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Posted at 4:10 PM ET, 01/24/2011

AOL outage: You haven't got mail (updated 4x)

By Rob Pegoraro

Remember when downtime at America Online would be headline material? A small subset of AOL's much-diminished population is getting a chance to relive that experience while a site-maintenance malfunction has taken their mail offline.

Thumbnail image for new_aol_logo.jpg

The firm's AOL Mail Blog posted a note at 12:48 p.m. Monday about the disruption:

We're in the midst of doing some scheduled maintenance on AOL Mail, and it's taking us a little longer than expected.
While we complete this maintenance, you may experience some inconsistencies with seeing older messages in your inbox or you may see a "Scheduled Maintenance" message when you attempt to login.

Spokeswoman Kelly Mayes wrote that "less than 4 percent" of users were experiencing this issue.

If you use either of AOL's two options to download your messages to a standard e-mail program, you should still be able to read older messages. If you haven't explored either of those download options, consider this downtime a reminder to do so.

If this outage persists, it could get in the way of AOL's attempts to relaunch its mail service. It debuted a redesigned version of its Web-mail site -- with a much cleaner interface that owes a lot to Gmail's uncluttered looks -- in a closed beta test in November and plans to open it up to the public early this year.

AOL has also crept into the news more recently because of a New Yorker profile of chief executive Tim Armstrong. Ken Auletta's piece, summarized on the magazine's site for non-subscribers, contains the eye-popping tidbit that the company gets 80 percent of its profits from dial-up subscribers, most of whom almost certainly don't need the service on top of their current broadband connection but I guess haven't thought to cancel it.

I should note that my only tip-off about this issue came from a reader's phone call. Only a few of my regular correspondents still use the company's mail service, and none of them seems to have run into this problem. Do you use get your e-mail through AOL? If so, what's your review of it these days? What are you hoping to see from its impending relaunch?

1/25, 9:38 a.m. This outage is becoming more of an outrage to AOL users who have now spent more than a day without a working e-mail account, and in some cases without access to any of their saved messages. If the increasingly cranky comments here don't suffice, take a look at the posts in AOL's own support forum.

The company posted an update on its mail blog last night that said the mail mess "has taken us longer than expected to resolve" and apologized for the inconvenience. An AOL executive left a comment last night on MSNBC tech blogger Wilson Rothman's post on the problem, suggesting that users stay tuned to its tech-support forum. And AOL's "aolmail" Twitter account posted an update a little after midnight saying that "We're doing everything we can to restore accounts ASAP." The company has been silent since then.

I've asked AOL for an update on the cause, extent and expected resolution of what looks like more than a mere "maintenance" issue. When I get one, you'll see it here.

1/25, 12:24 p.m. AOL's Mayes replied to my e-mail a few minutes ago. "As of now, less than 1 percent of users are impacted and we are working with those users today to help remedy the situation," she wrote. "In terms of timing we should know more soon." In the meantime, please continue to let me know the state of your AOL mail access.

1/25, 3:34 p.m. An update on AOL's mail blog offers some specifics. It explains that the problem would have either blanked your inbox or caused some messages from November onward to disappear, then outlines a planned fix:

We've identified the problem and plan to begin rolling out a solution starting later today. While some inboxes will have their emails restored immediately, others may take a few days.
Here's what to expect once your messages have been restored. Your inbound messages will appear in a folder labeled "Recovered Mail." Your sent mail will re-appear in your "Sent" folder.

If that doesn't happen in your accounts, I'm sure you all will let me know.

1/26, 6:19 p.m. AOL's latest update on its mail blog says its engineers "expect to have mail restored by the end of the day Friday, Jan 28th 2011."

By Rob Pegoraro  | January 24, 2011; 4:10 PM ET
Categories:  E-mail  
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One thing that AOL offers but is not offered by Hotmail or Yahoo is IMAP access. I have been keeping my AOL account active just in case gmail decides not to be such a good citizen with email in the future.

Posted by: ah___ | January 24, 2011 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Another great scoop!

Keep it up!

Posted by: jiji1 | January 24, 2011 5:19 PM | Report abuse

I use AOL Mail with Thunderbird at home and their Webmail at work. Imap keeps both synced. Their spam filter seems to be much better than Gmail's.

The only dislike is that they closed access to the "Sent" folder when I send mail using using Thunderbird. I just told T-bird to copy to a different folder that I created in the "Saved" folder.

Posted by: jgllo | January 24, 2011 5:39 PM | Report abuse

I think this is much bigger than reported.
Many people have been without any aol mail for more than nine hours. AOL is not answering any inquiries. You are the only news service that is even reporting this story. Check out AOL help. They have a notice up and more than 11 pages of comments from irate subscribers.

Posted by: david8368 | January 24, 2011 6:34 PM | Report abuse

I am one of the many who is affected by this outage. I noticed the issue this morning approximately 8 hours ago.
I have worked IT and other technical support for over a quarter century. I know that you don't start a major rearrangement without a regression plan - at least you shouldn't. Assuming a professional degree of competence at AOL, something serious indeed must have hit the fan. (Although that might be a huge assumption.)

