AOL taking its lead from Demand Media

Business Insider hit the news with LEAKED: AOL’s Master Plan. The master plan sounds eerily like what’s going on at Demand Media. They leaked the entire master plan. Details of the plan leaked by Business Insider include:

AOL is using this document to train editors right now. It is an illuminating look into how AOL, a company with hundreds of millions in dollars in annual funding, is trying to turn itself into a 21st century media giant on the fly.

Some tidbits:

As a result of AOL’s new policy, Paul Miller decided to leave Engadget after five years as an editor there. He explained his last day at Engadget in Leaving AOL. I wrote about my almost-relationship with Demand Media in Changes at Google will Reduce Spammy Search Engine Results. AOL seems to be following in Demand Media’s footsteps in their attempts to rake in financial gain with volumes and volumes of content. Notice I didn’t say quality content.

Content Farms vs. Content Strategy

Compare that with the goings on at A List Apart, that bastion of web quality, where they are preparing to publish their third book: The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane. I suspect that Erin’s approach to what good content is and what a content strategy that will sustain a business should look like doesn’t sound exactly like AOL’s master plan. In fact, I contacted Erin and asked her what she thought about this move by AOL. Here’s her response.

AOL’s current editorial strategy seems related to their old marketing tactics from the early 90s, when they indiscriminately flooded the mail with all those install CDs. They’re competing with content factories like Demand Media and, to some extent, the Huffington Post, and they’re trying to win by cranking out reams of SEO-ed up content with no real substance.

Contrast that with the notion of giving readers and viewers content that they genuinely want and need that drives publications ranging from web pubs like A List Apart or The Awl to international print brands like The Economist. Those publications are successful because they’re producing things people can use, rather than useless fluff that will only make it harder to find content of substance.

Where this touches content strategy as it’s practiced in a UX context is the decision to publish a limited amount of useful, well written content vs. a huge volume of search-engine bait or content designed to “feed the beast” of blogging and social media. Unless you really want to join the content mills as they race toward complete crap, it’s pretty clear that focusing on user needs and editorial quality produces much better results.

Crap Overload

Part of the overload we are faced with today is an abundance of cheap crap. But the problem is, people willingly consume cheap crap. That’s why there are so many more reality shows than quality scripted dramas like Mad Men or The Good Wife. It’s cheap to produce, and people are willing to consume it. The problem isn’t just that there are content farms churning out cheap crap. There’s also the willingness of the search engines to reward sites that produce it and willingness from readers to consume that sort of content. Like reality shows, content farms make money. As long as the cheap crap brings in a profitable bottom line, we’ll see more and more of it produced.

The New York Times talked about teens leaving long form writing behind and moving to Twitter. The reason? It’s too much work to write something long. Extrapolate that into it’s too much work to read something long, or something deep, or something meaningful.

Is that it? Is it just too much effort to do quality work, or to invest quality thinking into what you’re consuming? If that’s it, I think we’re doomed.

Are you old enough to remember the days when we scoffed at anything “Made in China” as being worthless junk? Well, China has since surpassed us in many ways, including education. Is “Content Produced in the USA” going to be a joke before long?

For Twitter Newbies

twitter bird

I’ve written many articles at eHow about Twitter. Since there are still many Twitter newbies out there who don’t understand the basics of how it works, here are some of those eHow articles:

This slidedeck from a talk I did called Twitter for Writers can also give you a few Twitter basics.

Stuff from here and there


I found a cool spider on my rose bush. @goodwitch knew what it was.

Previously unmentioned by me here at Web Teacher are two posts at BlogHer from the last couple of days. The first was Gmail’s New Priority Inbox. The second was Two Decades of Women, a personal essay that has nothing to do with tech, Internet, web education or teaching.

At eHow, these articles have been getting the traffic:

Better the second time around

What’s hot here on Web Teacher?

What about some of the other stuff that I write? A couple of items published as the TGB Elder Geek are worth a second look.

At eHow, these articles are getting some attention.

At BlogHer, these articles are hot.

What’s hot on eHow

Here are my hottest sellers  on eHow in the past month.

How to Videos & Articles:

You can explore all my articles at eHow by starting at my profile page.

Most of what I’ve posted at eHow is in the Internet category, there are a few odd bits that don’t fit into that category.

Learning from the top bloggers

Oh, I know The Bloggess isn’t for everyone. She’s profane and outrageous. She’s offensive in so many ways. She’s also funnier than Robin Williams and extremely successful at blogging.

One of the hints you get when you read tips for being a better blogger is to summarize your posts in a weekly roundup. Another tip is to point out your most popular posts. I do remember to do those things every once in a while. I’m not very organized about it, but I remember once in a while.

The Bloggess writes in more than one place on the web (as I do). So she publishes a weekly summary of “shit-I-was-doing-when-I-wasn’t-here.” This feels like another edict from on high from a successful blogger: tell people about all the other stuff you’ve been doing.

In that spirit, my aim today is remind you off all the stuff-I-do-here-and-there-on-the-web.

  • WaSP InterAct Curriculum. This is a web standards based curriculum produced by a worldwide volunteer group of experts from education, business, and many web related fields. It is freely available for use in education and business. Some courses are available now. More will be available in March. Several members of this group are working on a book.
  • eHow. This how-to site is home to several hundred articles  of mine explaining all sorts of web related things in step by step fashion. I’m approaching a million page views at eHow, which is possibly a greater readership than I have anywhere else.
  • First 50 Words. In a past life, I taught writing. I wrote some books about teaching writing. I embrace a technique called “writing practice” which calls for writing about any topic whatsoever. Most days of the week, I create a writing prompt for writing practice and post it at First 50 Words. I write about the topic and invite readers to write about it as well.
  • BlogHer. I’m one of several Contributing Editors at BlogHer who write about technology and the Internet. I haven’t counted the number of posts I have at BlogHer, but I’m sure the number is in the hundreds now. For purposes of comparison, I’ve posted about 1000 writing prompts at First 50 Words and have over 1300 posts here at Web Teacher.
  • TGB Elder Geek. TGB is Time Goes By. It’s a blog about what it’s really like to get older. There are so many elder bloggers who read Time Goes By that I was asked to write some geeky posts aimed at elders. Those posts aren’t much different from any other basic technical post I write.
  • I mostly ignore my home domain. Recently I reworked it to reflect more of what I do now, and pared it down to about three pages of information. First time I’ve revised the material there in years. You can find a few more tidbits about me there, such as presentations I’ve done, books, and links to some stories.

There it is: stuff-I-do-here-and-there-on-the-web. With a tip of the hat to The Bloggess.