In the world of technology even giants can stumble â€“ or fail. Once upon a time AOL was the reigning online behemoth. At its peak in the 1990s it had 30 million paying subscribers (which at the time was a significant proportion of the online population in the US and Europe) and thought itself big enough to take over Time Warner. There was even a schmaltzy movie â€“ You've Got Mail â€“ based around its email service. Now it's a business-school case study in hubris.
AOL was also a study in corporate strategy from which the Facebook founders learned avidly. Initially they conceived of their service as an AOL-type "walled garden" â€“ which implied trying to keep subscribers inside that controlled space. If one of your Facebook friends sent you a message then you had to be logged in to read it.
I've said it before, but I think in 10 years, it's even odds that people think of Facebook the way they think of AOL now. Since this column is one of the first I've seen to agree, I'm obviously going to link it.