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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

June 3, 2010 at 11:12 AM

D8: AOL boss on local push, chasing clicks and Bebo

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. — AOL was overly focused on a few metrics — gross revenue and page views — according to Tim Armstrong, who left Google to become AOL’s chief executive last year.

Now the venerable portal is remaking itself, in part by developing a sort of digital newspaper with local coverage and ad sales in cities across the country.

In an interview with Kara Swisher at the All Things Digital Conference, Armstrong explained how he’s rebuilding the Web company and pushing to build local news portals in more than 65 cities. Earlier in his career he was a marketing executive at Starwave in Bellevue.

“I think it’s bringing together journalism and technology,” he said.

The company is going into towns and “digitizing” them by assembling a collection of local Web sites and assigning a full-time reporter to add local coverage. It’s also offering new systems for local advertisers, he said.

“We’re more focused on journalism in general, which is how do you figure out what people’s needs are,” he said.

When he first joined AOL he found it was “managed on gross revenue and page views.” Chasing page views affected decisions the company made, such as “photo galleries with 80 photos” and the ill-fated acquisition of social networking site Bebo for $850 million in 2008.

Armstrong said Bebo’s now going to be sold or shut down.

Although AOL and Armstrong have history with Google, AO i’s reviewing which search engine to use when its search partnership with Google expires later this year.

“I think there’s probably more than two potential partners,” he said.

Swisher asked if AOL is still relevant and whether Armstrong can revive the brand, which is suffering the same sort of fate as MySpace.

“There is a warm fuzzy feeling about AOL for the vast majority of people who don’t work in our industry,” Armstrong said.

That brand is worth reviving, which the 4,700-person company has to do by showing people better services and products, he said.

“I believe AOL will be a very successful company in the future,” he said.

Comments | Topics: aol, D conference, D8

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