Huffington Post Sold to AOL. Really.

As the news broke last night about the huge purchase of Huffington Post to America Online for $315 Million, I have to say I was quite disappointed. In fact, I think there are many who are.

Huffington Post, one of the top 10 stops on the internet for News and Current Events was purchased yesterday in a move that some foresee as putting AOL back on top and others as watching Huff Post crumble. I, being a cynic, am in the latter group.

For many of us, we “grew up” internet wise with America Online. They were known as “the internet on training wheels” for many, offering up a dial-in service (and later broadband access) to exclusive content, games and information. At the top of their game, they were almost like ‘Facebook’ where people could keep in touch through message boards, chat rooms, interactive gaming and of course, their iconic “You’ve Got Mail” e-mail.

However, something happened to the giant around the early to mid 2000’s. They stopped offering their content exclusively, moved everything out to the world wide web where everyone could access it, and did away with their Community Leader program, which was, in fact, crucial to it’s persona. The Community Leaders of yore helped bring in user driven content, provided what was once a personal experience on the web and got more users involved. AOL went mainstream, with the help of their newly merged company Time Warner. They sold out their exclusive content in lieu of advertising dollars. They rid of their personalization and user-driven network in order to drive up commercial revenue. They did away with their software, their membership dues, to become a giant www conglomerate.

The people didn’t take to it. Their user base dropped dramatically. Their AOL inboxes were nothing but SPAM. The personal experience they had once felt became anonymous web surfing. The older generation, who found it simple to get on the web with the American Online software was now lost in the vast internet sea. America Online crumbled, and people were going elsewhere. It was a huge mistake on their part, one of which I doubt they will ever admit. How they continued on is a mystery as their revenue, reputation and influence dropped substantially.

Time Warner and America Online parted ways in 2009 in a move that many had hoped would bring AOL back on top. People hoped that America Online would return to what had made it great, being able to finally make it’s own decisions. This wasn’t to be the case.

After the split, America Online dropped it’s AIM ability for users to access AOL Chat rooms, a move that has seen a large dip in AIM patrons in the months since. It also acquired TechCrunch and Engadget, two premier sites offering reviews of all things technology. However what have those sites become? Well, according to the AOL CEO himself, Tim Armstrong, American Online wants those pages to be “story mills”… Pumping out search engine and profit optimized stories at a quick rate to make as much money from their advertisers as they can. Well, that’s great, but what about the reader? Can you trust the reviews? Is a bad review an advertisement for a different product flashing at you in the top banner? Is a good review with the relevant ad on the side a ploy? What was once great review sites that were dedicated to keeping users informed is now one large ad. It doesn’t appear America Online has changed it’s ways one bit.

Enter Huffington Post. The Huffington Post has always been a stop for me on the internet. The writers expressed their views on many different subjects and from many different angles. It was (somewhat) personal. It covered everything, from current events, politics, and Entertainment. It was a melting pot if you will of content. Will this change? Well, if America Online has anything to do with it, you bet it will. It may not change overnight, but change it will. Gone will be many of the premier writers you grew to enjoy. Gone will the honesty we sense in the writing. Stories will churn quickly, and profitability will be it’s goal. It just won’t be the same, no matter how much they try to tell you it will. I expect to see a lot more ads on my iPhone/iPad app soon. Course, that will most likely be the day it gets deleted.

As part of the deal, The Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington will be appointed president editor-in-chief of all of AOL’s content. She will not only run The Huffington Post, but will lead AOL’s news, tech, women, local, multicultural, entertainment video and community content businesses in an AOL entity that will be known as the Huffington Post Media Group. This will include MapQuest, AOL Music, AutoBlog, Patch, Engadget and TechCrunch.

However, we are also seeing the exit of some key people from Huffington, like CEO Eric Hippeau and Chief Revenue Officer Greg Coleman. We will also, eventually, see some, if not most, of the writers going by the wayside, guaranteed. Many of the big names will no longer contribute to the new conglomerate and wasn’t that the point of the whole thing to begin with? To hear angles on stories by some of your favorites? The personal experience has been squashed, in good ‘ol AOL fashion.

Arianna sold out, and it’s just a matter of time before everyone sees it, if they don’t already. In a blog statement by Arianna herself, as many of her longtime co-workers exit the building, she said “By combining HuffPost with AOL’s network of sites, thriving video initiative, local focus, and international reach, we know we’ll be creating a company that can have an enormous impact, reaching a global audience on every imaginable platform.” That may be true, for the moment.

AOL now claims that the combined entity reaches 117 million unique visitors per month in the U.S. and 270 million worldwide. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong says the new organization will be “a next-generation American media company” focused on content, community and social experiences.

What he should of said was the organization will be a last-generation American media company, focused on money, advertising and social spam. It is known as the “Aol Way”, which AOL CEO Armstrong actually called it when training the new writers and Editors of TechCrunch. The training included teaching these contributors to boost traffic by 5 to 10% with search ads and other ‘paid media’ and editors should decide to produce content based on ‘the profitability consideration.’

Yes, I’m a cynic, can you tell? However when you look at the current giant, Facebook, it’s all about personal experience, lack of in your face spam, and belonging. AOL has a history of squashing that, and therefore, the Huff Post receives an “outlook not so good” on my trusty 8-ball. Matter of fact, the same theory is beginning to set in over at Facebook as well, and it may well be the downfall of that giant soon. Selling your information, privacy breeches, more advertising… Facebook could learn a few things from the failures of the big boys, but will they see it before it’s too late?

What we didn’t touch on in this article is the changes to come in the content of The Huffington Post. Do you think we will see what is now a left-leaning slant begin a directional shift? America Online is known to be by many as right-leaning. How will these companies mesh? I guess we wait and see.

What do you think? Will you keep stopping at The Post, or is that bookmark already no longer in your faves? Leave us a comment and let us know!

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