The AOL Email Address Debate: Stigma or Status Symbol?

Despite a few power users, there's still a stigma around using addresses

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Back in the day, AOL email addresses were all the rage. (They even made a movie about it!) Over the year, however, the popularity of AOL's email service--along with AOL itself--waned with the introduction of better, hipper products like Gmail, but not everybody switched. Whether out of convenience or brand loyalty, AOL email loyalists have become sort of conspicuous, and bloggers love to point out when famous people still use email addresses to peg them as out of touch with technology. But Ben Smith at Politico has a different take on the hangers-on. "This is not, to say the least, a crowd of technophobes," says Smith. "Some, like Joe Trippi and Arianna Huffington, are seen as techno-sages. Rather, it's a generation of the political and media elite."

Smith is not wrong. A lot of people that are considered the political and media elite have email addresses. He made a list of them in his post on "AOL email as status symbol":

POLITICS: David Axelrod, Jim Messina, John Weaver, Joe Trippi, Mandy Grunwald, Dick Morris (a recent defector to gmail), Frank Luntz, Ed Rollins, Guy Cecil, Al Franken, Aaron Schock

MEDIA: Matt Drudge, Arianna Huffington (who was holding onto an AOL account long before AOL bought her company), David Brooks, David Corn, Robert Draper, Rick Perlstein, Ann Coulter, Tina Brown, Lawrence O'Donnell

The same bloggers who like to use email address to make fun of these political and media elite did not take kindly to Smith's remarks. "Sorry Ben, there's nothing cool about an AOL email address. And your list of people who have them doesn't scream 'hip,'" tweeted Markos Moulitsas, founder of The Daily Kos. "I already knew AOL email addresses were status symbols. I found it at," said political blogger David Waldman. "Whether they check their AOL accounts at the public library or on their purple Blackberries while flying first class, the AOL address is nothing more than a digital AARP card," wrote Adrian Chen at Gawker.

If AOL email addresses aren't status symbols, then what are they? Well, the personalized search site Hunch crunched some numbers based on some data they'd collected from nearly half a million email users. Here's how they described the average AOL emailer:

AOL users are most likely to be overweight women ages 35-64 who have a high school diploma and are spiritual, but not religious. They tend to be politically middle of the road, in a relationship of 10+ years, and have children. AOL users live in the suburbs and haven’t traveled outside their own country. Family is their first priority. AOL users mostly read magazines, have a desktop computer, listen to the radio, and watch TV on 1-3 DVRs in their home. At home, they lounge around in sweats. AOL users are optimistic extroverts who prefer sweet snacks and like working on a team.

In contrast, they said of Gmail users are "career-focused and plugged in--they mostly read blogs, have an iPhone and laptop, and listen to music via MP3s and computers." We'll leave the social commentary of Hunch's hunches to others.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.