The Internet Archive is collecting AOL free trial CDs

Shawn Knight

Posts: 14,321   +162
Staff member

One era’s trash is another era’s treasure. That’s perhaps the best way I can think to describe the Internet Archive’s latest collection.

The non-profit digital library is in the process of collecting something that was next to impossible to avoid in the 1990s – the venerable AOL CD-ROM.

For the uninitiated, AOL launched a massive marketing campaign in the ‘90s in which they flooded mailboxes and magazines with 3.5-inch floppy disks (and later, CDs) containing software that people could use to connect their computer to the Internet (getting online was a lot of work back then).

The unsolicited campaign persisted for well over a decade. Many viewed the push a nuisance and simply tossed out the media as quickly as it arrived. Environmentalists were even more upset as many deemed it wasteful but AOL made the best of it, boosting its subscriber count from just 200,000 pre-mailings to more than 22 million.

Those with a passion for nostalgia and preservation, like Jason Scott, have been collecting the discs for years. Now, the Internet Archive is getting involved.

The digital library is collecting as many unique versions of AOL CDs as possible. At one point, half of all the CDs being manufactured worldwide contained AOL software. With several thousand variants produced, the Internet Archive certainly has its work cut out.

If you’re interested in taking a quick trip down memory lane, head over and check out the collection. There aren’t many examples online just yet but that’ll surely change in due time.

Lead image via Richard Levine, Alamy

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Posts: 599   +487
I remember when every Sunday newspaper came with one of those cd's... What ever didn't get used as a coaster ended up in the bin so I can't help them there, but if they ever start looking for Amiga cover cd and dvd's I have loads of those.


Posts: 349   +132
I remember when my non-techie friends all signed up for AOL and got so much bloatware/adware on their PCs they could barely browse the web anyway. Meanwhile I just laughed and fired up Netscape. It's like people thought you had to use AOL to get online...

Also, AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) became the de facto way to communicate online.

Uncle Al

Posts: 9,070   +8,100
If they check the LA dump they should find several million of these things. Best use ..... coffee cup coaster ...


Posts: 771   +201
I saw more of the 3.5" floppies than the CD's... which was great for me. Cover the "write-protect" hole with non-clear tape and viola', a blank floppy for my own use! :D
What?? Collectable now? Sorry guys. I've got at minimum 40 dozen Bill Gates coaster sets. No computer store or electronics house or buisness equipment supply was without a stack ot two on every counter and cash register. Uhhhh yes kids, that was back in the day when people carried around crumpled wads of paper-cloth to exchange for things,,,like a barter system. A "register" was an analoge data terminal and currency repository where a trade staff person would "sell" you a "product." In those days people didn't carry around computers very much and video was transmitted (like wi-fi) through the air for free! (I think it was called television). Quaint 20th century technology.