The number of people who can distribute files via FTP and create World Wide Web pages has just increased by three and a half million AOL users. Last month, America Online opened a public beta test of member-created FTP areas and Web pages. Called My Place and My Home Page, respectively, AOL is providing these services to its members at no extra charge.
Using AOL FTP and Web Space -- To connect to their personal directories, AOL members can use the AOL application to FTP to <users.aol.com>. Once they connect, they're presented with the contents of their directories, and a set of buttons for uploading and managing files. All FTP files and Web files are placed in this common directory.
AOL allocates each AOL screen name 2 MB of disk space for both FTP and Web files. Since each AOL account can have up to five screen names, a total of 10 MB of disk space is potentially available; however, there's no way to combine or reallocate disk space among screen names except through some creative use of Web pages. If a screen name exceeds the 2 MB limit, the next upload is refused with a "disk quota" error.
Anyone on the Internet with anonymous FTP capabilities can access all files in the common directory, though a "private" directory is provided for limiting access. Other people can access files in the private directory only if they know the names of the files - this allows members to give access privileges to their friends by telling them the names of the files.
[These "private" directories are only as secure as your friends are trustworthy, but should be fine for most people distributing private materials via FTP. -Geoff]
AOL members can also create a directory called "incoming" to allow FTP uploads. Files placed in the incoming directory count against that screen name's 2 MB disk quota. Files uploaded to a member's incoming directory can be accessed only by that member.
For complete instructions, check out the AOL FAQ. Version 2.6 explains the process of creating AOL Web pages and FTP areas.
Accessing AOL Web Pages -- To connect to an AOL member's Web page, form an HTTP URL using the site <users.aol.com> along with the AOL member's screen name. (The AOL screen name is the part of the AOL user's Internet email address before the @ symbol - remember to remove any spaces in the screen name, as you must do for Internet email as well.) For example, my screen name is macfaq, so the URL to my Web directory on AOL would be:
(You may sometimes see <members.aol.com> instead of <users.aol.com>. They both point to the same address, and are mostly interchangeable. At this time, AOL members who want to upload files to their areas must use <users.aol.com>, but AOL's FTP administrator says this will be fixed shortly.)
When you connect, AOL looks for a file called index.html in the member's directory. If it can't find page with that name, an error will be returned, so AOL members are encouraged to use index.html for the name of their home page. Just as with any other Web server, members can create other HTML pages with different file names, and link back and forth between them or to other Internet sites.
Accessing AOL User FTP Areas -- To connect to an AOL member's FTP area, use the address <users.aol.com>. When you connect, you'll be greeted by a sparse directory. Use the command "cd screenname" to change to the directory of a particular member. If you know the name of a particular file or directory, you can use an FTP URL to directly access it.
The Upshot -- Until now, AOL members could browse content created by others, but couldn't create their own. This prompted criticism that AOL was taking from the net without giving anything in return. With AOL's new service, the doors are open for AOL members to exercise their creativity and provide content. Whether that content appears on Spider's Pick of the Day or the Netscape Hall of Shame remains to be seen.
[Les Jones is the author of the mammoth AOL FAQ for Macintosh, thinks HTML is the coolest thing since six color Apple decals, and is currently pondering the best way to convert the AOL FAQ to HTML.]