America Online just passed the two million member mark, having added more than a half-million subscribers since December. AOL was quick to announce that - the new figure clearly establishes America Online as the number one online service in the U.S. - although by most estimates CompuServe still has a more users than AOL. (CIS is estimated at about 2.7 million members...still ahead, but losing ground.)
Steve Case, AOL prez, took the opportunity to do some (mostly deserved) grandstanding, but was forced to admit that his service has been suffering acute growing pains. AOL's long-awaited web browser had yet to appear by the day of the two-million milestone, a notable disappointment for users. Additionally, for a while in February and March, AOL suffered an Internet e-mail bottleneck which kept mail lagging as much as 24 hours behind schedule.
That's not so bad, compared to Prodigy, which lost (yes, lost) some 5,000 e-mail messages in March during a system upgrade. Oops.
Delphi, lagging behind the big three online services, is attempting to give itself a jump start. They can hire all the suits that want, but Delphi knows it won't get anywhere without a decent graphical front end. So, the company signed with Netscape Communications to provide its graphical WorldWideWeb access software. Good choice.
Delphi also plans to enter European and Pacific markets, and to include content from products owned by its parent company, News Corporation. News Corp. is the umbrella that hovers over big names like TV Guide, Fox Broadcasting and Harper Collins Publishers. Names like those couldn't hurt Delphi at all.
The master plan at WELL, which is based in Sausalito, is to launch several more regional WELL servers. These sub-WELLs would offer the same services as the California one, but each with a local slant. The rumor mill says that the new WELLs could appear in New York, Washington and perhaps somewhere in the Pacific Rim. Users on any local WELL will be able to pop over to the other systems to see what's the haps in the other online communities.
The WELL's been growing, and its owners want each mini-WELL to have the same home-grown feeling as the Bay Area one. Yes, a graphical interface is planned, but sources swear the WELL won't turn into another America Online. They're being very careful to put the community first.
In the "big things mean a lot" department, Prodigy has announced plans for a multimedia mail service that will allow users to attach pictures and sounds to their e-mail. Initially, the service will only work between Prodigy members, but eventually it should work to anywhere on the Internet using MIME. In a related gimmick, Prodigy is teaming up with a company that will develop your photos and digitize them for you - no word whether those pictures will be delivered to you via e-mail. This is all still vapor, but it sounds pretty fun anyhow.