Wednesday was a bad day for me -- and I know, for many of you. The AOL system was unavailable for most of the day, so if you tried to sign on and couldn't, you were, unfortunately, not alone.

Steve Case
August 7, 1996

It happened again. On October 29, 1997, AOL went down nationwide.

"The system is temporarily unavailable," subscribers were told when signing on. "Please try again in 15 minutes. Thank you for calling."

An hour later--the same message.

Three hours later -- there were still difficulties signing on.

It was a flash-back to that day in 1996. Saying the system was "temporarily unavailable," AOL's software urged users to try again in 15 minutes.

When the system failed to come on-line, the message was changed to "Please try again in an hour."

Later, it was changed to "Please try again in an hour and 30 minutes."

Finally, AOL's software simply hid behind vagueness, urging users to try again "later today".

Ultimately, AOL's system remained offline for over 18 hours. "I would like to be able to tell you that this sort of thing will never happen again," Steve Case told subscribers, "but frankly, I can't make that commitment..."

And he was right...

Yesterday AOL's users received the same messages. First, "There was a temporary delay in the connection process. Please try again, or use another local access number."

(This bad advice led users to the same failure to connect -- AOL's software terminated the connection process and played the sound file which says "Good-bye!")

Later, users got a different message. "The system is temporarily unavailable. Please try again in 15 minutes. Thank you for calling."

But the 15-minute figure was quickly erased... AOL's software returned to asking users to try again "later".

Desperately scrambling for damage control, AOL's spokesperson told C|Net that after the first 90 minutes, "intermittent logins" became possible for some privileged users. But this coy response hides the truth about the chaos that reigned throughout the system when they logged on.
  • Users were unable to read their mail.

  • Users were unable to send mail.

  • Chat rooms became unavailable.

  • Users were unable to access various parts of the system.

  • "The network responded at a glacial pace," according to the Associated Press.

At 2:15 a.m. Thursday -- the next morning -- it still wasn't possible to send mail. Like the ability to read e-mail, mail-sending capabilities returned briefly, earlier in the evening -- then disappeared. Various features of AOL came and went throughout the evening.

Ironically, AOL was in the process of unveiling the newest version of their software. The performances glitches got it off to a bad start.

"I hate this!!" one user complained in a chat room.

Below are some images taken today capturing the chaos on AOL.

When service was restored, AOL software's software inadvertently placed the worst possible advertisment on their exit screen.

"Security and Satisfaction are guaranteed," it read, "when you shop at AOL."