AOL's New Strategy Is To Fill The Internet With Crap?
from the pollution-is-in-their-genes dept
Remember how AOL first became “famous”? It cluttered the world (and our garbage dumps) with millions upon millions of CD-ROMs offering “try AOL for free!” It seems that pollution is in AOL’s genes, and it just can’t get away from it. How else to explain AOL’s new plan to rebuild its brand: to flood the internet with poorly written, but quickly written, content based on whatever search terms are hot. Danny Sullivan points out the amusing fact that AOL is looking to leverage search engines for more traffic this way, at the very same time as others, such as Rupert Murdoch, are claiming that Google is “stealing” from him in sending traffic, and he’s considering opting-out.
But, of course, that doesn’t make AOL’s strategy very well conceived either. Farhad Manjoo makes the case for why this is a dumb plan, and there’s plenty to agree with:
The trouble with AOL’s plan, then, isn’t that it’s based on data-mining. Instead, it’s what the company will likely do with search data–publish quick, vapid posts that do little to advance any hot story and instead feed readers a collection of factoids gathered from other places. How do we know this will happen? Because AOL’s model is strikingly similar to that of Demand Media and Associated Content, two start-ups that also use search data and user contributions to build Web content. Indeed, AOL’s Armstrong–who was an advertising executive at Google until earlier this year–is reportedly an investor in Associated Content, whose CEO is also a former Googler.
Associated Content stands as a cautionary tale for anyone looking to do news by the numbers. It is a wasteland of bad writing, uninformed commentary, and the sort of comically dull recitation of the news you’d get from a second grader.
Effectively, it’s a plan based on adding crap into the system to trick search engines. It’s pollution and web spam as a business model. But as folks like Umair Haque are fond of pointing out, business models based on tricking people and not adding any real value aren’t business models that will last. They’re short-term scams. Manjoo, in his writeup, helps explain why:
Will this plan do wonders for AOL’s bottom line? It very well might, at least in the short run. If AOL can replicate the success of Associated Content across its network of sites, it will surely see huge gains in traffic and renewed interest from advertisers. But this plan hinges on something that can’t be guaranteed for long–a weakness in search engines. By any measure, stories like those found on AC don’t deserve top billing in search results. If you search for “Tiger Woods mistress pictures,” you should get pictures of Tiger Woods’ alleged mistress, not a story that repeats that phrase a dozen times. Google and other search engines constantly battle search engine spam, and over time they’re sure to steer people away from sites that rely on such trickery to get visitors. Then what? Associated Content gets 90 percent of its traffic from search engines. Once Google and co. wise up to AC’s schemes, its business model is toast.
A short-term strategy based on polluting the internet with bad content may be a last-gasp effort to revive a dead brand, but it’s difficult to see how that’s any sort of long-term strategy to survive.