Posted by: hogarth1 | January 24, 2011 6:45 PM | Report abuse

My AOL mail has been out all day. AOL's comments have been cryptic and uninformative.
At least release information as to when the problem will be resolve . . .

Posted by: parfive | January 24, 2011 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Only 4% whatever.... You have got to be kidding me. After reading AOLs Help Site, there are alot of people affected. Once they get this back up and running I will switch everything over to a different email carrier.

Posted by: ksliv5 | January 24, 2011 7:22 PM | Report abuse

My email has been down since 8:30am this morning.When I login, every single email I have in the inbox, trash, sent files, etc is completely empty. You can't get in touch with AOL unless you're a paying customer and now I've been without my main email account for over 11 hours! This is an older account, but I use it for all my bills, correspondence, etc. People have called me today to tell me emails are bouncing back as well when they try to send me something. AOL you suck at life to say the least.

Posted by: AndreaHumm | January 24, 2011 7:40 PM | Report abuse

It's more than just an access or maintenance problem. People (and lots of whom I know) have had their entire saved e-mail folders wiped clean -- all are empty and these folks are in a panic. Some with businesses, some with university and study info, some saved irreplaceable info. No explanation, no ETA and, yes, there should have been a regression plan if it is technical. Everything technical is a risk and should be mitigated with backup. The BIG questions are: Will our folders be restored? WHERE is our information - and is it secure? Who has access now? Was AOL hacked? Virus? Simply, what is going on? We fear this is a bigger problem that the Media already knows about and is allowing AOL time for an "official" announcement.

Posted by: norahsangel | January 24, 2011 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Something is very wrong with AOL indeed. My email has been unavailable since 6 am (14 hours) and AOL isn't giving any useful information. Were they attacked by hackers?

Posted by: NewJersey3 | January 24, 2011 8:28 PM | Report abuse

Kelly Mayes must have his emails!! 4% is a bunch of baloney. They will probably lose more customers than that, I will not rely an AOL as my main email service ever again. I have an aol account since 1994. See Ya AOL

Posted by: crannie | January 24, 2011 8:39 PM | Report abuse

I have an AOL account, which I typically check in one of two ways: in Outlook on my computer, or with VersaMail on my Treo. All of my previously read AOL mail has been missing on Outlook all day, so it's not a problem that can be resolved through the use of Outlook. I have picked up new AOL mail in VersaMail today, but have not synced VersaMail with the server, for fear of losing old e-mails there, too.

Posted by: 2dBride | January 24, 2011 9:28 PM | Report abuse

I have been a paying AOL customer since 2000, I am more than willing to sign onto a class-action if there is a legal proceeding against this obviously incompetent organization.

Posted by: MarkBronson | January 24, 2011 10:26 PM | Report abuse

I have been an aol account holder for a very long time. I have never experienced an outage like today. My old and saved email have disappeared from my mail box. Now I am getting new emails, however, the spam filter seems to be not working. From the chatter on the aol help site and the lack of communication from aol, I think the "maintenance" must be something they would rather we did not know.

Posted by: gypsy11 | January 24, 2011 10:40 PM | Report abuse

Aol, are you reading these comments? Do you understand how damaging to your already diminished credibility the handling of this situation has been? You've been unhelpful, remote, cryptic, and incommunicative. Is that your business strategy? Do you want to fail as a company? If so, you are truly on your way.

Posted by: Storymuse | January 24, 2011 10:59 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Pegorano, please call AOL, see if you can get an admin person to respond to this situation. The company that was first, and once largest, in the online mail business, is now the worst performing company, and apparently getting worse. What do they have to say for themselves? Your readers want to know.

Posted by: Storymuse | January 24, 2011 11:05 PM | Report abuse

It's been exatcly 24 hours since my Inbox, Sent and Saved Items & Trash folders are gone.
I'm on Hotmail for my day-to-day use and the only reason I keep AOL mail is for important saved work.
I'm now able to send & recieve new e-mail messages, but all my old folders are gone.
I hope AOL aren't thinking this means that their problem has been fixed.
I had invaluable e-mails in my Inobox and Sent Items. Nop. No backup. If their service won't be revived soon, I'm in deep S**T.

Posted by: avivp | January 25, 2011 4:49 AM | Report abuse

It sucks when this happens, but it's a good wakeup call to back up your e-mail. Anything that's invaluable deserves to be handled as such. Any e-mail you think you might want to refer to again--back it up. Any e-mail you *know* you need to keep (work mail, etc.)--make duplicate backups.

Posted by: moxilator | January 25, 2011 8:18 AM | Report abuse

I too have been using AOL for email for MANY years and lost everything yesterday. This is disturbing as I have been job searching and lost contact information. I am switching to gmail.

Posted by: ImAnAmerican1 | January 25, 2011 8:28 AM | Report abuse

4%? They couldn't count when I worked there and nothing has changed in all these years. They restored my emails from November (gee thanks) but everything after that is gone - donation confirmations, product shipping info - all of it. No notice, no warning, no clue. Ah AOL - we won't miss you!

