Everything AOL Is New Again

Image representing AOL as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

♫… When trumpets… were mellow
And every gal only had one fellow
No need to remember when
‘Cause everything old is new again …♫

I have a soft spot in my heart for AOL. Shortly after getting my first PC in 1994, I joined all of the Internet portals of the day on a trial basis: Prodigy; CompuServe; Genie; Imagination but ended each subscription at the end of the free period except for one: AOL, because of what I later came to know as Community. I quickly got hooked on building relationships with like-minded people without regard to geographic or societal boundaries. In other words, social networking.

In fact, I loved it so much I became a beta tester for AOL 1.5 (when it had 500K members) onward, then a volunteer, then a contractor and finally in 1997, a paid  employee. During the next 10 years I rode the crest of AOL’s rise to the largest portal in the world (with 35 million paid members) as well as its accelerated denouement.

Blame management; blame the ill-conceived and worse executed merger with “old media” Time-Warner; blame whomever or whatever you wish for AOL’s fall from grace. But the fact is, AOL was a trailblazer in many ways. So, it’s both satisfying and frustrating to see current digital companies (including the “new” AOL) turning back to its concepts and features.

♫… Get out your white suit, your tap shoes and tails
Let’s go backwards when forward fails …♫

Back then, AOL based programming on a TV network model comprised of major content categories called channels, with user engagement provided by supporting community teams. About 20 or so major channels, provided both content and community. And so, it was good to see TechCrunch (itself an AOL “channel”) report today, “AOL Consolidates 53 Brands Down To 20 “Power Brands” in an effort to consolidate both content and advertising inventory. See the resemblance?

But it wouldn’t be a trend if only New AOL were doing this. The NY Times reported on Monday about a growing trend in many large organizations, “Companies Are Erecting In-House Social Networks“. Organizations are employing private networks, or intranets, utilizing social networking to improve communications and increase associate engagement. Great idea! Of course, AOL  provided parallel AOL private networks for a fee to companies and organizations way back in 1997 – fourteen years ago.

Yes, AOL fell behind on many fronts, especially the migration to broadband access and the open Internet as well as products such as blogs and user-generated video. And, ultimately, it has no one to blame for its current situation other than itself.

 But its important to give AOL credit where due.

♫… Don’t throw the pa-ast away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again …♫

(Lyrics: ‘Everything old Is New Again”  – Peter Allen)

Quick Tweet: The State of Community Management in 2011

Great report by Edelman Digital and The Community Roundtable on the state of community management in 2011

http://ow.ly/4skjI

To Stop the Bleeding AOL Applies a Patch

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When I was at AOL, we had two areas that appealed to our members literally where they lived: Digital City (later CityGuide and now City’s Best) for local content features; and AOL Local which provided local based community forums. These areas really resonated with our members because as vast as AOL was in its hey-day, these relevant offerings touched them on a personal level.

Flash forward to the present, and those halcyon days are long gone. AOL is now a smaller player on the online scene with niche properties replacing the walled-garden portal. And, it is making a big splash in the formerly safe-haven for local media — hyper-local news — with Patch.

Patch sites have sprung up all over the U.S. and their success is taking its toll on local news orgs. It just launched its 500th site in Hopkins, Minnesota and despite Patch editor-in-chief Brian Farnham’s contention that, “We aren’t there to compete, but to just add another voice to serve the community,” Patch is causing local news media to make changes.

After the launch of Sonoma (Calif.) Patch, the local Sonoma Index-Tribune was forced to drop its three-month-old content paywall in order to compete.

Will Patch be AOL’s salvation? Combined with it’s niche sites (TMZ, Popeater, LemonDrop, et. al.) I think it just might. What do you think?

Social History-making: ~9 out of 10 online Americans use social media

Social History-making: ~9 out of 10 online Americans use social media. The other, presumably, has no friends http://ow.ly/2XXKb

Blog Action Day 2010 – Drink Up!

From charitywater.org

Life happens, and occasionally when it does your attention gets divided and some things, like blogging, fall by the wayside in favor of other things like micro-blogging (Twitter to you and me) and before you know it the earth has circled the sun once again (and then some).

So, what can spur one to resume the art of the blog? A good reason, for a good cause. Today, October 15, 2010, is global Blog Action Day where bloggers from all over the world blog about a singular topic and this year it’s water (or lack thereof). (Ed. note: 2010 participation: 5,716 bloggers located in 143 countries)

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