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'You've got mail!'--stories from AOL's heyday

The screeching static of the dial-up connection will forever be wedded in many Americans' memories to the omnipresence of America Online in the early years of the web. From the movies to Saturday Night Live, the mechanized baritone catch phrase "You've got mail!" was parodied and parroted for years--a recognition that in the pop culture, AOL was the Internet.

Then AOL seemed to vanish. Now, on the company's 25th birthday, AOL is trying for a comeback as a content provider--a network of web sites designed to fill dozens of niches with service, entertainment and some news as well. As The Post's Michael Rosenwald reports today, the new AOL is quite different from the dial-up service it was for millions of Americans of a certain age.

Help us tell the story of what AOL meant in those first years of the web as a mass medium. How did AOL change your life? Can you recall when the company and its services first hit your consciousness--and, years later, when it first seemed an irrelevancy? Share your stories about AOL on the comment board below...

By Marc Fisher  | May 23, 2010; 10:45 PM ET
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Before AOL, we Internet "old timers" used to dread September and October. Most content at the time was on Usenet ~ internet newsgroups where people shared information, asked questions, answered questions, and found their own little corner of the world where no interest was so obscure that you couldn't find other like-minded people to interact with.

Autumn brought falling leaves and about as many college freshman who had never used the internet before. They would find out about the amazingly wonderful Make Money Fast scam and saturate our quiet lives with their blather. We'd gently explain to them that they are NOT going to Make Anything except fools of themselves and they now wear the brand of newbie ("Hi. You're a freshman. Someday you'll be a sophomore. Will you always be a clueless idiot?").

There were other services, such as Delphi, that allowed outsiders (non-government, telecom, or college) onto the net. But they were more geared towards techies, future members of the brotherhood.

We knew what AOL would mean, if they succeeded. New freshmen every dam day of the year.

We, alas, were right.

Posted by: MAL9000 | May 24, 2010 8:03 AM | Report abuse

It seemed like only yesterday when AOL charged me $30.00 a month for email access. Then the day I cancelled, they "offered" to reduce it to $10.00 a month! (LOL) Ahh, how time has changed. I haven't paid for email since! Now, AOL is trying to re-invent itself. Good luck, AOL, I've never looked back.

Posted by: bmm3571 | May 24, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

To paraphrase Chris Rock: They still make that?

Posted by: bayma1 | May 25, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Hmm... "I haven't paid for email since!" AOL provided much more than e-mail, and you're very likely paying lots more for your ISP now than you did with AOL!

Ah, AOL... the scratchy connection sounds from the dial up modem... the great community forums. I was into astronomy and the groups on AOL were friendly, informative, etc. The news group world was uncivil, bizarre, and you never knew what nonsense or trolling was going to happen.

What I most remember, though, were all those free diskettes and CDs with the AOl software on them. They were everywhere! Including the U.S. Post Office!

Posted by: Astrogal | May 25, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

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