Posted by: pontette | January 25, 2011 8:51 AM | Report abuse

I'm also a victim of "disappearing emails". I have 3 email accounts that started out as accounts; 2 of which are more than 10 years old. AOL took over these accounts a couple of years ago. Have never had any problems until now. All my old IMAP mail/folders are now apparently gone, since early yesterday! Lots of old & important info. No warning, no way to contact AOL, since I'm not a paying AOL customer; interesting since AOL is still offering FREE email accounts.

Here's the link to AOL's help site which list dozens of complaining customers. Interesting too that some posts are apparently being deleted (like when someone posted the AOL Corporate phone #).

This is an appaling and disturbing situation. Weird for me because one of my three accounts doesn't seem affected (yet). Sad that AOL offers no contact info, and won't post anything of value, particularly for the free email customers. If they no longer wanted to support free or accounts, I would have happily moved my information...IF I'D BEEN ASKED/WARNED about the proposed change. In fact, on the AOL Help thread, it appears that some people have been asked to pay as much as $89 for assistance, although no one seems to have either accepted the cost and/or gotten any noteworthy results from the investment.

I also agree that 4% of its customers doesn't sound right. If that is the case....they why us???

Posted by: AJ240Z | January 25, 2011 9:25 AM | Report abuse

This is day two and my emails and folders are still missing, although it appears i can now send and receive email they have yet to clue me in as to what is going on. I have submitted multiple requests for help and not one reply from them. These emails are very important to me and have had this account for about 15 years. I can’t believe they can’t even send a generic message letting us know what is going on and to reassure us that our emails and folders will be restored. This is a nightmare and shame on aol for such unprofessionalism in handling this matter! I find it hard to believe that only 4% has been affected too as there are so many concerns posted all over the web.
If you get any updates, ETA or confirmation from them if they will be able to restore our email, please let us know as it would be much appreciated. Thank you for writing this article.

Posted by: maive | January 25, 2011 9:33 AM | Report abuse

I'm amazed at the lack of coverage and information on the internet about the situation. Separate from AOL's statement that I was not certain covered my situation I had found nothing until this AM when I backed into this post. (Since I could log on, but all mail was gone, was this a maintenance issue?)

Last night after my mail had been lost for over 12 hours I spent a fair amount time web searching. Not even this article was uncovered. I got a lot of links to firms that wanted money to fix aol mail problems on my computer, but no information on a current loss of AOL mail. (Lots of old mail outage information.) I assumed it was just me and it is impossible to reach AOL tech support. Later I found some others were asking questions at the AOL web site but there was no information indicating the scope or a fix schedule.

I think the press needs to give this more coverages, AND the search engines need to look at their algorithms. This posting should have been found by the search engines. For a BIG Deal, at least to many of us, it is not getting a blip of coverage.

I would include my netscape e-mail address but I'm uncertain replies will reach me.

Posted by: wizos2net | January 25, 2011 9:37 AM | Report abuse

It has been 24 hours and I still have none of my hundreds of stored e-mails. My Inbox has 15 new e-mails, and my Sent and Draft files are empty. These missing e-mails represent years of communication that I access and use daily. I see no updates from AOL and no way to find out what is going on. Not that it should matter, but I am a paying customer, and apparently have no recourse, except, of course, to go to another service.

I appreciate your reporting on the matter, Rob, and would love it if you could update the situation, as AOL is not.

Posted by: judithnichols | January 25, 2011 10:34 AM | Report abuse

I have had an aol account since the early 1990's and continue using it for convenience, since so many of my contacts know it. I quit paying for it when I got broadband, so it's free, just like my gmail account. That said, most of us aren't paying anything for our email account, regardless of provider, and yet we feel entitled to gripe if it isn't available 24/7.

Losing older emails is a problem, though. There is an option through aol to back up emails to your own computer.

Posted by: dnfree | January 25, 2011 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Per dnfree remark, I think you’re missing the point. It is how AOL is choosing to handle this situation and their lack of communication with their paying and nonpaying customers.
Although my account has been free for the last 15 years they are one of many that have encouraged utilizing their free email services. Their constant repetitive advertisements of Free, Limitless email are relentless. When I first signed up on Netscape 15 years ago it was advertised as free email account for a lifetime. For me as well as others this “IS” our main source of email to which we communicate with the world weather personal, job hunting, sales, purchasing tickets via the internet, etc…. Over the years I have gone from one ISP to another but the one thing that has remained consistent is my email account. The one email account that my family, friends and business associates can contact me.
It does not matter if we pay for it or not, it is a service that they have offered and encouraged us to use all of these years and they should at least use professionalism and courtesy to all of their users by informing us what is going on and reassuring us that our emails and folders will be restored.
Instead they are extremely elusive, vague to say the least and for those of us that are nonpaying customers, they try to force us to upgrade to a paying subscription when we try to call for help on this matter. They should halt this type of behavior until they can get this problem resolved. As to feeling entitled to gripe? Damm straight I have right to gripe!

