Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
February 7, 2011 6:40 AM

Content Is Everywhere - The Changing Tide Of The Internet

It's no longer about sending people to your website. It's about being at the center of where your consumer is.

There have been a couple of major indicators that the world of publishing and content is shifting away from the traditionally held value that you have to drive traffic to one, specific destination. That world has not only changed, but it's gone.

Need some proof?

Don't focus on The Huffington Post part of the equation... put your focus and attention on AOL.

The minute Tim Armstrong left his very comfortable position leading sales and advertising at Google to become the CEO of AOL in March 2009, I knew things were about to change online (and I knew it would take some time). Too many people counted AOL (and him) out. I've had the pleasure of meeting Armstrong on many occasions and knew that when he took on the helm at AOL, things would change. This acquisition of Huffington Post isn't the entire picture, but just another spot on a leopard that continues to change its spots.

Ditch the destination.

If you own media and if you publish content, you need to understand that pushing people where you want them to go in a world where anyone and everyone can publish content in text, images, audio and video is an impossible task. The most strategic move you can make is to now be everywhere you consumers are. Here's what Arianna Huffington had to say about the acquisition of her company to AOL:

"AOL's Patch.com covers 800 towns across America, providing an incredible infrastructure for citizen journalism in time for the 2012 election, and a focus on community and local solutions that have been an integral part of HuffPost's DNA. Check. Original video? AOL's just finished building a pair of state-of-the-art video studios in New York and LA, and video views on AOL have gone up 400 percent over the last year. Check. More sections? AutoBlog, Music, AOL Latino, Black Voices, etc, etc, etc. fill gaps in HuffPost's coverage. Add all that to what HuffPost is doing with social, community, mobile, as well as our commitment to innovative original reporting and beyond-left-and-right commentary, and the blending will have a multiplier effect. Or, as Tim and I have been saying over the last couple of weeks: 1 + 1 = 11."

The new publisher.

You can see by AOL's performance and some of the media punditry that this is a company in transition. It's no longer just about the ISP, the portal destination (aka "the walled garden") and building AOL as the primary brand (regardless of what the current revenue model looks like). AOL is quickly becoming the new publisher. The publisher of the future. AOL owns properties like Engadget, TechCrunch, Moviefone and many, many more. In fact, many laughed when Tim Armstrong first arrived at AOL and said it would take a few months to better understand all of the properties that AOL owned, and where they fit in the grand scheme of things.

What AOL knows... that others are missing.

There is a sense of both innovation happening at AOL when it comes to publishing and no fear of killing their sacred cows. While many of us have all but ignored AOL, the past few years have been spent shedding the old/non-performing sites and turning the Internet into a world of AOL content sites through acquisition and creation. It's something that companies like News Corp, The New York Times and even Google and Facebook could learn from. Is the model perfect? No. Is the model providing astounding revenues? No... not yet. Like everything else, we need to give this transition time.

This isn't about AOL. It's about the new way content flows in a digital world.

Many people will comment (below and elsewhere) about whether or not this is a good deal for The Huffington Post and/or AOL. I don't see that as relevant to the story as much as what this continues to mean for the dramatic changes in content and marketing:

  • It's no longer about a destination. The content is everywhere. You don't just have to read this Blog post and comment here. You can read it on Facebook, on a Blog aggregator and you can comment anywhere you wish (on Twitter, YouTube... you name it).
  • If you're a publisher, you can acquire the content sites that you are missing and leave them be to perform as they are. You don't have to assimilate them into a global brand (traditional magazine publishers do this quite well).
  • If the content doesn't exist, the platform does exist for you to create it in an original and compelling way. Arianna Huffington and team didn't wait for The Los Angeles Times to have a vision for the newspaper of the future. They created it - using cheap, easy and existing tools.
  • Local and niche content continues to become more and more relevant in the digital space. Read between the lines about this acquisition and it becomes obvious that the content masters of the near-future will be those who grasp deep niches and hyper-local spaces.
  • It's about the platforms too. This isn't a Web-based world, a mobile world and a tablet world. It's about how connected the consumer now is through their one-line of connectivity.

In the end, whether AOL becomes the next big thing (again) is less relevant to me than the business model that they are creating for Publishers and Advertisers. As it acquires more and more properties across all of the technological platforms, AOL makes itself very attractive to these advertisers by helping them to become more findable (and shareable) in every nook and cranny of the consumer's appetite for content.

