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AOL surpasses 20 million members

America Online signs more than 20 million members to its online service just after making a harder push to increase brand awareness in the offline world.

America Online today said it has signed more than 20 million members to its online service.

The Dulles, Va.-based online giant said it has added 10 million subscribers in the past two years; it reached 19 million subscribers in October.

"As AOL reaches this important milestone at the start of the Internet century, we value and celebrate the 20 million AOL members who are helping us to make the interactive medium a central and valuable part of everyday life," Steve Case, AOL chief executive, said in a statement. "Our fast-growing AOL community is creating an increasingly dynamic online experience for all of our members and leading the growth of this exciting medium around the world."

The announcement comes as AOL is pushing hard to increase awareness about its services in the offline world. Just this week, the company announced plans to team with Wal-Mart for a low-cost Net access service and entered a marketing deal with electronics retailer Circuit City. The retailer will promote AOL's products and services in exchange for anchor tenancy on the Shop@AOL e-commerce area.

In addition, AOL invested $800 million in PC maker Gateway in October, making the online giant the de facto ISP for Gateway customers.

But AOL is not alone Click or miss in its strategy to meet consumers in the offline marketplace. Rivals Microsoft and Yahoo this week also made moves in offline stores, with Microsoft investing $200 million in Best Buy and Yahoo teaming with Kmart for a free Net access service.

Microsoft also announced a far-reaching pact with RadioShack last month. All these moves are designed to keep member momentum going in the face of recent Net use slowdowns.

AOL also has turned up the heat of late on its strategy to offer services in portable devices and on television. The company bought wireless technology firm Tegic Communications earlier this month as part of that bid and teamed with Motorola in October to bring instant messaging to wireless devices.

"We are continuing to expand and enhance our member experience with new features, functionality, content and e-commerce opportunities, and we are committed to making AOL available anywhere on all emerging interactive platforms," AOL president Bob Pittman said in a statement.