Posted by: maive | January 25, 2011 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I would also like to point out that backing up emails to you own computer is not wise thing to do. If your hard drive crashes you are SOL. Although backing up via to cd or dvd, an external drive etc is your best route. If I am fortunate to get my emails and folders back I will be backing them up.

Posted by: maive | January 25, 2011 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Finally a response from AOL... seriously was it that hard to do this in the beginning?

Dear AOL Mail user,

You may have noticed we hit a snag during scheduled maintenance this morning causing some inboxes to displace all past emails. We understand this is a tremendous inconvenience, and we're working hard to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

Rest assured, we're doing everything we can to make sure your inbox is restored as quickly as possible.

We're truly sorry for the inconvenience, and we appreciate your patience. Unfortunately, our Member Services agents are not able to manually restore the displaced mail, so please check our Support Forums for the most up-to-date information on this issue.

The AOL Mail Team

I feel relieved that they will try to restore my mail... at least for now a little peace of mind.

Posted by: maive | January 25, 2011 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for breaking and staying on top of the story, Rob.

I am one of those affected. I awoke yesterday to find more than a decade of email had vanished. The situation continues today. I use my AOL account for both business and personal purposes and it acts as a file cabinet of sorts. Now all those records are gone. Quite disconcerting, to say the least.

I contacted AOL Live Chat immediately after discovering the problem. At first, the person I was chatting with was unaware of a wider issue and we went through a series of standard procedures, like logging off and signing on again. Then the person checked with operations and found it was a systemic problem. I was told I would not receive any further confirmation or notification, and to "just check your AOL emails from time to time."

Since then, AOL merely issued its rote statement -- that it's a scheduled maintenance that's taking longer than expected -- before going dark.

I was willing to be patient. But AOL should realize that its conduct in this continuing fiasco will only breed suspicion that it is hiding something much more serious, that something has gone horribly wrong. And only 4 percent are affected? How is that figure derived? I see posts from Spain and Ireland from people who experiencing the problem. That certainly doesn't sound like it's confined.

I tend to be a loyalist, and I tend to be lazy about such things, but I can see the time has come to switch to Gmail or Yahoo. There is power in numbers, and AOL's steadily declining base only makes it the butt of jokes when an issue like this arises, which allows it to get away with irresponsible and unprofessional conduct that would not be tolerated from one of the leaders. I find it odd that AOL would choose to go that route when it's trying to reinvent itself. As I said, it makes me think AOL is hiding something, which may even extend to its new business model. Or maybe it's just incompetence. Either way, it does not bode well for the future.

Thank you again, Rob, and to The Washington Post for covering the story. I see a couple other outlets have picked up on it. Maybe with a little more pressure we can get some answers. And I can get my emails back.

Posted by: Enough | January 25, 2011 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I am also still missing years of information stored in folders. It's almost like they're forcing me to start from scratch...But, I really don't want to lose tax information and various confirmation numbers. I especially don't want to lose the family emails from some who are now deceased. I've never had a problem in the many years of using AOL and I sure don't want this one to be the big one.

Posted by: vlfrance | January 25, 2011 2:10 PM | Report abuse

A new story about AOL mail problems on CNET:
But nothing we didn't know already.

Posted by: avivp | January 25, 2011 2:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure where they (AOL) got the 4% only affected figure from, but myself and many of my friends here in the UK are annoyed and frustrated. All emails missing since mid December (some vital). The lack of customer service information has been appalling.

Posted by: pawtkns | January 25, 2011 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Here's a message I just attempted to leave at the AOL board:

This is doing wonders for the new image your bosses are pushing.

I expect to see you soon across the counter when I am ordering my next 'venti' at Starbucks.

What a bunch of screw-ups!

Posted by: stivgdgy | January 25, 2011 4:25 PM | Report abuse

I, too, appreciate you bringing the AOL email (or lack thereof) situation to light. However, I will take exception to what AOL is perceiving is the current problem: missing emails since November. I am missing EVERYTHING: all my folders, all my old mail, sent mail, saved mail - all of it for the last 12 years, since I first began with AOL as a dial-up customer.

Yes, I know that prudent people back up that which they don't want to lose, and I'm no exception to that. The reason I did not do that is because I access my mail through, using my dsl connection, for free AOL service. I have never - and I mean never - had a problem with AOL and my mail in the 12 years of using their service.

I don't know where AOL is getting their information on the number (percentage) of customers affected, but just take a look at the questions, answers and comments on their AOL MAIL HELP blog and you will see the steady stream of postings since this began Monday sometime. How many more are not even writing anything?

The sad fact of all this is that AOL has refused to provide customer service. One cannot get satisfactory answers if he/she is lucky enough to talk to someone, and that can only be accomplished if one has a paid account (of which I don't, so why bother?). When they emailed a 'form' comment this morning about the problem, it was so vague as to the status of the missing emails that folks (including me) took to the HELP blog to try to find out what they actually meant. Since that time there have been no other updates from them and no change in the status of my missing folders and emails, and anyone else's that I can ascertain.

