Tag Archives: AOL

AOL and HuffPo: A Marriage Made on Wall Street

Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

The marriage of AOL (nee America Online) and the Huffington Post (HuffPo) has everything – the Grecian beauty, a mighty titan brought to its fiscal knees, a public thirst for human drama midst economic and technological chaos.  The coupling puts an irresistible human face on mergers, buy-outs, and the sorting out of chain of command.  The unfolding saga illustrates the tension between medium and message that has plagued humankind before and since Marshall McLuhan gave it a name in the bygone 60’s.   And the anticipated role of Arianna of HuffPo affords content the dignity and status it has so long deserved.

AOL, the suitor known only by its nondescript acronym, has floundered in the fiercely competitive digital arena.  Since its separation from fab;ed Time-Warner in 2009 AOL has launched vigorous forays into blogs on such irresistible topics as music, sports, and popular culture.  AOL has tried selling local and display advertising and embraced the promise of Patch.  Still the charms of AOL have failed to woo sufficient users – the fickle fools – to pay the bills.  In spite of its fiscal financial flaw, or because of that flaw,  AOL was at the ready to put $315 million on the line to acquire HuffPo.

HuffPo clearly comes with a substantial dowry including expertise and experience with social media – As Goldstein and Rainey note in Envelope, an LA Times publication: “Friends can use Facebook and Twitter to find out what friends are reading. It’s not uncommon to find stories replayed on HuffPo getting far more traffic than they did at the originating site, though links connect to the same source.´  Still, the piece de resistance offered by HuffPo is the public presence of Arianna Huffington who is no doubt better known than the content of her digital newspaper.   In spite of its popularity HuffPo has been severely chastised for straying from the path of journalistic virtue.  Though recent editorial changes have generated an infusion of original content created by professional journalists on staff, HuffPo still suffers from the charge that it has begged and borrowed just too much content.

As voyeuristic observers of the unfolding drama we who care deeply about the players are drawn to conjecture.  Can the digital pioneer AOL make a profit on ts $315 million investment?  Can HuffPo maintain its integrity and meet the insatiable content demands of its users without risking its avowed commitment to quality journalism and commentary.  Jesse Singal writing in The Angle offers a cautionary note:  “With Huffington taking over day-to-day editorial operations of the AOL/HuffPo behemoth, the question becomes whether she can graft some sort of personality or soul into AOL, or whether the endless pressure to produce page views at the expense of quality and tone will win out and further adulterate both brands.”

My fervent hope is that Arianna Huffington will hit the ground running by setting priorities that favor high quality content — then ordering mugs and t-shirts that paraphrase the Clintonian mantra:  “It’s the content, stupid.”

And yet, as the Bard, ne’er at a loss for words, reminds us::

“Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.”

(William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patch on the Move

Sooner rather than later AOL’s Patch is making mighty leaps in this direction.  Just as the company is launching its 100th site, Patch, the hyper-local web-based news machine, will start showing up in an additional 500 communities this year.  AOL’s strategy is to restructure as a destination for a range of hyper-local content.

Reuters reports that Jon Brod, executive VP for AOL Local and a Patch founder, anticipates that, as legacy media falters there is chasm of quality information at the community level.  According to ReutersPatch is just one part of AOL’s content offering, which also includes Seed, a platform that relies on user-generated material on popular topics, and several popular topic-specific sites like Engadget, which is dedicated to consumer electronics and tech gadgets.”

As noted in a previous blog, keep an eye on Patch – and its siblings — no doubt coming soon to your community, especially if you live in an upper-income burb.

My earlier Patch post

Milling for advertisers’ attention

Content mill (aka content farm) is a metaphor rife with image possibilities – there are content millers, grist for the content mill, and, most challenging, the concept of winnowing the wheat from the chaff. The content mill itself is a handy term for an industry that is either the bane of journalists and searchers – or a job for free lance writers.

By loose definition, a content mill is a business that pays people low sums to acquire massive amounts of Web content. The content is entirely geared to the voracious search engine – the name of the game is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The strategy is to pitch the content to the advertiser. It’s all about volume. Quick and dirty content on hot topics amounts to ad revenue for the site, though not for the hapless scribe.

