AOL has a packed mausoleum of successful products that dropped dead. In the beginning, they had a monopoly on internet access. Then they had the absolute hottest social app, Instant Messenger (IM). Now, the company is driving up a WRONG WAY and heading for a head-on collision with their online content.
IMHO, there are two camps of companies on the web. The first are those who understand where the web is headed. The other camp is full of those who want to keep jamming old square models into circular holes. The perfect example of the latter is AOL's new strategy to annoy readers with more big and disruptive ads.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the new ads will be "roughly four times as large as the ads that typically appear on the border of AOL Web pages." That means four times less valuable content (the user wanted) and four times more billboard in your face.
A quick look at the screenshot to the left exemplifies the stupidity of large ads. You tell me where the value is for the user. Personally, as soon as these things pop up I surf away. There are too many options for getting content. I don't need to have a horrible user experience to get it.
Moreover, this screenshot represents the OLD internet. On that internet, users had very little choice regarding content and format. On the NEW internet, there are RSS feeds, reader apps, plugins to block ads, and many more cool ways to have a valuable user experience on the web. The companies that will dominate the web in the future are those that understand how to deliver value to both users and advertisers. Companies that offer the garbage to the left as "custom, high impact ads" to advertisers will see the high impact on their readership -- in the WRONG DIRECTION.
Media thought leader Larry Kramer has a new book that AOL execs must read now: C-Scape: Conquer the Forces Changing Business Today. Larry offers excellent case studies showing that winning companies think about current and future user behavior, not old behaviors which were limited because of nascent technological capacities.
In this case, AOL once again proves they are out of touch with how to turn an awesome user-base into a sustainable business. If the captains of AOL's ship continue destroying their own user experience and asset value, I recommend getting out of their car.
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