AOL blogs!

AOL blogs!

: Yes, AOL will blog.

Yesterday, I was one of a privileged council of blogging elders — Meg Hourihan, Nick Denton, Anil Dash, Clay Shirky — invited to see AOL’s new blogging tools, which will be released later this year.

They’ve done a good job.

The demo was going to be off-the-record, but because the opinion grinders in the room didn’t turn the team into mincemeat — reaction started with “this doesn’t suck” (noted as high praise indeed), and quickly elevated to “they have a clue,” and ended with “good job” — and because one of the AOL team blogged it already — the blogag was lifted (and, boy it feels good to get that AOL squishy ball out of my mouth).

: The most impressive feature: You’ll be able to blog from IM (which includes AOL from your phone). That elicited many oohs from the room.

: The smartest feature: They are starting right off publishing every weblog in RSS/XML. That shows that they are paying attention to the world outside fortress AOL. That and the fact that they are eager for Technorati et al to spider their blogs. That and the fact that they invited us outsiders in to give them a critique. They know that to be successful, AOL’s blogs need to be part of the larger blog world.

: Now before we go any farther, allow me a moment to dare to lecture the blogging community: For us to be successful, we also need AOL’s blogs to be part of our world.

I don’t want to hear us get snotty and snippy about AOL’s entry into the blogosphere. I’ve already heard whispers that “AOL will ruin blogging.” But those who think that are not dissing AOL; they are dissing AOL’s millions of members. And that is a mistake.

If we are eager for Iraqis and Iranians to blog, we certainly should be eager for AOLers to blog. The more the better.

There’s no need for concern that this will crowd and clutter the blogging world. You’ll never see Aunt Esther’s cat blog if no one you know ever links to it. That is precisely what makes weblogs a quality- and interest-driven medium. As Clay Shirky and I told them yesterday: It isn’t content until it’s linked.

And you can be sure that there will be blogs of interest that we will see only because AOL made these tools available to its huge audience. That is good.

: AOL has an interesting internal challenge positioning this next to its homepage tool and even its member profiles (which some people use as a quasiblog).

They’ve decided to call the product AOL Journals and thus, position it as a community tool (read: LiveJournal) more than a publishing tool (read: Movable Type). The word “blog” is only part of the subtitle.

That’s wise. Community is what built the AOL empire.

: But AOL — and every other online business — also has a strategic challenge to make sure that they stay ahead of where weblogs are headed. There will be no end of uses for these things.

Weblogging tools are nothing but publishing tools: history’s fastest, easiest, cheapest publishing tools with history’s greatest distribution network.

Today, they are used in one or more of four ways:

> Community: LiveJournal et al let people communicate; my space talks to your space.

> Content: Weblogs like this one, Instapundit, Gawker, Lost Remote, IWantMedia, etc. are just nanopublishing ventures.

> Marketing: Consultants, venture capitalists, law firms, and others use them to show how smart they are. If I had a restaurant, I’d use weblog tools to put up my daily specials.

> Personal space: Very soon, weblogs will be used to organize your stuff and your life. AOL webloggers will certainly use them to publish photos for family and the world to see. I see a family weblog as a way to communicate and stay in sync.

Weblogs will get more and better tools — publishing tools (for video, audio, photos, etc.) and also data tools (such as the amazing Technorati, which facilitates the conversations that weblogs really are).

In short: Soon, everyone will have a weblog because everyone will use weblogging tools of one sort or another to store or share their stuff — whether that stuff is opinions or pictures or school assignments or shopping lists or church calendars (my son just rebuilt our church website around a weblog).

There’s a much, much bigger strategy here. What AOL showed was only the first of many phases that should follow. The same is true for Movable Type and Blogger and (which just converted itself to MT) and any wise ISP, not to mention content companies, commerce companies, and software companies.

: The real point: Ultimately, your content is more valuable than professional content.

Anil and I got excited lecturing these AOL-Time-Warner megolith folks that what they should do is give their bloggers back doors into the otherwise fenced-off content of People et al — as the New York Times is doing with bloggers, allowing them to link directly even to archived stories. That might sound like heresy, treating the expensive People gossip as a commodity. But the truth is — repeat: the truth is — that by creating such a back door, AOL would cleverly be turning its audience into its marketing force: AOL bloggers would be the privileged ones who can show you People content (thus selling AOL subs) and if their readers want to see more, they have to buy the magazine (thus selling magazine subs). Now that is synergy.

You see, the magnet that creates that marketing power is the people’s content. I’ve learned well in my online career that the audience’s content is valuable and the audience is your best marketer if you allow the audience to be the star.

Starting weblogs allows the audience to create content and to market and to create value.

That’s why it’s a big deal that AOL is blogging. They’ve taken a good first step. But it’s just a first step.

