AOL buys Huffington Post, kills quality content as we know it

Once again, AOL makes a questionable purchase of a major website. Cringely can't wait to see how this one turns out

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Similarly, the Huffington Post gets its most of its content for free from people who hope it will help them promote their own "brands" or sites or what have you. The rest is churned out by staffers, 90 percent of whom merely regurgitate stuff actual reporters have written. I can't see that write-for-us-for-free model lasting much longer, now that Arianna has stuffed her Gucci bag with AOL bucks.

What this deal reminds me of more than anything is, yes, when AOL merged with Time Warner back in 2000, possibly the most brain-dead tech deal ever conceived.

At the time, it was all about the numbers. AOL had 33 million subscribers (though it turns out at least a quarter of them were still burning up those "45 hours free" discs AOL used to carpet the planet). In those naïve pre-Facebook days, that was the biggest number you could find on the Net. Thanks to the dot-com boom, AOL had a ridiculously inflated share price that allowed it to be the purchaser and Time Warner the purchasee. More important: Time Warner possessed exactly zero clues about the Internet and AOL's place in it (marginal and slipping fast, respectively).

Today it's still about the numbers. Combined, AOL and Huffpo will have 117 million unique visitors domestically and 270 million worldwide every month. Armstrong loves them digits:

The Huffington Post is core to our strategy and our 80:80:80 focus – 80% of domestic spending is done by women, 80% of commerce happens locally and 80% of considered purchases are driven by influencers.

So that means that everything will automatically be, like, 240 percent better, right? And then there's this amazing insight Armstrong shared with the New York Times: "I think this is going to be a situation where 1 plus 1 equals 11."

It's amazing what you can do with numbers if you really try. Especially if you've had a few 'shrooms.

Here's another number: In addition to reading articles churned out like ballpark franks, you'll also get to spend more time watching ads, thanks to AOL's "innovative Project Devil ad unit [which engages] users for 27 seconds longer than traditional display ads." Charming.

This might be good for AOL's bottom line, and we know Arianna is laughing all the way to the bank. The rest of us, though, not so much.

To recap: More content, driven by search keywords and produced by sweatshop labor, seasoned with generous amounts of advertising and served up in a goulash. That's the shiny, new future of AOL. In a way, it feels like not much has changed.

Are 1 and 1 really 11, or does somebody need to stop eating those blue meanies? Post your thoughts below or email me:

This article, "AOL buys Huffington Post, kills quality content as we know it" was originally published at Track the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringeley's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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