What's your take on this publishing move away from a destination to being anywhere and everywhere? 

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Frances Schagen
    Mitch Joel

    I think you hit the nail on the head with this.

    It's no longer about a destination. The content is everywhere. You don't just have to read this Blog post and comment here. You can read it on Facebook, on a Blog aggregator and you can comment anywhere you wish (on Twitter, YouTube... you name it).

    It's not even about only the content it's about the conversation.

    Reply
  • Posted by Bas Helderman
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch, good points, but the proof is in the pudding, isn't it?
    The last point at 'Need some proof?' is practically unreadable with all those links, side notes, quotes and more links. I get lost just looking at the links - which to click?

    When you mention "has acquired [The Huffington Post] for $315 million", I expect your link to go to a news article about the acquisition.

    Want to add more sources? My pick would be to do that as such: "has acquired [The Huffington Post] for $315 million (more at [Reuters] and [Mashable])" I don't really care for clicking to Mashable's homepage, if you get my drift :)

    Anyway, thanks again for your insight - much appreciated!

    Reply
  • Posted by Nick Kellet
    Mitch Joel

    Well said. It's not just that the leopard is changing it's spots, it's that the dots are lining up. There is consistency in their execution. Tim has a clear plan.

    I love your closing paragraph.

    "As it acquires more and more properties across all of the technological platforms, AOL makes itself very attractive to these advertisers by helping them to become more findable (and shareable) in every nook and cranny of the consumer's appetite for content."

    It's not just about text either, the are going transmedia.

    Studionow.com places them in the heart of Video production and Arianna's comments make the importance of video very clear.

    This is going to be interesting to watch.


    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Not being american I always failed to see the power behind AOL, but with all the recent acquisitions I gotta say the plan is starting to come out pretty strongly.
    I was a bit worried about how they would manage entities like TechCrunch, but it seems like they have been given ample-to-full freedom of operation, so that's not an issue.
    Overall, I feel like we're just at the starting phases of this plot, so I guess we'll see where they are going to move next.

    Reply
  • Posted by Caitlin
    Mitch Joel

    Nice post! I have to admit that I have been watching AOL closely in the last few years, and I don't necessarily like what I see. The mass hiring of reporters, too many keywords written into posts, I think there is a need to experiment with how content is being found and AOL is most certainly doing that.
    You've got some really good points to the contrary - so thanks for making me think this morning :)

    Reply
  • Posted by Bryan Eisenberg
    Mitch Joel

    And this is exactly why Rupert Murdoch's paper on glass iPad periodical "The Daily" and their millions blown on a Super Bowl commercial will fail! Mitch have you been checking out "The Daily?" Curious what others think about it?

    Reply
  • Posted by Mary Tod
    Mitch Joel

    I read your post this morning as well as Mike Shatzkin's (Opportunity Deosn't Knock, It Pounds) and I found some interesting connections between your perspective on content and his perspective on global markets for English language writers and publishers. I'm in the midst of pulling these together from the perspective of a writer. So far, I've come up with the following points:
    - a writer's market is global as well as niche and/or hyper-local
    - traditional publishers are only one mechanism to get work in the hands of consumers (think consumer not just reader)
    - don’t sign away rights without understanding the scope and implications of what you are giving away
    - writers need to link to content relevant to their market (which, of course, means they need to understand their market) as well as produce their own content
    - consumers can be powerful advocates, enablers and distributors of what writers produce, the question is how to foster these dynamics
    - where in this changing dynamic can writers earn income
    - how will a given writer make him/herself findable

    I'm sure there are many more points for writers to consider.

    Reply
  • Posted by James Evans
    Mitch Joel

    I agree 100%. It's all about the flow; not the know.

    Reply
  • Posted by Gunther Sonnenfeld
    Gunther Sonnenfeld

    Hi - totally agreed on ubiquity versus destination as a construct in the publishing game, but to a few of the points made here, the problem of scarcity still exists. Is AOL going to be able to:

    ... Create new market value for content & pay people (journalists & subject matter experts) this new market value?

    ... If they can't pay them "fair market fees", are they willing to offer up a better performance model, and how would this be any different from the likes of Demand Media, Gawker or StumbleUpon? (who seem to cannibalize this value)

    ... What will they do with things like remnant media inventory? Can they optimize inventory and transition into more of a federated system?


