What it was: CompuServe’s brief attempt to create an AOL killer—a more family-friendly, consumery variant of its own service, which catered more to geeks and business types.
Announced: March 25th, 1996.
What they said when it was new: “It’s time for consumers to have an online service built expressly for them… WOW! from CompuServe offers all the power the at-home user needs to surf the Internet, send and receive e-mail and make learning fun for kids, all for a price that is predictable.”
Died: January 31st, 1997.
What they said when they killed it: “We are walking away from the bloodbath in the mass-consumer market in which hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent.” (Most of those hundreds of millions of dollars were being spent by AOL to carpet-bomb the nation with trial disks.)
Why it really failed: As CompuServe said, it didn’t have the will to take on AOL after all. Also, I don’t think WOW ever WOWed many consumers—I don’t remember knowing a soul who belonged.
Was it a tragedy it bit the big one? I never used it, but it never sounded very appealing—even the name sounded a tad synthetically cheerful. On the other hand, there’s still a “Bring Back WOW” Web site, so someone cares.
The aftermath: In September 1997, AOL bought CompuServe and gradually let it fade away. Poetic justice, I guess.