Still, the reality of the day is that there are squadrons of unemployed or underemployed writers for whom the lure of writing for content mills is irresistible. For writers it’s a paycheck more than a moral commitment to corporate aggrandizement. Kimberly Ben, who manages the Avid-writerblogspot summarizes the pluses for writers:
1) writing for content mills is less stressful, 2) [writers] don’t have to spend time marketing for private clients, 3) writers can put more focus on writing for themselves, and 4) you can crank out several articles quickly. Hard for the starving artist to resist the lure.

Implicit as the influence of the content mill may be, the industry is neither a benign nor welcome contributor to the blogosphere. Major content generators, particularly Demand Media, Associated Content and AOL, have been grinding out a fine mix of wheat and chaff for some time. Experienced web searchers have been agitated, aggravated and downright grumpy about the pollution of web content for ages. Still, the tipping point seems to be Spring 2010 when financially troubled Yahoo acquired mass content producer Associated Content.

A host of vested interests hoisted a digital red flag.

At this writing, these interests are coalescing. A recent player, the Internet Content Syndication Council, represents some major content generators including Reuters and The Tribune Company. ICSC is circulating a document that lays out a framework for a position paper on online content syndication. Addressing the inclusion of milled content, that document reads “to counter this threat, the Internet Content Syndication Council believes the time has come to start an industry discussion about the best way to preserve standards of quality for informational content.” There’s talk about modifying the Google algorithm to consider the factor of quality – what a concept!

The stalwarts who still care about quality of information – and who eschew digital garbage – welcome any discussion of quality. One can only hope that advertisers will see the light. It could be that a united nudge from the public could make a different at this juncture when the winnowing process is in motion.

The wheels of justice grind slowly, but they do grind exceeding small.

PatchWatch

This post picks up about where the post re. content mills left off.  Though content production and manipulation is a fast-moving field in which I would not pretend to keep up I do like to drop in at times to see what’s happening and what’s about to happen in this community.  For that reason I’ve been tracking insofar as possible the inexorable march of AOL’s Patch.  As Patch marches from East to West and West to East I’m pretty sure the Twin Cities area, particularly the affluent suburbs, is on their pin map.

Librarian that I am in my DNA I’m done some research and will send readers to the primary sources.  Still, there are some universal basics I can synthesize from a number of references. To wit:

  • The current category under which Patch more or less fits is “hyperlocal”.  The target is a community under 50,000.  More specifically the prime target is a wealthy suburban community that has a lot of interest in knowing more about what’s happening in their hometown, i.e. the center of the known world.   ( AOL hits the big cities with Going.com.)
  • Patch is extraordinarily aggressive in its hiring, marketing, advertising, and promotion.
  • AOL is pouring buckets of money into Patch ($50 million through the end of 2010).
  • Much of that lucre goes to snatching up local journalists, including the employed and the unemployed, who work long hours multitasking, managing responsibilities traditionally the province of a large and diverse staff.
  • Patch employees including local editors, salespeople, advertising directors and reporters work in the trenches, i.e. from home.
  • Reporters view themselves as more – or other – than reporters, more as community organizers.
  • Social media are used rather sparingly in Patch’s strategies.
  • Feedback on hyperlocal initiatives and the advance of Patch is at a premium since neither revenue nor traffic data are provided.
  • The battle between hyperlocal Patch and the foray of legacy media into local reporting is inevitable and proximate.

As far as I can see it’s the folks in media/journalism who are sharing their thoughts about Patch and other hyperlocal initiatives at this point.  Many describe their local experiences and their expectations re. the future of Patch.  Still, the impact of initiatives such as Patch reaches far beyond the work of a small cadre of energetic journalists in any one community.  The time for a community to think about the implications is before the advance team comes to town.

Some links to others’ observations about hyperlocal media in general, Patch in particular:

Andria Krewson, AOL Patch and MainStreetConnect Expand Hyper-Local News, July 2010.

Sarah Studley, One Patch at a Time:  How AOL Plans to Rescue Local News, March 2010

Hard Times Working the Patch, August 2010, posted by Dan Kennedy
I added more content on this subject here on 8-19-2010.