Relay #70, Panel F

don't just know technology, understand it

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

IT Hitmen

Back in 2005/2006 during what seemed to be the last hoo-rah of dial-up, there were are flurry of ads touting the superiority of this service provider over the other. The mudslinging was at an all time high as companies were trying to horde the few remaining dial-up customers as DSL, cable and wireless become the established means of getting on the internet(s).

Two of the bigger names in the biz, NetZero and AOL, had a head on battle, but those outside the know wouldn't be any wiser. While NetZero hurled ad after ad boasting of their service and trivializing that of their "main" competitor, AOL seemed to have taken a very nonchalant attitude and was simply business as usual. The fact of the matter however is that AOL was hitting back just as hard; not directly, but by employing a hitman.

AOL is an odd company, or perhaps one that's so strategic that simple minds such as my own can't comprehend their awesomeness. Judging from the approach they have taken with NetZero, it might very well be the latter. AOL owns Netscape; the developer of the original internet killer app. After losing the "Browser Wars", Netscape spread its wings and became a service provider, portal and God knows what else (today it's a social news site playing catch up to the early movers in the area. Go figure). In the late nineties (1999 to be exact) Netscape was bought by AOL/Time-Warner, the media conglomerate. It retained and maintained many of the technologies that Netscape had put out and even maintained the brand. It's hard to say why AOL made that move. Many assume that is was to keep them from competing with their own Portal, or simply to get their user base; either way, 1999 marked the end of the company that put the first layman on the net.

Back to the story:
The broo hah hah of dial up continues and NetZero is taking aim at AOL in no uncertain terms, but instead of going on the defensive, they simply and silently launch a covert attack, Netscape, to do the mudslinging on their behalf. Netscape's soul purpose it seemed was to jab at NetZero, who was relentless in their jabbing of AOL. With this approach AOL has the profile of a company that can't be bothered with petty name calling. They _seemingly_ take the high ground and leave the other "kids" to play in the mud.

The whole purpose of a hitman is to do my dirty deeds and keep me from sullying my own hands, and Netscape played the role nicely. I don't have numbers to know if it actually had any effect on NetZero's bottom line, but the whole debacle was an interesting one.

For your homework read up on Microsoft and the BSA.

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