The new AIM: Less is more

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AOL updated its instant messenger client AIM this week. Actually, “update” isn’t strong enough of a word. Maybe revitalized? Rethought? Transformed?

For the first time since I was a kid, the new version of AIM is better than its predecessor. Since its inception in 1997, AOL has been trying to do too much with AIM, adding bizarre features like emoting avatars. All we ever really cared about was talking with our friends. That’s why Facebook and Gmail’s chat applications have taken off — that’s literally all you can use them for.

The latest version of AIM, now available in preview, gets back to those basics. No more separate buddy lists and chat boxes, no more emoticons that send creepy smiles flying across your screen, no more option to make your chat window plaid.

Yes, you can still video chat and send files back and forth. There’s also integration with Facebook and Google so you can chat with your friends on those services right in your AIM window. You can also get Twitter updates and connect to Instragram.

But that’s really it.

Maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but I really like its simplicity. We use AIM for internal chats here at CNN, but that practice always seemed a little outdated to me. Now, when I use it, I no longer feel like I’m in high school. -David

futurejournalismproject
If you sell lemonade for $1 and it costs $800 to make it, that’s not a great business.

Robert Peck, managing partner at Quasar Capital Advisors, a consultant to Internet and technology companies, speaking to the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal reports that AOL is spending approximately $160 million a year on Patch, its hyperlocal news network.

Unfortunately, Patch’s revenue model is an ad-play and people just aren’t visiting these local sites in large enough numbers to make them attractive to advertisers. Ever hopeful, Tim Armstrong, AOL’s CEO, says the Patch network will eventually be profitable.

Via the WSJ: “AOL is spending about $160 million a year on Patch, which equates to about $150,000 to run each individual Patch site annually, according to an analyst’s estimate. AOL first focused on building traffic to Patch sites, and just recently started ramping up ad sales. Mr. Armstrong said in a call with investors last week that while revenues for Patch sites are small, they are growing quickly and on track to be profitable over time.”

The larger issue is that after spending $315 million on the Huffington Post and over $90 million to buy Techcrunch, 5min Media and Thing Labs in order to transform itself into a content company, overall traffic growth across AOL properties is declining.

Wall Street Journal, AOL Growth Comes at a Cost: After Acquisition Binge, Internet Company Faces Fierce Competition for Ad Dollars.

(reblogged from futurejournalismproject)

HuffPost/AOL now “aggregating” video as well

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The Huffington Post tends to be under constant fire for what many call over-aggregating: taking too much content from other sources and making it their own. It’s always been more of an issue with print stories than video, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

The photo above is from a video embedded in a story on HuffPost about Charla Nash, who was attacked by a chimpanzee in 2008. While the video is from the Today Show, you can see AOL has placed the video in their own player based on the “AOL” bug in the lower right.

Rather than embed the video from The Today Show, Armstrong, Huffington & Co. are ripping it straight from the TV, cutting the important parts, and placing it in their own player so the streams & ad views count for AOL (who really seems to need it, since the stock has hit record lows lately).

Here’s the giant splash page NBC created for the story, complete with an embed code for the video. You know, in case anyone wanted to share the story on their own news site/blog and give credit to the creator. We’ve reached out to AOL for comment. -Matt

Tim Armstrong: paywalls will work

In an interview with TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong took a strong stance on paywalls.

Although AOL’s content is free, Armstrong is a believer in paid content. “I think paywalls are going to work,” he said at TechCrunch Disrupt 2011. “To some degree people haven’t pushed paywalls far enough.”

The CEO emphasized the importance of content. “Everyone in the space is using content to differentiate themselves,” he said. “We positioned ourselves where the Internet’s going to be.”

AOL, a company that once took over Time Warner in 2001 for $111 billion, has been trying to reinvent itself after Time Warner (the parent company of CNNMoney) spun off, leaving the company worth only $3 billion. The merger is considered one of the worst in history.

In its plans to differentiate itself through content, AOL went on an acquisition tear, scooping up TechCrunch, news blog service The Huffington Post and a host of other companies.

So will they continue scooping up companies in a quest for content? Armstrong wasn’t clear.

"We’re going to focus on execution," he said. But when pushed, Armstrong said there were around 5 companies he’d consider acquiring. “I think we would do more deals,” he said.

When the tables turned and Armstrong asked Arrington (now his employee) whether he thought AOL was struggling, Arrington responded bluntly, “Yea.”

"I’m not an AOL cheerleader,” Arrington added, “but there’s clearly a vision, and they’re clearly executing.”

AOL, Huffington stay classy with generic layoff email

Hi there –

Thank you very much for your contributions to AOL. As we have discussed on calls and in emails, going forward our editorial direction is to build a great team of full-time editors, writers, and reporters. To that end, we are reducing the scope of AOL’s freelancer program.

Former AOL freelancer Carter Maness has a piece on TheAwl today about the way AOL is getting rid of many of its employees - the most impersonal way possible, with a mass form email. Prior to the layoffs the company went so far as to email Maness and others to join a national conference call, saying in the email, “We want to make clear: there is no immediate change for you.

In fairness, and as Maness points out, the definition of immediate can vary greatly as AOL waited another two weeks or so to really gouge its freelance roster. At least they didn’t ask Maness to write for free, as they did with the folks at Cinematical. -Matt

The AOL layoff/HuffPo speech, Wordle-fied

Wordle: AOL

image via Wordle (it’s fuzzy here, I know — click through for full size)

Above is a Wordle word cloud of AOL CEO Tim Armstrong’s speech at the Bloomberg Media Summit today (the text also includes the few comments from the panel moderator). He chatted about the HuffPo buy, 900 AOL layoffs announced today and how he met Arianna. From the looks of the cloud, it seems Armstrong knows a lot, thinks a lot and people are going…someplace. -Julianne

AOL media prez David Eun says sayonara

AOL Media and Studios president David Eun issued a goodbye memo this morning, according to TechCrunch. The move comes just two-and-a-half weeks after AOL unloaded 40% of its cash to buy The Huffington Post for $315 million.

Under the HuffPo deal, Arianna Huffington received a big new title: president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, which will include all Huffington Post and AOL content.

Understandably, that was a lot for Eun to take. His memo says it’s all good, but the man doth protest a bit too much:

"With the historic acquisition of The Huffington Post, my role and responsibilities as President, AOL Media are changing. Tim [Armstrong, AOL CEO] and I have discussed at length how I might continue within the new organizational structure, but ultimately there isn’t a role that matches what I am seeking to do.

I believe this acquisition is great for AOL, and I’ve been happy to count Arianna as a friend for a number of years.”

The exit is a blow for AOL, as Eun was a respected and well-liked exec. Even the famously combative Michael Arrington, writing in his TechCrunch piece, applauded Eun for letting the blog keep its voice post-AOL takeover.

AOL-owned tech blog Engadget lost two editors last week, with associate editor Ross Miller citing the “AOL Way” as “a catalyst” for his exit.

I personally had chatted with Eun a few times, including an interview back in October for a piece on AOL’s path to reinvention. He was excited about TechCrunch joining AOL’s growing roster of marquee properties, and he spoke about targeting “young influencers” in various key categories like tech. Eun also said he was looking forward to focusing on content that “relates to multicultural audiences” will also be a focus as the company refines its lineup.

Now, it seems, those goals are mostly in Arianna’s hands — and AOL needs to make sure they’re achieved. AOL’s purse is now too small to rely on anything else. -Julianne