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How many of you remember watching TV about a decade ago, and seeing commercials for large, well-known companies (and I mean really large ones—say, for example, Proctor & Gamble) and hearing “visit us on the world wide web at www.tidedetergent.com, or type in AOL Keyword: ‘laundry‘”?

I was thinking about this the other day… AOL was way ahead of the curve on this. They were so far ahead of the curve that it didn’t catch on. I know some people just slightly younger than me might say “AOL? Who’s that?” But the fact is, AOL was really a cutting-edge company in the dot-com era. I suppose in one sense, you can’t even call them a dot-com company, cause they provided the framework for the dot-coms without really being one themselves. (Plus they’re still around!) In a way, they actually ushered in the internet age, and survived. Funny thought.

But here’s what I’ve been thinking about… keywords were an idea so brilliant, we just accept them as a fact of life today. But at the time, AOL was the only one even thinking like that. I never knew what their policy was on how they assigned different keywords to different companies [does anyone know? was it auction-style? or just first-come-first-serve?], but I do know that they were attempting to make our online search efforts easier by coming up with simple, streamlined, logical one or two-word keywords that we could type into a special box in the AOL browser and, Voila! We would end up at exactly the most logical website for that type of word.

The idea is pretty simple. I really don’t know why this didn’t take off for AOL, especially because they seemed to abandon it, and Google showed up a few years later and took the concept and ran with it and it became a huge success. It was like some sort of proto-AdWords. Perhaps it’s because:

  • A) AOL didn’t know what they had on their hands
  • B) it was at such an infantile stage that it wasn’t really ready for the masses yet
  • C) AOL didn’t really know what to do with it.

Actually, in all honesty, I think it’s:

  • D) “all the above.” (That’s usually the right answer anyway). That seems to be the biggest challenges for large corporations—they can come up with some pretty amazing stuff, but just cannot seem to adapt fast enough to stay cutting edge.

What are your thoughts? Did anyone ever actually type in an AOL keyword into the special box at the top of the screen?