Never in the history of the Internet has there been a larger collection of perpetual newbies than America Online (AOL). How do they do this? Easy. First, AOL is populated by Americans. Second, because of this, AOL has to make its software *extremely* user friendly. That way, any idiot can use it efficiently. (And third, many do.)
Until a few years ago, AOL did not have a gateway to the rest of the Internet. They were happy in their little universe, with their chat rooms, and games, and other droll activities. Life was simple, life was good. It was one big party for AOLers. Then, they discovered the Rest Of The World.
The Rest Of The World was not prepared for the saccharine bounciness of America Online.
"*boingie* Hi! My name is firstname.lastname@example.org and I like Startrek. Do you like it too?"
Unfortunately, no, if I'm reading this in rec.pets.iguanas.
It wouldn't be so bad if they had come to alt.startrek.discussion to talk about the parallels between classic Trek and Cold War America. I can respect that. But the shame is that America Onliners are completely unprepared for Reality Online. Whereas Internet users are primarily university students, business professionals and technology gurus, AOL has a higher percentage of teenagers, housewives, and bluecollars who believe they will go the way of the passenger pigeon if they aren't on the "Information Superhighway." (This is Propaganda's fault.) These are the people that CS and English majors have for lunch.
AOLers just aren't ready for the Net. They fall prey to, and virally propagate those Make Money Fast chain letters. Don't they have those things on their planet? Apparently not, for they seem to enjoy the novelty throughout Usenet.
Being Americans, they firmly believe in "freedom of speech". Unfortunately, many of them interpret this to mean that they can say whatever they want, then get offended if anyone contradicts them. Many avoidable flame wars have started this way. Many AOLers have not learned that just because a newsgroup is called alt.fan.Bob.Q.Dinkelmeyer means that everyone there is a fan of Bob's.
Because of their late entry into the Net, AOLers have not had the opportunity to learn the Classic Lessons. Those of us old enough to remember the infamous Green Card Lottery do not make similar mistakes ourselves. AOLers don't know any better. I frequently receive email advertising of the same nature from the mail suffix aol.com.
America Online has a long way to go before the majority of its users are net-savvy enough to survive, much less be accepted by the rest of the Internet. Until then, perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky they have not yet discovered IRC.