content farms

The AOL Way: Broken, battered and hopeless

February 2, 2011: 2:36 PM ET

A leaked presentation on its "master plan" and its abysmal earnings report only confirm that AOL needs a new way.

By Dan Mitchell, contributor

Tim Armstrong

AOL chief Tim Armstrong

Ken Auletta's profile in The New Yorker of AOL CEO Tim Armstrong last month was a grim assessment the company's prospects and a scathing indictment of the quality of AOL's content -- much of which, Auletta wrote, is "piffle." The company, he seemed to conclude, is more likely than not to "crash." AOL's earnings report released Wednesday morning didn't do much to belie that conclusion.

On Tuesday, the Web site Business Insider published a leaked copy of the company's "master plan" to turn things around. Called "The AOL Way," the 58-slide presentation supports both of Auletta's claims: that the company seems to care far more about appealing to search engines than it cares about appealing to readers, and that it is desperate. So desperate that it's instructing editorial managers to increase traffic by eye-popping amounts in a very short period of time.

The plan calls AOL's blog posts, stories and videos "pieces of content." It currently publishes 31,500 pieces a month. By April, the company must be publishing 40,000 a month, according to the plan -- an increase of 27% in two months. What is reportedly upsetting staffers even more is the demand that average number of pageviews per post rise from 1,512 now to 7,000 by April, an increase of 362%. Writers must create between 5 and 10 items per day. One anonymous editorial staffer used foul language to tell Business Insider what he thought of the company and he called his taking the job "the worst career move I've ever made."

"The AOL Way" sounds a lot like "The Bloomberg Way" – the set of heuristics the business-news service has operated from for years. But the similarities stop with the title. While Bloomberg has a reputation for its highly disciplined and demanding (some would say despotic) approach, "The Bloomberg Way" is mainly aimed at producing high-quality business journalism. "The AOL Way" is mainly about ramping up volume and, largely through technological manipulation, squeezing out as much profit as possible from each "piece of content," regardless of its quality. More

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