Like so many other folks, I have a new email account and am reluctantly going to leave AOL in the dust. It's a huge headache to do that since all of my business, banking and personal emails all use my AOL address, but I don't want to go through this again. IF and WHEN I get my emails back, I will copy them to my pc immediately, then start changing everything to my new email account. I believe this fiasco will be the nail in the coffin for AOL.

Posted by: ktkaykay | January 25, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the updates BUT the bigger observation is...most companies do a backup before doing ANY maintenance or upgrades so that in the event of a problem the system can be restored quickly. Why wouldn't AOL have a policy like that. Signed 20 years in IT.

Posted by: internetid | January 25, 2011 5:35 PM | Report abuse

I think the 1% of subscribers affected number is bogus. As of 6 p.m., my e mail is still not restored and there are still complaints pouring into the aol mail help line. I think aol is trying to sweep the extent of this problem under the rug.

Posted by: cspjohn | January 25, 2011 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Another user posted this on aol board which i feel truely represents my feelings on this:

Issue 1: My inbox is empty.
Issue 2: I am missing some emails between November, 2010 and January, 2011.

ISSUE 3 (THE MOST IMPORTANT): 16 YEARS worth of saved (and files in various 'saved mail' folders) emails are GONE!!!!

I feel like half my life has been stolen from me. Like I have been raped (violated and caused physical and mental trauma from someone I trusted)! I have everything from photos, wedding info, vacation info, websites I frequent, personal info, contact info and addresses for all my family and friends, WORK info, bills/fianance info, school info, my children's birth info, etc , etc, etc.

As long as the items are ALL returned at some point I will survive. If not, I do not know what I will do.

Come on AOL, please figure this out!!!!

For me personally i have never had any major problems with my account in the 15 years that i have had it and never had a reason to feel i needed to back it up.It felt safeer there then risk my hard drive crashing which it has over the years. If i ever get them back i will be backing up to a dvd and also backing up to an external disk for extra measure. This is day 2 without my important emails and folders and i am starting to get really concerned.They do not mention older emails and folders prior to Nov 2010 being restored.

Posted by: maive | January 26, 2011 12:10 AM | Report abuse

More than 48 hours and still nothing restored ... How are they "working with customers." I call and get routed to nowhere. The online chat won't work and despite their pledge to keep us updated, they haven't updated their "explanation" post in more than 24 hours. I can't believe any company could do this to customers.

Posted by: judithnichols | January 26, 2011 2:55 AM | Report abuse

I have received no further updates in my email box from AOL regarding this fiasco. Several new posts to AOL's MAIL HELP are mentioning hackers probably caused this, and I'm beginning to think that is a more plausible answer than a glitch in routine maintenance. I'm not an IT expert, but it seems like AOL should have been able to go back and 'restore' to an earlier point in time. I am trying to remain optimistic that I will get back 12 years worth of irreplaceable personal emails and information I kept in my folders, but the consistent lack of communication from them is tremendously frustrating. Please, AOL...we can deal with the truth. Just communicate with us about the issues.

Posted by: ktkaykay | January 26, 2011 10:18 AM | Report abuse

My inbox mail between November and January is still missing and no further communication from AOL. Rob you are the only one covering this. Any further info? I live in Massachusetts and am checking your column frequently for updates since no one else seems to think this is a big deal. What are they afraid to tell us?

Posted by: anne1231 | January 26, 2011 11:26 AM | Report abuse

EVERYONE ON AOL. Because AOL has screwed up our email AGAIN, here is THE solution. Go to Google Mail and establish a free gmail account. Once established you can have it move all of your contacts/address book to your new gmail account. They will continue to forward your AOL mail to your new account for free, and when/IF AOL ever retrieves all of your mail they lost, you can have all of that transferred to gmail free too. Please note, this is not a "knee jerk reaction," I have agonized for three days. I have had my AOL email address as my primary address since 1988. The move to gmail will cause me a major headache by having to notify my hundreds of current friends and business acquaintances, change all of the mail Links on three websites I run and accept that I will probably lose valuable saved emails in the process. BUT this was the last straw with AOL. Somebody at AOL made a MAJOR error and won't admit it, it has taken too long, there has been too little information to customers (and no individual contact with customers), there is no indication that they will EVER be able to rectify their error, and I no longer have confidence in their company PERIOD I believe they have been hacked and the total agony we will suffer has only just begun; change your password. Get out NOW.

Posted by: ChargerTom | January 26, 2011 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I have been paying AOL since the 1980s. Am probably one of few loyal customers--the people who give AOL 80% of their profits. Somehow they thought it would be a great idea to ignore their profit base.

I've had a gmail account for years with the same user name, but AOL has been my primary address. Now my mail and ADDRESS BOOK are missing on both my desktop AOL and It gets worse daily.

Way to go, AOL. Good luck with your profits. Got AOL stock? Get rid of it now!

