Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 11, 2012 4:30 PM

The Most Amazing Internet Stock Of The Year

What do you think it is?

I'm a huge fan of Business Insider. I can't think of any other media organizations that writes headlines as good as they do (Business Insider, if you're reading this, pay your copywriters handsomely... they're doing everything right). My daily email newsletter from them is always chock full of linkbaity headlines that get me clicking and clicking. This one, from yesterday, was one of them: And The Most Amazing Internet Stock In The Past Year Is... So, who do you think it was? LinkedIn? Apple? eBay? Priceline? Nope... it was AOL.

Called it.

Not really. I didn't call it. I didn't invest in AOL. And, if you click over to the Business Insider article, you can see the nice organic jumps and strides AOL made this year. That being said, I've been a massive fan of AOL since Tim Armstrong took over as CEO and Chairman in 2009. I'm not saying this because I'm a contributor to The Huffington Post (which AOL bought in 2011 for over $300 million) or because I have any kind of personal relationship with Tim Armstrong (I don't). I'm saying this because I believe that Armstrong, Arianna Huffington and everyone else at AOL is building an interesting canopy of online properties that are diverse enough to give them a unique position in the new media landscape.

Breaking the rules.

I don't think that AOL is necessarily breaking any new rules. I think they are, fundamentally, applying a very traditional media strategy to the Internet. They are buying and building properties, creating compelling editorial, building audiences and selling advertising on top of it all. There are sprinkles of newer thinking (like when The Huffington Post launched their GPS For The Soul app) and I'm hopeful that they can leverage everything they have with The Huffington Post coupled with their acquisition of Patch to crack the code on local (and hyper-local) content. There will be challenges in monetizing their current strategy as the world becomes increasingly more smartphone and tablet enabled. Advertising on these devices is still nascent and the formula doesn't seem to be as effective as it is when compared to Internet advertising. So, this will be no cake walk, but - to date - I've been a big fan.

It's what other media properties wished they had done.

You have to figure that The New York Times would love to have been the ones to have these types of properties that AOL now has in their portfolio. And let's not kid ourselves, it's not just The New York Times. Look at any kind of traditional publisher or broadcaster from newspaper, magazine, television and radio (there was a reason that Time Warner merged under the name AOL Time Warner in 2000 - even though that deal went south for a plethora of reasons). AOL now covers a lot of digital space when it comes to content. They've come a long way from the days of inundating your mailbox with CD Roms.

It says something.

It says something about how we see the Internet. I'm sure if you surveyed some of the smartest people in Internet land, few of them would have guessed that AOL had performed this well. We keep our preconceived notions with us. We think that businesses (especially, big businesses) can't change. AOL isn't perfect (I'm quite certain the comments below will be laced with commentary about AOL and their mishaps). I'm sure AOL is no golden child. AOL still has a ways to go until they have a war-chest of cash like Apple. The point is that it's quickly becoming an interesting company (again) - especially in a world where we hold quality content in such high regard.

It's one to watch...whether you own the stock or not.

By Mitch Joel

Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Rian
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch,

    Long time reader, first time commenter :)

    I was surprised to read the sentence "I'm a huge fan of Business Insider". In fact, at first I thought it was sarcasm. I feel very differently about the site, so I'm very intrigued by your point of view, and would love to find out more.

    For one, you are the first person I have ever encountered who uses the word "linkbait" in a positive context. Beyond that, BI's horrible link policy and their practice of using "slideshows" for no other reason than to generade ad page views have given them quite a bad name in publishing - see, for example,

    I'm not bringing this up to start an argument on the Internet, I am genuinely interested in your opinion on this, and thought the topic of ad-centered vs. user-centered content production might make for an interesting topic to write about.


  • Posted by John Carlson
    Mitch Joel


    I'm also a noob to the blog. I have to begin by complimenting these great insights you've made. I feel that AOL, in my mind at least, has this stigma that prevents them from being taken seriously at all in a post Google world (maybe just in my ecology of the web 2.0, I dunno know). Midst this realization your post has elicited a question in my mind: what other companies maybe in the same mis-represented or stigmatic position? I literally laughed out loud at the cd-rom reference. I used a stack of those CD's (probably 6 months worth) to lift my alarm clock to face level while i was in college. As a tech fan, I had no problem leaving AOL behind in favor of companies I saw as developing much more "important" contributions to the future. You have made me not just re-think AOL, but a handful of companies. A second notion this post left me with was what an interesting position AOL's marketing left them in. It just didn't seem to me that as of, maybe, 2003 anybody under the age of 65 was taking AOL seriously. To see how they move forward may be material for a masters class in marketing bootstrap-pullupsmanship (although I'm sure it won't be called this, it should be). Thanks for a thoughtful post, and please keep up the excellent work on the podcast which I adore.

    John C.

  • Posted by Davey Moyers
    Mitch Joel

    I hadn't really thought much about AOL's business model, or their impact on the media, until this post. Come to think of it, I hadn't really thought about AOL as much of an asset in quite some time. I had no idea they were acquiring such a diverse stable of interesting properties. This was an eye-opener. I now realize I've been too focused on the obvious and need to cast a wider net. Or maybe not, since that's your job. You write, I'll read. Thanks!

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    Mitch Joel

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