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Hypergene MediaBlog » AOL's new Social Media approach

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Friday, 18 Oct 2002

AOL's new Social Media approach

During a Tech Tips segment of NPR’s Tavis Smiley Show on last night, Omar Wasow, executive director of, revealed one of AOL’s new goals with it’s latest 8.0 release - using their content to increasing the number of effective connections between their 35 million subscribers.

Here’s what Omar said, when talking about the new components of AOL’s 8.0:
“The other kind of thing you’ll see in (AOL’s) focus is a shift to what they’re calling ‘Social Media,’ where rather than just putting up an article, they are really going to try and put up article and make sure that it connects you to conversations about that article. So that, for example, it’s easier now on AOL to find another person who wants to chat about a topic you’re interested in chatting about.

“One of the big complaints about the older version of AOL was that while one of the primary things people were doing was kind of talking to people who shared their interests, it actually wasn’t that easy to find those other people. So, they’re trying to make it easier to connect and to go from a piece of content to conversations about that content.” (Audio time stamp 2:43-3:22/6:08 - Hear the RealAudio file)

AOL’s previous focus was on content as a vehicle for aggregating a mass audience to sell advertising. They appear, if Omar’s comments hold true, to be endorsing the concept that content (news and information) is a fundamental driver of online community, and thus, meaningful experiences and long-term loyalty.

AOL’s term “Social Media” is used to describe interpersonal communication through email, chat, message boards. Our weblog’s focus, “Participatory Journalism,” is meant to describe the content and intent of that communication. If AOL’s social media approach takes off, this could amplify the amount of participatory journalism in which their community engages.

Recommendations: This move by AOL should concern news media organizations, who often put their online content in a vault, barred from comment and discussion. Many online news media segregate community away from the news. This makes it difficult for people to connect with conversations suiting their interest. And if weblogs and online communities have tought us anything, it’s that news media must enable readers to develop conversations around the news. Or else their audience seek it elsewhere.

Related: In his book Design for Community, Derek Powazek has three simple rules for a site to have good, positive conversations. Rule No. 1 - Tie content directly to community. News media looking to understand how to do this right should read Derek’s book. Also see the book’s companion site for additional insights.

Disclosure: We have not yet downloaded and tested AOL 8.0 - which is not yet available for Mac, which is our platform of choice. We’ll find a PC soon and give it a test drive to see how they are deploying their social media approach.

Posted on Oct 18, 2002 | 11:59 am EST
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