  • mog

    That’s good news that AOL is off on the right foot, working on a decent blog tool at the outset and soliciting input from the blogging community, admittedly, the top guns of the blogging community.
    Personally, I link blogs cause of their content not what software is used to publish it. I expect most others to do the same. If the tool works and looks good, so much the better. I agree we should welcome AOL into the blog community.

  • Who do I need to talk to at AOL to get this Technorati relationship started?!? Sounds awesome.

  • button

    AOL has had blogging for quite a while, but not the standard kind of blogger, movable type, etc.
    My extended family has a family weblog with them through their entity My Family.
    So it wasn’t really a big jump for them to get into this area of the activity.
    I doubt that I’ll switch from blogger to their version.
    Will there be interesting content? Yes, probably some, because some of the members have developed their hompage hobby into a real “niche.” There is one lady, for example, who reviews some genre of books, as I recall.
    I don’t know about any of you, but I sometimes surf through some young people’s blogs and then surf through their links. After a while, much of their content seems pretty unremarkable. I’m not trying to intrude into their privacy. I’m looking for certain kinds of human interest stories. But even if much of the content of the AOL weblogs is routine stuff about pop music and standard cultural iconography, there should be some people with niche enthusiasms that might interest other people.

  • button

    David Sifry:
    Kathy K and I have just come across a group of “pop-muslim” youngsters who are associated with a female Phd candidate. She has mentioned on her weblog something about a PORTAL project. I think this is your cup of tea, and you should check it out:
    I hope I copied that correctly because I didn’t bookmark it, I just wrote it down.

  • joy

    I agree with button in that we’re going to see similar participation rates with AOL Journals as there are with the AOL Homepages. I’m sure there will be some gems amongst the rough, but I don’t see masses of AOLers journaling.
    I’ve noticed through my work that people who tend to stay with the service, do so because they’re familiar with what it has to offer (i.e. parental controls, filing cabinet, etc.) and because of the community. But there are lots of communities on AOL (games, chat) and this will just be one of them.
    Also, I just wanted to note that the profile feature (where you can lookup usernames based on geography, interests, etc.) is actually used by a small percentage of users.

  • Right on brother – tell it like it is.
    I can’t wait for the AOL reviews to come pouring into our open servers – or the conversations that can happen – starting in IM, migrating to message boards and ending up as re-entrant, stored threads.
    Blogs and journals are just the first popular form of micro-content. Let’s help create some more!

  • With AOL involved, I supposed we’re going to see the rise of one-handed blogging.
    Should be interesting.

  • Now this is a BUZZ! I wrote about this last year in
    Congratz to AOL for getting it. I am sure they will be ‘getting some’ now.

  • This opens up a lot of doors for the blogging community. I can’t help but predict that in a short while, because weblogging and journaling is such a hit, that AOL commercials will explain weblogging as a feature of their software and ISP plan.
    That exposure alone, making “blog” a common household term, will increase the amount of bloggers vastly. Technorati’s watched list of blogs will shoot up drastically, probably well over the 1,000,000 mark.
    With AOL’s huge user base, you can’t help but see the possibility for more understanding. And, like many of you have said, there is’nt a huge harm, because a blog isn’t content until it’s linked to and discovered. Standards of excellince won’t die simply because more people join in, they’ll most likely become more strict if anything.
    I’m very excited about this. It opens up such a foreign aspect to a world of people looking to do what most commercial software blog users do now, but quickly, easily, and cheaply. It’s a step in the right direction, and the understanding about the Social Software world it will bring is and will be remarkably evident.

  • It seems to me that there is some sort of disconnect here. On the one hand, blogging is supposed to make traditional journalism extinct. On the other hand, traditional news sites need to make their content open to links.
    Blogging is wonderful. But let’s not kid ourselves. If we didn’t have traditional sources to link to, it would be a pretty dull blogging universe.
    The last time I checked, The NY Times was still the site with the most links pointing to it. So apparently, traditional publishing isn’t dead yet.

  • I think this project will have been initiated the day after Google bought Blogger, and the business world finally realised that there might be something in making internet publishing interesting and easy for everyone.
    Content is important, but so is personality.
    If content was all that mattered people would go directly to the source… blogs are good at summarising news and monitoring fast moving or specialist areas but often lack perspective and depth. This is normally made up for by someone being interesting in their own right.
    I think more people (via AOL) will mean more diversity and more depth, both of which are needed if endless repitition and cliques are to be avoided.
    The Blog This! function is an example of a useful tool making one blogging package more attractive than another but I am not sure it will work if media groups try to fence off their content from people using Google and/or Blogger.
    In my opinion Typepad/MT are setting the pace and Blogger has the Google effect… If I were AOL I’d buy Six Apart, before someone else does.

