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AOL Gets Personal With Its Latest Moves

Written on
Jan 27, 2014 
Author
Richard L. Tso  |

ADOTAS – With so much engaging content on the Internet competing for people’s attention, publishers are desperately searching for new ways to make their sites more relevant and sticky for visitors. AOL is no exception. The company just announced that it’s planning to plunk down a total of $90.7 million for startup Gravity to inject custom content into its online properties like the Huffington Post, and across devices.

As Re/code’s Kara Swisher first reported (followed by TechCrunch), the deal has AOL shelling out an initial $83 million, and another $7.7 million divvied up over the next couple of years. (Funny enough, TC is an AOL-owned site, yet they didn’t get to break the news).

“It’s been search, then social and now personal,” said AOL CEO Tim Armstrong (pictured) in an interview with Re/code. “We think we can get a clearer signal with content with personalization to improve our results and better monetize what we offer.”

AOL is planning to tap into the vast potential of Gravity’s content personalization engines, to help provide additional recommended content based on interests attributed to a consumer. Web personalization technologies not only keep people coming back to a particular site, they provide tremendous opportunities for brands looking to better understand people’s tastes and in-turn, deliver ads that help target a person’s unique online profile.

“This throws more fuel on the fire to grow our network,” said Amit Kapur (pictured), CEO and co-founder of Gravity. “The broader reach that our technology gets, the better data insights we can have.”

Gravity was headed up by a group of MySpace execs, and has raised almost $21 million since it was launched in 2009, with venture investors including August Capital, Upfront Ventures and Redpoint Ventures. Gravity’s customers include some heavy hitters like NBC Universal, Disney, Sony and Intel.

After the acquisition is completed, Gravity’s 40-person team will report to Luke Beatty, the new head of product of the AOL Brand Group. As Business Insider reported, Beatty is Armstrong’s college roommate and long-time friend; the two actually founded media company Associated Content together. Beatty’s news boss is Susan Lyne, the CEO of AOL Brand Group, who recently wrote the following memo about Beatty joining the team:

Dear Team,

Over the last few months, we’ve thought long and hard about the best way to create a more product-driven culture, one that respects brand-centric teams while driving an ambitious product roadmap for the Brand Group as a whole. Org design is an important element of this but we all know that success starts with a strong leader — and to that end I am very happy to announce that Luke Beatty has been named Head of Product, AOL Brand Group, effective immediately.

This is a new role within the BG and it allows us to consolidate a number of network-wide product initiatives under Luke’s leadership: content that will power our 2014 distribution goals; a contributor platform inspired by the Lifestyle team’s successful contributor network; new content platforms like Mini, which launched at CES last week; development of new content management systems; and personalization of our content offerings. There are many interlocking dependencies here that will benefit from common goals, increased communication, and a clear reporting structure, with James Commons, Peter Rojas, Ryan Block, Oscar Kafati, and Joel Burns all reporting to Luke.

Additionally, Mike Manos and his team of engineers will now report to Luke. Mike’s team joined the Brand Group last year when engineering resources were transferred to the businesses they served. About half of the group went directly to Mapquest, Search, and Aol.com — businesses whose scale and unique characteristics required autonomous product/engineering teams; the rest remain in Mike’s org today, including the desktop and mobile teams that support the rest of our brands, the AMP team, Quality Assurance, Testing, and the Development Labs team. Mike and Luke have spent a lot of time talking through options for fielding the tech organization more efficiently and effectively and I know they are both excited about the opportunities ahead.

I believe, as do Luke, Tim Lemmon, and Mike Manos, that brand teams need to work as integrated units and, to that end, brand Product Managers will continue to report to their GMs. However, they will also dotted line report into Luke to insure that product roadmaps are aligned, engineering resources are deployed effectively and that, where it makes sense, development work is leveraged across brands. Luke will be sending out a note to the groups that will report directly to him, and also to the product and engineering teams that will dot into him. Luke himself will report to me for all consumer-facing products (e.g. Reader, Mini) and to Tim Lemmon for plataforms that support the Brand Group and AOL, Inc.

This is a big year for us. As Tim Armstrong said in his New Year’s Eve email, we are entering 2014 off a very solid 2013 where we delivered our first full-year of growth in eight years. That’s a huge achievement. But to reach the goal Tim set for 2014 — to go from being a company that is growing to a growth company — we need to commit to accelerated product development and product excellence. I’m confident that Luke’s appointment is a giant step in that direction.

Please join me in congratulating Luke!

Susan

 





Richard L. Tso is a reporter for Adotas and an avid writer covering the intersection of technology and advertising, fashion and music. With over 12 years of experience in the Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations industries, Richard has held executive positions at global agencies and technology companies and is founder of the interactive communications firm Pseudosound Consulting LLC. A classical cellist and painter, he believes that sometimes sound carries more weight than words. He is a graduate of Stanford University.

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