If the Internet is an "electronic frontier," both metaphorically and, for many, practically, then America Online is the contained, controlled, patrolled settlement for which many a cyberpioneer may yearn.

AOL is the largest computer online service in the world, with (at the time of this writing in early 1999) nearly twenty million users world-wide. I have been one of those users since 1993, when the system had to be telephoned long distance with a creeping 2400 baud modem and the number of users was not yet one million. In those pre-World Wide Web days, AOL was one of the easiest ways to access non-commercial computer software.

Since the rapid growth of the service began in 1993, AOL has had users who have not paid for the service, who have used it for illegal activities, and who have explored areas of it which they were not allowed to see, but nonetheless saw. They claimed to be hackers, and took upon themselves certain ideals which can be identified with the computer and hacking cultures. By 1995, there was no "place," no single system, which was receiving as much attention from the hacker community as AOL. Hackers both loved and hated AOL, calling it


                          a name which implies more affection to their Doom-soaked minds then one outside teenage computer culture might at first appreciate.