We still don’t understand AOL’s long-term strategy.
One minute it’s super-low-cost freelance content (Demand Media). The next it’s Patch (local newspapers). The next it’s the Time Inc. for the 21st Century (magazines). The next it’s “beat the Internet” (a throwback to the days when AOL was a proprietary closed service).
Now, apparently, it’s redesigning the whole Internet, which is apparently hopeless because web pages look the same as they did 15 years ago.
In this latest effort, AOL is enlisting help from an odd consulting firm: The Jonas Brothers.
Pointing to the content provider’s in-depth fashion week week coverage, Armstong says, “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.”
Armstong goes on of his plan to expand original content, “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.”
So, AOL is planning to make AOL (and the Internet) look more like… the original AOL, when it was a closed proprietary platform, with smoother graphics and software? More like Microsoft’s celebrity wall, which got a brief splash of critical praise from design-types and then basically disappeared?
This is the sort of thing we’ve heard since 1995 from entertainment and ad industry folks who haven’t spent any time working on the Internet. Once they do spend time working on the Internet, fortunately, they realise that there’s a good reason web pages look the way they do. And they observe that Craigslist and Wikipedia, which basically have no design, are two of the most successful sites in the world. And they note that Google doesn’t have much design, either, and it’s worth more than the entire entertainment industry put together. And they gradually realise that they didn’t know as much about the Internet as they thought they did.
But Tim Armstrong has worked in the Internet industry for years. So what on earth is he talking about?
Tim, please help us understand what you and AOL are up to–here and elsewhere. We’re really confused.