Posted by: MBM4 | January 26, 2011 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Please WP do some serious investigating into this. Don't take their word for nothing. As business professionals they have to know the burden this is on us. How about a public statement from their CEO on what the actual problem is, why it happened and a time line as to when it will be fixed, if it even can be and lastly a public apology. It is quite obvious we are being lied to. This is a serious hardship on AOL customers. AOL has had very little communication with it's customers and now into day 3. This is a huge deal for the so called 4% of us. We are being treated like animals in a cage held hostage. A corporation of this size needs to be held accountable! I'm furious that this hasn't been in the news more. Mark Zucherburg's FB page get's hacked and it's all over the news. Please WP stick up for us and help put the pressure on AOL.

Posted by: a777l | January 26, 2011 1:52 PM | Report abuse

The silence from AOL is deafening. And telling.

I sent the following to earlier today:

Dear AOL,

It is really hard to believe that a "snag" in "scheduled maintenance" would have caused the sort of widespread damage your customers have seen this week. I'm in IT and cannot fathom how a "snag" of this kind could not have been resolved with a restoration to the system backup that I'm sure was taken as a matter of procedure prior to the scheduled maintenance. If these steps were not followed, you clearly have a major operational deficiency on your hands.

I am seeing reports of people losing ALL of their mail, so I consider myself lucky to only be missing about 7 1/2 weeks of emails. I understand that your solution involves providing me with a Recovered Email folder of my currently-missing emails from Dec 3 to Jan 24, which means that I'll have to manually re-review approximately 3,200 emails to determine whether they are to be saved or deleted. Thanks for all the extra work.

Honestly, AOL, this is not the sort of publicity you want to generate before a major new release like Project Phoenix. The issue itself has been compounded by the lack of information/communication and has led most of us to create our own stories of what caused Monday's problems.

I look forward to a full and honest accounting from the head of AOL as to what actually happened this week. Your customer base deserves that.

A 15 year customer

Posted by: SueNJ | January 26, 2011 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Day 3 status update: No change. A decade’s worth of saved emails are still missing. I am scrambling to minimize the impact on my business, but am afraid I look rather unprofessional. I can send and receive mail but oddly, when I delete a message, it just disappears rather than going into the Trash folder.

It looks to me as if AOL is in serious damage-control mode, trying to contain the story and keep it from going journalistically viral after The Washington Post’s initial coverage started getting some traction yesterday. Of particular concern, I imagine, is the fact that The Wall Street Journal picked up on it and put a brief item on the Dow Jones Newswires. We’re talking money here. All AOL needs is more negative publicity on the heels of The New Yorker article which revealed “the dirty little secret” that the company is getting an estimated 80 percent of its profits from paying subscribers, many of them elderly and less tech-savvy, and the vast majority of whom actually don’t need to pay to use free services, like email.

AOL now says it has “identified the problem” -- without saying what it is -- and that some restoration to mail boxes will take place immediately, while others “may take a few days” -- which sounds like a standard ploy to buy time and hope reporters move on to other things by then. As far as 4 percent affected going down to less than 1 percent, who actually knows? Best of luck to those in forums who said they lost emails related to weddings, vacations, airline flights, job searches and other immediate activities. I hope things work out.

As for me, I should thank AOL for getting me out of my comfort zone and acknowledging that it is no longer the community of the early dial-up days, or part of Time Warner with the promise of synergy, but just a diminished company hustling to get a cut of the Internet advertising pie. I actually went ahead and opened a Gmail account and am exploring that now. Gmail apparently allows you to make free phone calls in the U.S. from your computer to any landline or mobile phone, a service available at least through 2011. Damn, I never knew that. It’s obviously time to move on. I figure there are going to be issues everywhere, but if Google has problems, at least people notice.

And simply put, after seeing how AOL handled this problem, on a gut level, I just don’t like the company anymore.

Here’s hoping we all get our emails back. And thanks again to Rob and the Post for bringing some mainstream media pressure to bear. It has truly helped.

Posted by: Enough | January 26, 2011 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I have had my email with aol for more than 15 years. This will probably be the end of that relationship for me. Something is really wrong here and other than this information in the Washington Post, no media coverage. Lots of people have been damaged by this lengthy loss of old email. Many of us had saved emails that contained information that we use in our work or education. So much for having faith in technology and in a company that we have used for many years. I have already set up a new account elsewhere. Now notifying all of my contacts that I have a new email will take me forever. The worst part of this is that it appears that aol just doesn't care -- guess when you've made the money had think you have loyal clients you can become complacent. I'll be speaking with my feet.

Posted by: gypsy11 | January 26, 2011 4:21 PM | Report abuse

AOL update on twitter:

"Quick update - We've begun to start restoring affected email accounts… more news to follow."

Hope and pray for the best. Good luck to all of you that are missing critical business and personal communications -- let's hope it will all be back online soon (but I admit, I'm very skeptical).

Posted by: SueNJ | January 26, 2011 4:58 PM | Report abuse

AOL update on twitter:

"Quick update - We've begun to start restoring affected email accounts… more news to follow."

