a WYSIWYG editor that adds markup for you… but (sigh) it only works in IE, and I was using Mozilla Firebird. Again with the Mozilla dissing from AOL! Yeesh.)
  • One of the “killer features” of AOL Journals is supposed to be the ability to post to your Journal via Instant Messenger. I tried this service, and it works reasonably well — I was able to post without much trouble. However, the process of adding descriptive data about your post — things like the subject line — is pretty clunky, but probably unavoidably so given the limitations of AIM. In short, it works, but they’ve got a ways to go before it’s as well done as SmarterChild.
  • Interestingly, it also has support for audioblogging — you can post to your Journal by phone, a la Audblog. However, you’ll need to pay an additional $4.95-per-month fee (on top of your AOL subscription) to subscribe to the “AOL By Phone” service in order to be able to do this. This is annoying, but since there’s no good free alternative (Audblog costs $3/month for basic service), it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker.

In short, AOL Journals is an interesting product that’s especially compelling for novice users who want easy setup and management of their blog. It’s not going to woo any experts from Movable Type, and some design decisions are just plain dumb (see the no-HTML note above), but it may cut into the uptake of SixApart’s new TypePad hosted service somewhat, especially if TypePad’s (yet-to-be-announced) price is too high. If, for example, TypePad costs $25/month, then Journals starts to look competitive, since for roughly the same price you can get not just Journals but all the content of the AOL service as well. I think there’s plenty of room in the market for both these services to coexist, though, and a little healthy competition should be good for users of all services.

Posted by Jason Lefkowitz at August 01, 2003
About Your Host

Ant's Eye View is edited by Jason Lefkowitz, a consultant and Web developer in Alexandria, Virginia. Got a question, comment, or concern? Let me hear it!

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