Editorial

The AOL Way is the only way

This is how an acquisition works: When you are bought out by a larger, more corporate, financial entity, they look at your assets and your growth potential, they evaluate you as a viable revenue stream, and then they own you and your profits. Unless you are in the unique and rare situation where your new overlord sees value in leaving you alone, there will be changes, and those changes aren’t going to be comfortable. While it’s true that you were valued based on employee talent and success, your bottom line is ultimately all that matters and heads will roll to ensure that the ink below the line is black. The money is nice, but it comes at a cost, and the full cost of AOL’s rash of purchases over the past few years is finally coming out in the open.

While Engadget isn’t immediately affected by the “AOL Way,” a leaked document that lays out the company’s plans for its newly consolidated and restructured content distribution network, two of its veteran writers, Ross Miller and Paul Miller, stepped down citing the AOL Way document as a partial impetus for their actions. The document, a comprehensive vision of exactly, and I mean exactly, how AOL wants their publishing machine to run, displays a crystal clear focus on creating revenue and reach above maintaining editorial quality. With a clear vision on how every aspect of an article and a webpage can and should generate traffic and profit, AOL is sending a crystal clear message: We are depending on you to make money, and we will do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Many have been put off by this attitude. Engadget and its newly-related sister site, TechCrunch, started out as fiercely independent and opinionated blogs. Even while evolving into the journalistic juggernauts that they are today, there was a personality about many of the sites that AOL bought that readers are afraid will be drowned out by the new money-focused bureaucracy. It’s an understandable letdown, and nobody wants to read opinion whose content is ultimately governed by a team of SEO engineers and traffic analysts.

Josh Topolsky, Engadget editor-in-chief, claims that everything will be business-as-usual at his website. However, the writing on the wall is in size 14 Times New Roman and was spellchecked by underpaid editors. AOL has bet a large sum of money that this content distribution network will save it from the ashes of the dial-up subscription era. Imagine you’re going to spend a lot of money on a new PC. I’ll bet that you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time making sure that everything is exactly the way you want it to be, regardless of how the original manufacturer set up the OS and the software. You spent the money, and it’s your right to decide how this purchase is going to work best for you. You will trim off bloatware, run some registry cleaners, install your own personal favorite security software and web browsers, possibly overclock the CPU and install custom cooling systems. You will tweak and configure the machine until you get the exact level of performance you want. If you can’t get it, you will blame the retailer, the manufacturer, whoever, until you get exactly what you paid. AOL is doing nothing different in its “Way,” and nobody should have expected anything different.

Image Credit: Techau.tv

It’s not going to be comfortable, and it’s not going to be fun, but AOL is going to use these websites to make money. If that means crushing creativity and talent, consider it a necessary risk. The truly good writers will adapt and do what they love doing in spite of their once-pacifist overlords invading and taking over operations.

What’s really going to be interesting is to see how AOL fares against its already entrenched competition, companies like Gawker Media and Condé Nast. The AOL Way, while disruptive in its urgency and timing, isn’t a new idea by any means. This kind of consolidation of publishing management has been going on for quite some time. AOL has a lot of ground to cover before it can rightfully claim that content distribution has resurrected them from dial-up death, but CEO Tim Armstrong certainly hopes that the AOL Way will breathe fresh life into the once giant company. 

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20 Comments

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everyone who writes should just write as they please even if it does **** off those with the cheques... (if blogging is your sole income you deserve to be lambasted in the first place.)

It's not going to be comfortable, and it's not going to be fun, but AOL is going to use these websites to make money. If that means crushing creativity and talent, consider it a necessary risk.

While I understand the impetus for the acquisition and AOL's goals, trying to squeeze every cent from their acquisitions at the expense of the creativity and talent (which is what made those sites the juggernauts thety are incidentally) will end up being a massive waste of money and time and the internet as a whole will lose those news sources because they'll end up staffed by interns and cheap bloggers with no inate talent.

Regarding that comparison to someone buying a computer and tweaking it: This example is for someone that knows about computers, that might just have built it from scratch. But there are also many people that buy there computer "as is" and don't fool around with it.
I also know of companies that have been bought by someone bigger and that just went on with business as before.
Unfortunately, AOL decided otherwise.

I am reminded of a certain Duckman episode...

"But you said you liked my poem. Why do you want me to change them?"

"Change? Please! A haircut, a nip, a tweak, a tuck! Remember, we want you to do what you do, we just want you to do it in a completely different way."

Toaster, toothbrush comb indeed

jasonon said,
i remember using the aol disks as frisbees!

I used to reuse the old AOL floppies for my stuff. The ones that had the write protect tab punched out? I just put a piece of tape over it...

jasonon said,
i remember using the aol disks as frisbees!

I used to reuse the old AOL floppies for my stuff. The ones that had the write protect tab punched out? I just put a piece of tape over it...

>AOL is going to use these websites to make money
Wrong. AOL is going to TRY to make most money from these websites.
Their thinking goes like this:
A magazine has ads that generate money. More ads = more money. So 1000 page magazine with only ads => maximum money.

AOL.... I dumped them lets see..... was that 10 years ago? 12.... oh heck i can't remember the last time i went to their website or one of their "bought" websites, really i wonder, can't google just buy these turds out or something, and put an end to it?

Unless you are in the unique and rare situation where your new overlord sees value in leaving you alone, there will be changes, and those changes aren't going to be comfortable.

Amen to that.

Shiranui said,
AOL: soon to stand for America OffLine?

Wow!

Now THAT'S original!

Never have liked a single thing about AOL. Some of the worst and definitely most prioritized software ever written.

Hey,

I guess this is what happens when you send out 1,000,000 Cd's a day for 15 or 20 years. You need money. It's not Gawker's or Engaget's fault. AOHell's.

AOL needs money bad too. I say it depends on what they do, but if they make it more cheesy and corporate, people will leave and they can say goodbye to their revenue.

Duality said,
I really enjoy the editorials by Neowin's news staff - please keep writing them. Good stuff.
agreed- go neowin!