At one time AOL was bigger than the Web.
I went to AOL from Compuserve in the late ’80’s or early ’90’s because AOL gave you a user name instead of a pair of user numbers. At AOL, I was Smilesburg. I was somebody.
The big pitch of AOL in those days was Community: they pioneered chat rooms for the masses. They had common-interest groups for parenting, for dating, for everything. I don’t recall that people could upload their photos, but at 56.5 Kb that would have been an unpleasant experience anyhow.
And they were a walled garden. It was hard to get from AOL to the ‘net. AOL vigorously offered alternatives to keep the inmates within. They wanted us to stay put.
Sounds a lot like Facebook today. It may get bigger than the rest of the Web (although not likely). It features Community. And it vigorously tries to keep the inmates within.
What happened to AOL? Well, the inmates slowly and then rapidly escaped. ISPs killed AOL. gmail killed AOL. The sheer wealth of content and interactivity growing in the rest of the Web killed AOL. A walled garden can’t keep up.