You’ve Got Bail

7 02 2011

Rarely does a product or service become so deeply ingrained in the pop culture of a society that it joins the lexicon of everyday speech. Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign struck a nerve in the 90s, and it became a catchphrase for anyone admonishing someone to seize the moment. Any moment.

And we cannot overlook brand names that become verbs, such as Google and Facebook. We do these things so many times each day that, from a technical and legal view point, the brand name has blurred to the point of being generic.

But there is one other recent cultural signpost that, for the last decade or so, has been run over and beaten into the ground. Once cliche, and perhaps even a little bit romantically hopeful to those hearing it (especially on the silver screen), “You’ve Got Mail” went from being AOL’s calling card to nails in its coffin.

But all that may be changing. The daffodil of vernal hope has popped out of the ground, showing its green protuberance above the glistening snow of change. Once derided for being synonymous with dial-up internet (“What’s that?” my 20-year-old students ask) and mired in old-school thinking, AOL’s acquisition of the Huffington Post for $315 million may very well be the bail it needed to spring itself from the prison of techno-obsolescence.

AOL has quietly been trying to reinvent itself. After its failed marriage to Time (2000-2009), AOL has been cobbling together an impressive array of content-based services, including Engadget, TechCrunch, and Patch (which provides local news to residents coast-to-coast).

Which is another way of saying that AOL no longer sees itself as internet provider (those days are over), but rather as a content-driven media company that also happens to offer email services. All of this is ad-driven, of course, so the monetization scheme is sound. It’s all about eyeballs, and with HuffPost (a top 10 news and current events site) in its stable, that amounts to a lot of potential advertising impressions.

And with AOL’s foray into local content, I can see yet another reason why local news media had better be looking for ways to ensure their own survival. The money and management of AOL may provide the HuffPost with the oomph it needs to truly cover all news, not just things of national and global import. Add in the Patch.com venture, and suddenly the mediascape is spinning like a carousel without any brakes.

That the HuffPost could even ascend to this level is a story in itself. It arose as a liberal response to the Drudge Report. More than anything, it attests to the changes afoot in how news is distributed, and the rise of the citizen journalist phenomenon.

But from AOL’s perspective, they are now Phoenix rising from the ashes, wings flapping and gaining altitude. It’s almost something to email to everyone on your contact list.

Dr “Thanks, But I’ve Got All The Mail I Need” Gerlich

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