  • Amusingly, I’ve been calling Blog*Spot the AOL of Blogging for some time now. This could get confusing!

  • One percent of 35 million AOL users is a big bump in the current blogging community. The uptake may be higher. More…

  • Having destroyed Usenet, what remains for AOL than to destroy the web?

  • I’m beginning to think that the most important feature of blogs is the linking itself, meaning both in the sense of going to a blog with the hope of being sent to interesting content more than for the writing on the blog itself, and using one’s own blog, even if it has low or no readership, as primarily a compendium of everywhere you’ve been on the internet. Infromation organization is the main thing. I think the next phase for blogging will be one in which millions and millions of people have weblogs and use them as true “logs” more than anything else, as a more sophisticated way to list, map, and interrelate information, more so than as a tool to write and publish. The Google/Pyra Labs group then would seem to have the most tools at their disposal to come through with some breakthrough in this arena, but so far they’ve disappointed. Paul Boutin wrote a really good column on this.

  • Agree with Phil. You don’t even need a credit card to get on AOL. 3 million kids and seven adults will start blogs. I’m not snooty about it. I’m a realist.

  • jbm

    3 million kids and seven adults will start blogs. I’m not snooty about it. I’m a realist.
    The fear that AOL will just overrun everything is reasonable, but Imminent Death of Whatever AOL Touches has been a long running Net meme, and yet the Web is still here. Where I think the AOL Journal product might have some value is that something more interesting might emerge from it than the endless navel-gazing the “weblog industry” is addicted to. It’s getting really boring.

  • You ain’t seen boring yet, but you’re fixing to.

  • As one of the co-founders of, a new blog community that enables members to post with AIM and Yahoo Messenger, the proposition of AOL getting in is scary but long anticipated. AOL can become an instant leader in the blog space if only 5% of their members use it, but in short, we feel the Internet is a lot bigger than AOL, and that AOL Journal is likely to see very low-quality content from its users.
    Who knows what the service will ultimately look like, but I am confident that those of us that specialize in blogging will continue to push the innovations that make it an appealing medium – not AOLTW.
    I posted some more thoughts on this on one of our members blogs, who linked me to yours:

  • I’m gald that AOL is coming up with a weblog, this will give people a chance to express themselves freely and it will also give people something to do on the internet and something to look foward to. The only complication is the price, now the comment that was made about it will ruin blogging, that’s not necessarily true, most people are not willing to pay for a weblog. Just like dead journal and live journal people have slowly moved away from them because of there cost, yes it might not be much but it’s still money and people are tight when it comes to money and spending money on a weblog would not be most peoples forte. I think that this was a good idea but if it comes to pricing, I think it should be that you should have more features if you pay but it’s for everyone to use and if people chose to get the free service they get some of the features, or it could be like dead journal, to get them established they started out with the free service and then they started charging, but the people with free service still get to use there dead journal. However, AOL is already established, whether it be bad or good, they are still established and thats all that matters.

  • Forgive my ignorance – but how exactly is the NYT allowing bloggers to link to archived stories? Where do I sign up?

  • ESC

    You’re not ignorant. I raised the question myself back in early June. Which now that I think of it might mean we’re both ignorant. But I don’t think so.
    It was an idea that Dave Winer proposed to the NYTimes for UserLand users. Last I heard it was still under consideration – and only applied to bloggers using that tool. See Scripting News June 2 post.
    Not sure if that’s the latest though. A little help?

  • anonymous

    Nembis ( is seems to have already figured this part out:
    “Personal space: Very soon, weblogs will be used to organize your stuff and your life. AOL webloggers will certainly use them to publish photos for family and the world to see. I see a family weblog as a way to communicate and stay in sync.

  • The really awesom possibilities of AOL Journals will arise from presence-enabling and IM-enbaling blogs. Knowing that “boydstowe” — my AIM screenname — is online right now when you read this comment, might lead you to directly contact me to clarify or expand. And of course, if AOL ‘gets it’ (like Dave and the other distinguished blogheads said that they do) then AOL will begin to add functionality incestuously, so that AOL chats can be directly posted to blogs (which I already read about elsewhere).
    I recommend that TypePad and Blogger (and the other pure play blog companies start figuring how to incorporate IM technologies ASAP.

  • Getting in on this a little late…but I agree with Stowe 100%. The REALLY interesting direction of IM/blog integration is not posting from IM (which may be nice to have, but is redundant — what with web, email and moblogging already making posting easy as pie), but rather receiving IM alerts/feeds from the blogs you follow, including your own, not to mention member-to-member IM’ing in a hosted community setting.

    If anyone is interested in experiencing what this might be like, I invite you to experiment with motime( Disclaimer: I am project leader for motime. Having said that, it IS cool… ;-)