General, Work

Why Arrington leaving AOL can hurt AOL Bad?

If you’re a TechCrunch fan, dude, you know what I mean. If you ain’t and this all sounds Greek to you – well, here’s a recap in a few words: There was a guy called Michael Arrington, who’s one of the most prolific bloggers/writers/entrepreneurs/VC investors in our current times (contrary to a few on the net who prefer calling him ‘an a-hole’ since chances are he ripped them apart in interviews or in his blogs), found a baby called TechCrunch in 2005, nourished the baby, changed diapers everyday, and when the baby grew up, he made a fatal mistake –  he sold it to a failed company called AOL; AOL said thanks to him by taking away editorial independence (which they had promised they wouldn’t at the time of acquisition, which is so synonymous to corporate culture in a few organizations) and screwing him back royally. End result – Royal spat between two heavy weights: Michael Arrington Vs. AOL, which has been going on forever now. Finally, Arrington was fired, then he resigned, he was then re-instated in another department, and then finally fired again…hmmmmmmm… pretty confusing, right? Even for me, who has been following this from day 1. 😦

I’m no expert, but here’s my brief overview of why and how Arrington leaving AOL could hurt AOL badly:

1. TechCrunch is not merely a website, or a blog. It’s a community. Created by some extremely passionate and talented writers and as the basic definition of Web2.0 says, ‘the power of a blog lies in its inherent quality of posts’ which often gets translated into quantitative figures like fans, followers, subscribers and traffic. Qualitatively as a brand and fan following. Besides being the founder, one of the co-editors and perhaps being the ‘father figure of TechCrunch’, it was Arrington who used to add the ‘X’ factor to TechCrunch. With him gone, am sure, though the other panel of writers is equally good, but over time, the visits would fall and fan following would wane.

2. People. Arrington was and still is a major influence inside TechCrunch. Fearless. With balls. My prediction is, once he leaves, he will take the major share of top writers along with him. This has happened time and again – once a top Exec leaves, others follow.

3. AOL as a Brand. I don’t remember meeting anyone in past 3-4 years who uses an AOL email id anymore. Technically, I still don’t know why AOL is around. Such a public spat between Arrington and AOL CEO is another blow to a failing brand. Excellent article on “Why AOL & Yahoo!’s time has come“. For AOL, acquisition of a major scientific blog (TechCrunch) could have heralded the dawn of a new era in social media; but unfortunately failed miserably. Technically, its a loss on both sides – Arrington had sold TechCrunch to AOL for a sum ranging between US$ 25-35 million but in the process ended loosing his job, prestige and conscience. AOL paid the sum but got bad publicity in return. What was expected to bring in a new dawn brought more misery to AOL.

4. Confused. If someone asks you – which is the most ‘confused‘ company out there right now? Say, AOL without blinking an eye. They decided to acquire all sorts of content-generating companies paying millions of dollars and doing what with it? Deciding to ‘restructure the company to strategize and focus on content-anchoring and distribution for websites’. Dude, wtf? Which bloody website nowadays requires content anchoring and creation when you have million blogs and industry-specific websites to go to! An excellent article on why AOL is the most confused company out there (by Henry Blodget). And here comes my question: Is AOL going back to pre-social-media era when her own 2 content-generating companies (or recent acquisitions) are in the middle of a bloody Civil War? Dudes, is this not like ‘Taliban military commander reading a research paper on ‘peace’ in World Peace Conference’? Am confused.

To sum up: I personally see, all acquisitions of smaller successful companies by the bigger fish mostly motivated by only one sole factor: corporate greed (not always but mostly turns out to be). And AOL is not here to blame alone because yes, they wished to acquire TechCrunch for getting ‘original-freshly-prepared-tech-content’ out of the plate for their websites, but Arrington is faulty as well – a lot of experts out there had predicted that this marriage of the minds of AOL & Arrington wouldn’t last long, and here you go… Not even a few years, and the couple split.

Let’s see what TechCrunch does now, and what Arrington does as well. 🙂 2 possibilities here:

If TechCrunch (inside AOL) can survive Arrington’s departure, well, shows ‘community bigger than brand‘.
If it fails, well, shows classic example of ‘brand still ruling and being more important than people who created the brand‘.

As a parting shot, check this clip out. Arrington interviewing Carol Bartz of Yahoo! at TechCrunch Disrupt in NY City. What a coincidence – they hated each other so much and also got fired from their respective organizations in days apart from one another 🙂 God is cunning…. sometimes I feel 🙂

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