AOL Acquires News Site TechCrunch

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AOL, primed by Google-bred CEO Tim Armstrong, made a big splash today with its acquisition of the popular Silicon Valley-based news site, TechCrunch. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the price was rumored to be between $25 and $40 million.

The purchase sent us back to our notes (i.e. Google) to refresh our memories on the last big acquisition AOL made in the tech news space, The year was 2005 and AOL was a unit of Time Warner when they bought Weblogs -- including its premiere site, Engadget -- for $25 million.

Forbes made fun of snarky bloggers by really getting snarky about the acquisition:

And before it's accused of blogging a dead horse, AOL is looking to tap into the journalistic craze with its acquisition of Weblogs, a mammoth compendium of blogs listed in order of when they were last updated. AOL will inherit 85 blogging sites where Internet users can find opinions and debates about everything from dog training to car alarms -- we know, because we just checked.

The agreement, which was inked Wednesday, will make New York City-based Weblogs a wholly-owned, stand-alone subsidiary of AOL, operating with full editorial control and independence. If they can stomach dubious grammar and the odd bit of spurious logic, AOL users will have access to an array of unfiltered content from more than 100 independent, freelance expert bloggers producing over 1,000 blog postings weekly.

What's happened to Engadget since then? Well, it's top editors (Peter Rojas and Ryan Tate) left the company, but Engadget has kept plugging along, dueling successfully with Gizmodo for the title of top gadget blog.

The AOL acquisition, that is to say, didn't ruin Engadget -- as some fear might happen with Techcrunch -- but it also didn't give them the resources to dominate the independents. It's not the most interesting prediction and I don't claim any particular inside knowledge, but my guess is that TechCrunch probably just keeps doing what it's been doing. (At least until its founder, voice, and star Michael Arrington leaves, which he almost certainly will in a few years.)

On the other hand, AOL's content strategy seems a little all over the place. In 2009, they were pushing high-profile, high-cost sites like Politics Daily. Then they started hiring young journalists like mad to do local reporting for Patch. And now this Techcrunch purchase. Perhaps there is a brilliant plan linking everything together, but if so, we're still waiting for the reveal.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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