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AOL clones itself for businesses

America Online announced today that it will help businesses run private "mini-AOL" networks, just two weeks after AT&T pulled the plug on a comparable service.

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NEW YORK--America Online announced today that it will help businesses run private "mini-AOL" networks, just two weeks after AT&T pulled the plug on a comparable service.

Like the now-defunct AT&T Network Notes, America Online Enterprise is intended to help businesses communicate and collaborate over secure networks without having to set up their own networks or servers. But unlike Network Notes, which was based on the Lotus Notes environment, AOL is using its own commercial online service client software to let businesses form private mini-AOLs for sharing and communicating information.

Businesses that sign up for the service will be able to open corporate databases on their mini-AOL that will be accessible only to authorized users such as employees, partners, or franchises. AOL Enterprise also allows businesses to create their own forum areas with discussion groups, content such as newsfeeds from the full AOL service, and software libraries, as well as offer real-time private chat areas and Web access.

With its new service, AOL is attempting to leverage its sizable network and software infrastructure to make communicating easier for businesses with scattered branch offices and mobile users. But in a market leaning toward intranets built on top of the IP networking standard, some analysts say AOL's proprietary service may be met with the same lackluster response that led to the demise of Network Notes. AT&T last week re-embraced Notes technology for use with its WorldNet access service for the Internet, but the future of Notes itself is still unclear.

"Had someone done this two years ago, it would have been a great expansion opportunity," said Jerry Michalski, managing editor of Release 1.0, a newsletter based in New York. "But the market for AOL or Prodigy and taking their proprietary services and offering them to corporations has passed. The Internet doesn't currently offer cozy discussion groups and easy access, but we're right at the cusp."

Related stories:
AT&T decides Notes is OK after all
AT&T dumps Network Notes

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