AOL – quietly reinventing itself – will it work?

With all the hoopla about the Super Bowl, car companies splashing advertising money, snow storms in Dallas and internet companies making light of political hardship an old dot com keeps plugging away in its quest to redefine itself and look to regain a sliver of its former glory – AOL. For many of us that remember the days of dial up we also remember the constant barrage in our mailboxes (the snail mail ones) of those AOL CDs, the ones that would grant us access, via the AOL portal, to the wonderful world of the internet, via the chirp of dial up. I recall for a while that my coffee table had a number of AOL CDs strewn across its table top acting as coasters. Ah the good old days of irrational exuberance.

AOL, the once might dot com company was overwhelmed by the likes of Google who realized that users did not need to access the web via a portal…especially when search engines made the entire web navigable and accessible. After a failed business venture with Time Warner, AOL has slowly started to redefine itself. Unlike Yahoo! who seems to be wanting to kick out social media from its portfolio, AOL has embraced social media and content and is instead looking to quietly aggregate many of the assets that have ridden the Web 2.0 to success.

The latest acquisition of the Huffington Post for $315m is another piece of the growing AOL content portfolio. The Huffington Post tops the Technorati list of top 100 blogs on a consistent basis, this blog is striving to break into this list…but still have a lot of work to do! the Huffington Post also has a healthy Twitter following – over 800,000 followers as of this writing.  Couple this with AOL’s early purchase of TechCrunch, another blog and the #2 blog on the same list, and clearly AOL is looking to bolster its reach in the cyber world of content. They have also acquired more niche blogging firms such as MMAfighting.com – a blog dedicated to fans of the MMA.  For a list of the companies AOL has been purchasing click here.

So what does this mean for AOL? For the amount of cash they are paying out for these assets I think they are getting some good deals. They realize that the search market is dominated by Google, with Bing and to some degree Yahoo! still commanding a large chunk of that market, so not worth getting into that. The portal strategy has sailed a decade ago. Free email is table stakes – with the likes of Facebook getting into the space shortly as well. Social is hot, but I am sure that AOL realizes with their brand name would make a pure social media strategy a difficult path to take. So instead they are moving into the social arena by seeking to control many of the destinations people are heading to for their content. With an increased amount of viewers seeking out blogs for their news and content rather than traditional sources like CNN.com or NYTimes.com, AOL has an opportunity to capture an audience that any advertiser and marketer would pay good money to reach. AOL is banking on the trend that blogging and other social media outlets will become the de facto outlet for content – and by owning a number of these assets they will also “own” access to their audience.

Just as Time Warner did when they merged with AOL, AOL is looking to get where the eyeballs are going and ensuring they can monetize that relationship. For AOL’s sake I hope they do a better job developing and nurturing those eyeballs and actually doing something with them, than did Time Warner with AOL. Otherwise the company synonymous with having mail, might continue to have relevance problems.

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Filed under Current Events, Social media, Technology

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