    While AOL now boasts a nice set of publishing entities, web ubiquity naturally flattens the demand for premium content, so AOL would seem to rely on sending people to their own "destinations" or sites within their owned media ecosystem. Over time, this leads to artificial scarcity (or in the case of ad inventory, inflated demand).

    I hope that Armstrong can see the forest through the trees here and take some cues from his experience at Google ;)

    -Gunther

    Reply
  • Posted by Charles Baratta
    Mitch Joel

    Many HuffPo users were not happy about Arianna's decision. Some of them were declaring to quit using HuffPo which I saw earlier today. I just hope for the better service AOL and Huffington post can give us.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    In today’s economy of information, people no longer trust the ego-driven author. Instead, they trust the curator of content.

    It’s an ego shift from me to we… or like James said, it’s all about the flow; not the know. Besides, could we really keep calling it new media if it weren’t constantly acquiring additional new-ance?

    http://wordisseur.com/blog/aolrianna-huffington-1-1-11/

    Reply
  • Posted by Dave Crowder
    Mitch Joel

    You are so far left , Stalin is a centrist. Look at Patch-"Just in time for the 2012 elections" No just in time to help influence the elections. And the politics of all of these people-without knowing for sure, how about extremely left-of-center. But then we DO need to COUNTER and CONTROL the right.What garbage. Just wait. It will all implode (of backfire)

    Reply
  • Posted by Dave Crowder
    Mitch Joel

    Also, look at what AOL is doing: they are offering-up group specific sites which ultimately help the fragmentation of our society: AOL Latino, Black, Voices, etc. very good. And with fragmentation comes dissension, followed, eventually by anarchy and then in steps who?

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    You have nailed the issue well! Your article definitely opened up different perspectives in dealing with customers and be where the customers are! Thanks for sharing this great stuff.

    Reply
  • Posted by Tom
    Tom

    It's an interesting story about AOL's content ownership strategy but what can be learned? Your statement about "being at the center of where your consumer is" goes on to define this by suggesting either create something unique or if you can't do it yourself buy out competitors that can.

    So what has really changed? The old adage "Content is king" still rules and making it accessible is still paramount. The best advice in the piece is 4 years old and someone else's: "cover what you do best and link to the rest"

    Reply
  • Posted by liz
    Mitch Joel

    This article reflects the hypothesis that indeed everything is changing. To be aware of what the clients/users of your product are interested in and being available to them in a way related to their interest is the key to being able to keep up flow and interaction with them. It is no longer possible to retain a user on one page but giving them a credible direction to content they can use is necessary. Users will return to the source of credible information simply because they are provided with knowledgeable sources. That is very valuable since its frequently difficult finding relevant information on the web to a particular subject.

    Reply
  • Posted by Swamykant
    Mitch Joel

    I believe the conversation and brand matters more than the web destination. If someone is ready to buy your products( it can be a book, seminar, gadgets) what is problem in getting the consumers from blog ot twitter or facebook

    Reply
  • Posted by Doug Haslam
    Mitch Joel

    I get the "content is everywhere" theme-- makes a lot of sense based on how many of us are getting and sharing info.

    What I don't understand is AOL's failure to brand its acquisitions-- sticking with the Tech World, I know Engadget has been an AOL property for years, but I don't think of it as "aOL" but as simply Engadget.

    How does that help AOL? Why do we need a central aggregator of content at all, if all they are going to do is own it but not emphasize their branding (e.g., benefit their own corporate goals) in some way? This remains to be seen, at least with AOL

    Reply
  • Posted by Elissa
    Mitch Joel

    Great post...your notion of being a content generator as well as a connector (to information) is great. Now, if websites - and/or the people who run them would just stop being so territorial....

    Reply
  • Posted by Friend
    Mitch Joel

    Nice entry here. It is indeed not about the traffic and visitors it is about being at the center of your target market. way back then, it is about increasing your page rank and other web ranking but now it is about getting to where you are meant to be.

    Thank you for this entry and thanks to the commenters who are as educational as Mitch is.

    Reply
  • Posted by Stan Faryna
    Mitch Joel

    Content is the starter. There's good starters and great starters. The latter is a ubiquitous, moveable feast a la a mash-up of Hemingway and Web 2.0. Likewise, there is good conversation and great. The latter insists on a good hand-off (offs - not jobs!) from the content to the conversation.

    Reply
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