Monday, February 7, 2011

The AOL No Way

This photo (of urban blight in Camden, New Jersey, is used under a Creative Commons license.

Okay, so the AOL Way really is all about the numbers.

It can’t be about hiring more writers and encouraging current employees to write more original content, because if it were, AOL wouldn’t be buying the Huffington Post for $315 million, as announced today.

The Post is, at best, a news aggregator. An aggregator which, in more simple terms, is Internet parlance for a site that copies the work of other sites on its own to generate hits, eyeballs, ad revenues and whatnot. The Post does create some original content, but the vast majority of it is simply rebroadcasted material.

The AOL Way, a leaked document which purported to show how AOL was going to put the fear in its own writers and editors to squeeze every last drop of revenue-generation out of each piece produced – and to produce between 5 to 10 pieces a day, concentrated a lot on numbers. AOL wants to see the average unique visitor number to each of its pieces of content climb to 7,000 a month – an astronomical number.

Huffington has this to say about the deal, per CNN Money:
Huffington said that among her goals for the deal is "to do so much more in the living space especially for women, (and) to do more and more original reporting telling the stories of our time and putting flesh and blood on the economic data."
AOL and the Post are obviously planning some synergistic explosion of buttery Internet goodness, per the New York Times:
One of The Huffington Post’s strengths has been creating an online community of readers with tens of millions of people. Their ability to leave comments on Huffington Post news articles and blog posts and to share them on Twitter and Facebook been a major reason the site attracts so many readers. It is routine for articles to draw thousands of comments each and be cross-linked across multiple social networks.

Mr. Armstrong and Ms. Huffington say that AOL’s local news initiative, Patch, and its citizen journalist venture, Seed, stand to thrive when paired with the reader engagement tools of The Huffington Post.
This shows, obviously, that AOL doesn’t want to take the time to generate such synergy on its own, but rather wants to buy an already-existing network of folks with whom they can buddy up with.

Problem is, the Internet is really, really cliquey. The Post, which sags heavily to the left, may not really like the idea of an AOL corporate partner barging into the room and ordering drinks. But it’s obvious AOL hopes the Post’s ability to generate commentary and a loyal following – not necessarily its original writing prowess – will spread into AOL’s products, from Patch to Seed to whatever else. Again, this says more about getting eyeballs and page hits than writing original quality content that people will want to read.

Says the New York Times:
While AOL has invested heavily in creating content through enterprises like Patch, the initiative meant to fill the void in areas where struggling local newspapers have cut back on reporting, much of their writing and news gathering is not up to the standards of what consumers get from their traditional news sources.

The Huffington Post, too, has faced criticism over its content, much of which is aggregated from other news sources. But it has started to invest more in original reporting and writing, hiring experienced journalists from The New York Times, Newsweek, and other traditional media outlets. By acquiring The Huffington Post’s reporting resources, AOL hopes to counter the perception that it is a farm for subpar content.
As readers of the subpar content of this blog know, having a lot of subpar content really doesn’t drive the eyeballs. Improved content is better, but AOL shrewdly knows that buying into an already existing and vibrant network is the way to get people coming. Of course, now they run the risk of people coming to their other properties and ventures and seeing a Detroit-style urban blight.

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