Hope and pray for the best. Good luck to all of you that are missing critical business and personal communications -- let's hope it will all be back online soon (but I admit, I'm very skeptical).

Posted by: SueNJ | January 26, 2011 4:59 PM | Report abuse

AOL update on twitter:

"Quick update - We've begun to start restoring affected email accounts… more news to follow."

Hope and pray for the best. Good luck to all of you that are missing critical business and personal communications -- let's hope it will all be back online soon (but I admit, I'm very skeptical).

Posted by: SueNJ | January 26, 2011 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Did anyone else have to sign up forth monthly tech fee 4.95/month just to find out thet screwed up????

Posted by: cchpt | January 26, 2011 8:32 PM | Report abuse

I have been paying AOL since the 1980s. Am probably one of few loyal customers--the people who give AOL 80% of their profits. Somehow they thought it would be a great idea to ignore their profit base.

I've had a gmail account for years with the same user name, but AOL has been my primary address. Now my mail and ADDRESS BOOK are missing on both my desktop AOL and It gets worse daily.

Way to go, AOL. Good luck with your profits. Got AOL stock? Get rid of it now!

Posted by: MBM4 | January 27, 2011 12:06 AM | Report abuse

This is from an AOL response in its email help forum:

"In a nutshell, what happened is that during system upgrades, the contents of some accounts were deleted. Fortunately, we've begun the process of restoring the emails, but this will take some time.

"We're working around the clock to get everyone back up and running quickly, and I expect we will have affected accounts restored by the end of the day Friday Jan 28th, 2011. We will continue to update you here on our progress."

You have to figure AOL knew the cause of the problem when, in response to complaints, it was still issuing the "scheduled maintenance taking longer than expected" line.

Posted by: Enough | January 27, 2011 9:18 AM | Report abuse

@ Enough -

Totally agree. I don't believe we've gotten 1/100 of the real explanation for this disaster. The fact that the SVP of Marketing sent out the email blast to update customers last night is just insult to injury. Where the hell is AOL's CEO in all of this?

And why is it that yesterday's update was that "we've begun the process of restoring the emails, ". Yet today, the update is "We've successfully completed a TEST restoring about 2% of accounts affected by the recent mail issue." This leads me to concludes that neither the IT nor the Communications people at AOL really have a handle on the situation.

I've seen some AOL users on the help blog report that their formerly missing emails are showing up in the Recently Deleted folder, which does not follow the action plan identified by AOL itself yesterday. How true these results are, I don't know, but I will be anxiously monitoring my account through tomorrow to see if and when --- and where --- my missing emails will appear.

Color me skeptical that AOL will ever be able to completely resolve this problem.

Posted by: SueNJ | January 27, 2011 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Day 4 and my folders and email are still missing, this is beyond ridiculous! And i still do not understand if they finally are able to restore my folders and email, why it will not be where it was before.

What kind of IT dept. do they have running there to be this incompetent?

Posted by: maive | January 28, 2011 9:29 AM | Report abuse

I'd like to see AOL start providing some real updates; i.e. number of accounts and/or number of items restored to date? These vague updates --- like we're restoring at 30X our earlier rate --- mean NOTHING to me. At 10am on Day 5, I am still waiting for missing emails. How is this STILL not a national news item five days later?

Posted by: SueNJ | January 28, 2011 10:10 AM | Report abuse

FRIDAY UPDATE: No change. I’ve been getting a lot of “that’s what you get” when I explain the reason for delayed or late business communications.

In Washington and elsewhere, there’s a practice called the Friday News Dump. Bad news is released late Friday when response is more difficult to get and regular news staffs are going home for the weekend. The theory is people aren’t tuned into the news as much during the weekend, and the impact will be less by the time Monday rolls around.

In this case, by setting a restoration time of the end of Friday, AOL could forestall news media coverage until then, and give itself the weekend if the deadline isn’t met. That was my immediate reaction when I saw its statement, but I’m trying to give the company a break and not go crazy paranoid. Time will tell. But on Monday, mail service will have been disrupted for a week, so there could be an uptick in coverage.

If anybody has had their service and saved messages fully restored, please post. It would give some hope to those of us who haven’t.

Posted by: Enough | January 28, 2011 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Friday, 6PM. No emails restored yet. Not good......

Posted by: AJ240Z | January 28, 2011 6:08 PM | Report abuse

10PM on Friday: AOL's CTO update says complete restoration of all affected user accounts and data could take another week. are they kidding??? By their claims, this problem affected less than 1% of their users.

Posted by: SueNJ | January 28, 2011 10:17 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe it but I had all my missing emails restored by AOL this morning. How it could have taken a technology company 6 days to restore two months of emails is mind-boggling.

Posted by: SueNJ | January 29, 2011 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Saturday update: No change, no restoration.

But thank you for the post, SueNJ. I can only imagine the sense of relief, but look forward to experiencing it myself, hopefully soon.
Stay well.

