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2010 September 12

Armstrong to the Rescue!

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AOL CEO and Chairman Tim Armstrong AOL CEO and Chairman Tim Armstrong
Courtesy of AOL
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(NEW YORK) It’s a bird! It’s a brain! It’s AOL execu-hunk Tim Armstrong! Fresh from planet Google, he wants to turn the Web’s first megaportal into the world’s largest content creator. The best part? He needs your help to do it. Is this the hero we’ve been waiting for?

We hear you’re hiring hundreds of journalists over the next few months. Can we tell all our unemployed friends to send you their résumés?
Please, we want ’em all! We have about 80 new content properties and are looking for people who are passionate experts in the video space, audio space, text space, every space. We’re betting that journalism is going to be a bigger part of the future of the internet, not a smaller part.

AOL already has more than 100 million users. What the heck are you guys doing creating content?
We think there’s a very big business in delighting consumers. And at a broader level, we think the internet needs to be reprogrammed. Web pages haven’t looked any different in 15 years! They look like they were created by people in Silicon Valley with engineering backgrounds who happen to be mostly male. If you dropped down to planet Earth for the first time today and saw how pervasive the Web was, you’d expect it to be the most beautiful and elegantly designed experience in the world. But it’s not. So we’re in the process of redoing all our properties—we’ll be relaunching a lot of them in the next two months. That’s a huge focus for us right now. The conventional wisdom is that original content’s a hopeless racket—everything gets sucked up and aggregated on Huffpo.

Are you doing anything to protect your investment?
We just started tagging our journalism—the original journalism that we source and report. What I’ve found over the course of time is not that journalism has gotten lazy, but that it’s easier and cheaper to go to the Web and scrape content as opposed to picking up the phone, calling, and getting original stories. This is just a theory: We don’t know if it’s right or not, but over a long period of time, if you show consumers those tags, they might actually prefer your content if they knew it was the original. The overarching benefit right now is on the aggregate side because it’s low-cost to repurpose other people’s work. We do some of that here; a lot of companies do. But we believe someone should press the theory button on original content on a large scale. We don’t know where it will end up, but we figure we should try.

In the past AOL has epitomized mass, for lack of a better word. Is the plan to go more upscale?
Starting this month, I think you’ll see our sites becoming higher and higher quality, both from an aesthetic and a functionality standpoint. The second thing you’re going to see us do is create very specific high-end versions within our existing content verticals—in the women’s space, in the travel space, and especially in the fashion space.

AOL is all over Fashion Week this year. How do runway shows fit in?
A couple different ways. One of the things that we’ve brought back to the company in the past few years is a sincere focus on creativity. Our properties and sites and the company itself will start to represent more of what you see in the runway world—the creativity and the perfection. It’s what we want at AOL: a well-designed and -styled version of the internet. That’s why we’re working with some of the most creative people on the planet—from Chuck Close to the Jonas Brothers. We want them to help us redesign the Internet.

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