How a Newly Independent Aol Plans to Win

Now that AOL (or Aol?) is newly independent, what should we expect from the company that was once synonymous with the Internet? Stock analysts expect very little --- ""All of the company's segments are in decline," one said. But I think the company's strategy to move away from "providing" the Internet toward blasting the interwebs with lots of searchable, zeitgeisty content is probably the best move it could make.

AOL used to have as many as 26 million subscribers as an Internet service provider in 2002. Now it has about 5.4 million. It's time for a makeover. In its reemergence as a digital media empire -- 500 fulltime and ~2,500 freelance editorial staffers to produce 80+ content sites, according to Gawker -- the site is emphasizing the mastery of search-engine optimization, or placement on Google results pages. The editorial advice is terribly specific. The site will live on a super-fast metabolism, with 350-500 word stories that blast the Google robots' pleasure centers with keyword-laden pieces pegged to the hottest trends.

For example, in a recent email to writers, one executive or editor advised Aolers to make a concerted effort to put keywords in the first sentence and shape their coverage in the mold of an easily-Googled story. He says "check out your search term on Google and see who else is there, how your story can be better than theirs', and what you need to add to advance the story." Not subtle, but not stupid, either.

I'm not turned off by this idea. But then again, I'm a young pup subsisting on a diet of Google News and blogs. For others, maybe it raises questions about the direction of online news. Ryan Tate scoffs:

So not only is AOL basing its entire dismal future on the most base sort of styrofoam traffic-whoring; it's not even whoring in a new way. Demand Media, for one, has long been doing the exact same thing, with an algorithm-plus-sweatshop editorial production line that makes Gawker Media look like Aristotle's School of Taking Your Sweet Time Thinking About Things.

I'm of the mind that there's nothing wrong with seeking short news stories. And there's nothing wrong seeking opinionated news stories. And there's nothing wrong with using Google Trends to find out what people are searching, or using Google News to find out what reporters are writing, or using to find out what the NYT's editors are assigning and promoting. Time was when reporters were told to keep their ears to the ground. Now Aol tells its writers to keep their eyes to the Google. Plus ca change, if you ask me. I wish them luck.