When most people think about Aol, slow dial-up internet is the only thing that comes to mind. Most people are actually shocked to hear that the company still exists. After undoing the debacle that was the Time Warner – Aol merger most people thought they just faded into irrelevance and disappeared.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize a company with an obsolete technology as its core business isn’t going to continue to grow forever. Even when dial-up subscribers were its bread and butter, Aol created original content. They were a walled garden years before Facebook. You could either use an ISP that gave you access to the internet, or use AOL and get the internet PLUS original Aol content! I guess this approach made sense at the time. They added value for the customer through original content, which was useful because in the early days of search engines it wasn’t always easy to find information out there on the web.
Fast forward a decade later and they are now a content company that just happens to have a base of a few million dial-up subscribers. I don’t remember their original content being that great to begin with, but obviously no one asked me. In a key distinction from the content farms that clog up search results with keyword laden, but poor quality content, Aol is going to hire an unpaid army of bloggers. Hoping to hire nearly 8,000 bloggers in just eight days, AOL will have an army of free labor to produce content around the clock. This is of course, after they unceremoniously fired most of their paid ones.
Aol is also bolstering its media empire with high profile acquisitions. Back in February, they paid $315 million for the Huffington Post. This is only the most recent in a series of acquisitions where Aol has spent billions. In fact, in the very first acquisition ever made, they acquired an ISP that eventually turned into dial-up era Aol.
Originally I thought Aol was just struggling to stay relevant and spending boatloads of cash to do so. It turns out they have been doing it all along. Throughout its history, the company has been constantly spending tons of cash to stay on top and it seems to be working. My guess would be that these guys aren’t going away any time soon.