Posted by: Enough | January 29, 2011 1:06 PM | Report abuse

@ Enough

I'm happy for sure but I wasn't one of the users missing everything. I'm not a former netscape user, and I was "only" missing 2 months of emails, so my situation was way less severe than many others. I have a little bit of an activist mentality, so I'll still be on the blogs and won't rest until everyone's accounts have been fixed. :) I'm also waiting for the full story from AOL - I'm not buying the scheduled-maintainance-gone-awry BS.

Good luck to you and everyone else still waiting for their data. I hope you see a resolution soon.

Posted by: SueNJ | January 29, 2011 1:20 PM | Report abuse

This is so maddening. My email was restored to a recovered email folder. Called customer service to ask how it can be put back in my inbox. Agent sounded confused but assured me he had done this already. Finally admitted it can't be done. Said I could forward all those emails indivudually to my inbox as a solution. Are you kidding me? My options are forward all those emails or work from 2 different inbox folders and 2 different sent mail folders? AOL you didn't fix the problem. When I asked to speak to a manager to discuss the answer is, "the managers are not taking calls." Any questions regarding managers are scripted, "managers are not taking any calls." I asked when will the managers be taking calls? "Managers are not taking any calls." Ridiculous. Paying customers and the customer service staff at AOL are being treated like crap while the upper management hides. Why haven't customers heard from the CEO of AOL?

Posted by: anne1231 | January 29, 2011 4:12 PM | Report abuse

After almost one week I finally received a screw up letter from AOL, but do not have any of my emails from 1985-last Sunday. The letter that I received did not even give me a time frame to expect my old emails to show up. I have never been more disgusted by a service provider in my life. To think of all the money that I gave this company for such awful service. It boggles the mind.

Posted by: dcamrob | January 29, 2011 11:09 PM | Report abuse

Well, it appears that my email have been recovered. But all lumped into either Recovered Mail or Recovered Sent folders. Apparently, I have to go through the sorting process myself. I'm very surprised and unhappy about this level of service, but I guess I can't complain too much since these have always been free email accounts. If I had been a paying AOL customer, I would have been livid.
Lesson learned for me is that I'll start copying "important" emails to a local folder on my computer, and hope I can rely on the server copies as backup. We shall see.
Also, I find it very strange that this matter did not get any more press than it did. Seems a lot of folks were affected, including some business impacts. We'll probably never know what actually happened. But a lingering fear of mine is whether the AOL emails were hijacked by someone, and whether my information/identity may now be compromised. Can the media at least pursue this angle???

Posted by: AJ240Z | January 30, 2011 8:07 AM | Report abuse


Glad to see you and others here have finally gotten your emails restored.

I agree with your last observation. Something stinks to high heaven about this entire event at AOL, how it was disclosed to customers, how it seemed NOT to be reported by more than five (that I could find...) bloggers, and how each user seemed to be restored individually. A system glitch doesn't cause "some" users different consequences that looked to me that they had to be resolved on a case-by-case basis.

My original suspicions were of a hack as well, but I was discussing this with a friend who works in HR and she told me that if that had been the case, AOL would've been legally required to publicly disclose such an event along with individual notification of those affected. So that leaves us with internal sabotage or pure incompetence. I doubt we'll ever know.

And Roy, thanks for nothing. You reported the event and then completely dropped it a couple of days later. Apparently bloggers (and AOL itself) can't be bothered to look at their own readers' comments on their own blogs.

Posted by: SueNJ | January 30, 2011 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, had a typo in that last post.

Should've been ROB, thanks for nothing. :)

Posted by: SueNJ | January 30, 2011 10:33 AM | Report abuse

I am in the same boat as AJ now. The email has been restored in one huge file. Dates are incorrect, so sorting must be on a email by email basis. I paid over $20 per month from 1985-2009 & I get this type of service.Thanks to all the posts for keeping me updated. If I had relied on AOL for information I think I would have gone insane.

Posted by: dcamrob | January 30, 2011 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Just recveived an email "Good news...your email has been restored! Now that your messages have been restored, you can move your recovered mail into any existing folders you may have." They make it sound so wonderful but it is not. I don't want it in another folder. I want it back in my inbox where it was when it was lost for categorizing and follow up purposes. Then again, the letter is from the Sr VP of MARKETING, not the CEO of AOL. I am just going to stop compalining and dump AOL. I agree with SUENJ...wish there was more follow up on this issue.

Posted by: anne1231 | January 30, 2011 4:46 PM | Report abuse

I'm really starting to resent this event continuing to be characterized as an "outage". It's been a week and while many people have gotten their email capability and prior emails restored, many, many more have not. AOL keeps cheerfully and proudly reporting that they've restored 99% of the affected user base, but nobody outside of those users is asking how the data inadvertently went missing in the first place (oops, says AOL). The story is not the "outage", the story is the data being deleted and subsequently recovered in the most haphazard of ways and it's STILL not right yet for many.

Doesn't it strike you tech bloggers as a little odd that a technology company could allow this to happen and then take a WEEK PLUS to fix it? Why is no-one following up on this??

I guess maybe this will become a "story" when AOL's customers start suing.

Posted by: SueNJ | January 30, 2011 10:52 PM | Report abuse

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