by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
Actually AOL hasn't bought everyone just yet, but at the rate they are acquiring companies, they'll put even acquisition-hungry Symantec to shame. There have been a number of purchases, so sit down, catch your breath, and pay attention to the new list of AOL's wholly-owned subsidiaries.
The first purchase in recent history was AOL's acquisition of WAIS, Inc., the firm that spun off from Thinking Machines after the development of the WAIS (Wide Area Information Servers) technology. WAIS servers provide fast, full-text searching of massive databases and are widely used throughout the Internet as search engines. More recently, WAIS provided custom online services for publishers such as Encyclopedia Brittanica and Dow Jones. AOL paid for WAIS with 400,000 shares of AOL stock, which at the current price of about $37 per share works out to around $15 million. Not too shabby.
But wait, it gets better. Last week, AOL announced that it has purchased GNN (Global Network Navigator) from O'Reilly & Associates for $11 million ($9 million in stock, $2 million in cash). And then, since GNN doesn't include any serious searching tools, AOL bought WebCrawler, one of the better Web full text search engines. Developed by Brian Pinkerton of the University of Washington, WebCrawler is used by more than 250,000 people each week, and it adds more than 2,000 new sites each month to its current 29,000 site index. AOL didn't say how much they paid Brian for WebCrawler, but I hope he made out well.
Now, to look back, AOL has also purchased BookLink Technologies (makers of Internet client software for Windows) and NaviSoft, a company that's coming out with some interesting tools for creating Web pages. And of course, AOL's most important acquisition was ANS (Advanced Network & Services) in November of 1994, which has one of the largest and fastest public data networks (see TidBITS-254).
So let's put this together. AOL has a heavy-duty network from ANS, and alliances with Sprint greatly supplement that connectivity. AOL has its own client software (and version 2.6 - with Web access provided by code from InterCon's TCP/Connect II - is in testing; check the FTP URL below), and thanks to BookLink and NaviSoft, AOL has access to more code for both client applications and publishing programs. WAIS provides both server software and publishing deals.
There's no question that AOL has a lot of content, much of which hasn't been available on the Internet. I'm curious to see how, or if, AOL merges its content with GNN, since although AOL talks up GNN pretty heavily, I'm not a big fan. Nonetheless, content isn't the issue for AOL right now - what's important to them is attention, and that's where GNN and WebCrawler stand to help.
Overall, I can't think of any other company that's in such a strong position to compete directly with the impending (and well-funded) juggernaut of Microsoft Network. Although financial dealings aren't my strong point, I also wonder if AOL might be putting themselves in a weakened financial position through these acquisitions. Still, my bet is that in a few years it will be far more costly to assemble this sort of collection. As for how this will all shake out, only time will tell, being incapable of keeping a secret.
One minor peeve: With all this Internet activity, why hasn't AOL put up a Web server with at least all of these press releases on it? Homilies about practicing what you preach come to mind.