AOL is in no position to keep public in the dark

While all companies undergoing transitions suffer slings and arrows, it is fair to say that AOL has encountered a fusillade.

While all companies undergoing transitions suffer slings and arrows, it is fair to say that AOL has encountered a fusillade.

The company's subscription woes - both transitioning from paid to free access and having disgruntled customers record interactions with the customer service desk - are just one of the myriad issues AOL must face and, to be honest, has been facing ever since merging with Time Warner. AOL has always had its critics: PC World hyperbolically named AOL the worst tech product of all time, ahead of such abysmal failures as IBM PCjr. and Apple Pippin.

AOL's latest gaffe occurred in early August when researchers released search results of 658,000 unnamed users that ended up on a public Web site, horrifying privacy advocates.

Each misstep gives AOL a great opportunity to forge a new direction. And while AOL spokespeople have earned credit for diving into the fray to listen to bloggers and respond, AOL has failed to give a plan for the future.

AOL execs have taken the hits personally, in a very self-effacing manner. EVP Jason Calacanis, whose weblog company was bought by AOL in 2005, and Ted Leonsis, vice chairman and president of AOL's audience-based businesses, both humbly apologized on their blogs.

"My deep apologies to all of our users," Leonsis wrote August 9. "[We'll] work hard to earn back your trust."

"I have to be honest with y'all: it's hard times at AOL right now, that's for sure," Calacanis weighed in.

These grammatically challenged comments were surely not vetted by the communications team. Such candor merits plaudits. But would it kill you to tell us what's next?

Any communications initiative needs actionable points. The public obviously isn't privy to behind-the-scenes dialogue about how AOL will push forward, and it's disconcerting to have AOL's platform wasted on groveling. We get it, you messed up. Where do we go from here?

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