AOL has been on the receiving end of much negative press in the tech and marketing blogosphere over the last few weeks as the worldwide economic downturn continues to have ripple effects in the first tier advetising sector. I’m not immune to putting the heat on them either.
Amidst all of these reports, however, the press and bloggers are overlooking the very important moves AOL is making on two fronts these days: a better persona with a revamped home page and Platform-A.
1) New Homepage and More “Openness” Will Spur Better Social Web
A revised portal is nothing new for any online company or property (especially one that deals with a variety of front-end services like AOL). Before this most recent update late last month, it had been 18 months since AOL’s last front page revision. The web changed a great deal in those 18 months, moving to a much more social and interactive nature. For the most part, web users have become much more savvy and demanding in terms of seeing beyond walled-gardens. Even Facebook, the most walled-off garden of web2.0, has had to open-up with its app platform in order to sustain momentum.
So, it was not a huge surprise that AOL would allow for thrid party content such as GMail or Yahoo Mail access.
However, the innovative trick in all of this is that AOL is also helping to spur access (and perhaps innovation) among its users for services such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace through a global status update manager. We haven’t seen this sort of push towards the social from the large portal sites, so I’m hopeful that more people will come to experience and love services like Twitter because of their reliance on AOL.
Not to mention there is a built-in RSS reader.
We who are well-versed in the social media space often forget there is a “great unwashed mass” of humanity out there who has no clue what to do with Twitter or RSS. AOL could help change that and in the process change Twitter (and even RSS) for the better.
Bill Wilson, Executive Vice President of Programming, gave me an exclusive quote on the revamp of the homepage and how it relates to their vision for better marketing campaigns and metrics:
“As the Web becomes more fragmented, consumers want choice and relevance in their Web experiences. AOL.com is the first traditional big portal to offer access to popular social networking sites all in one place. Now consumers can connect with their numerous networks and information sources all from AOL.com.
We have already seen success by opening up AOL.com to other e-mail providers. We will continue to enhance the appeal of our portal with the changes we are making today by adding more relevant programming, customization opportunities, greater integration of third party content, improved design and access to social networks directly from AOL.com.”
“We are creating opportunities for advertisers to reach consumers through engaging and relevant content. As part of this redesign, there are more robust capabilities for advertisers including customized wallpapers, increased rich media capabilities, much deeper and richer content integration opportunities and more.
For example, a recent one-day advertisement for the new Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull DVD provided a chance for the advertiser to own the AOL.com homepage wallpaper for the day to reach consumers in a highly customizable and measurable way.”
I don’t see this as a replacement for iGoogle or NetVibes (or myAOL), but I do see the new AOL frontpage helping to push people towards those types of services as they develop an appreciation for the ability of the social web to both solve problems and provide community. Fascinating times we live in, folks.
2) Advertising.com / Platform-A / buy.at
I’ve long said that I’m bullish on AOL because of Platform-A. Simply put, I think they are doing things right across the board from large media buy type marketing down to direct performance marketing.
AOL has what every advertising company should be drooling for in terms of reach. As buy.at continues to be integrated with the overall AOL advertising family, I expect them to become leaders in our space. There’s no reason for them to fail at this point.
And with Platform-A’s reach across the globe with Advertising.com, the European ad company AdTech (not the conference), Quigo, and Tacoda to go along with buy.at, I expect AOL to come out of the global recession in fine shape.
If you’re somewhat unsure of the whole Platform-A experience, take a look at this video that the Platform-A team put together (plus, the video features one of my favorite songs…”Such Great Heights” from the Postal Service as the soundtrack… so they have good music taste as well).
At the end of the day, don’t count out AOL. The company is nostalgically synonymous with the internet in my mind (having been a teen in the mid-90’s and remembering the days of the ubiquitous AOL floppy) and given their push into the new social web as well as advertising, they could do very well at rekindling the magic.