Monday, February 7, 2011

Don't Call it a Comeback: AOL's Second Act

Remember back when the Internet could be boiled down to the three words, "You've got mail?" Texting or social networking were more than half a decade away in the future and SEO stood for Sponsors for Educational Opportunity.

In the middle 1990s AOL was the ground zero web interface for most people who were logging onto the Internet for the first time with over 30 million users at its peak. However like many who come along first in the digital realm (remember Friendster and MySpace?), AOL was outdone by those who saw what they were doing and improved upon it. As the momentum shifted away from dial-up access experienced telecom companies with the technological know-how began to offer faster, more streamlined access to the web through DSL and eventually wireless connections.

Not only that but users began to crave a more varied online experience than the cookie cutter, generic one that greeted you every time you used AOL to log on to the web. As social networking sites began to usurp even the sites like Yahoo that had been more on the money with tailor making a user's web experience, AOL got pretty much left for dead like roadkill on the side of the information super highway.

But like John Travolta suddenly popping up in a Quinton Tarantino film, AOL have recently been making some interesting moves. For starters they've dropped "America Online" altogether and now prefer to be known by the self-consciously lo-fi, "Aol."

With the name adjustment has come an intriguing foray into producing unique, original web content. The company began by launching which provides hyper-local news coverages for towns and neighborhoods all over the country. Patch works with local freelancers to offer much the same experience as reading a small town newspaper in web form. The concept appears to be catching on with new Patch.coms being added in practically every region of the nation.

Monday Aol acquired the Huffington Post for around $315 million dollars. The move certainly seems like a gutsy statement of intent. After being late to the party for high speed connections and social networking Aol seems steadfast in its intent to remain relevant this time out. Buying the Huff could prove to be a grand entrance to a second act for the pioneering web company. Like when a player turns to coaching, or an actor goes into directing we'll of course have to wait a little while to see how it goes with the company once known as American Online.

However the fact that they are adding Arianna Huffington to their management team would seem to bode well. Huffington, who is a regular on the KCRW talk show "Left, Right and Center," would lend the company the sort of blue state indie cred it has always lacked.

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