By Sam Diaz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 28, 2007
AOL is blurring the lines of news with a makeover that gives its traditional news sites the look and feel of blogs, a shift that is part of its efforts to change from a subscription-based service to a free, advertising-based Web business.
AOL News and other AOL sites this week were turned into blog-like sites that display short news stories -- some as short as a single sentence -- accompanied by video clips, photographs or interactive polls intended to engage readers. AOL Sports plans to begin using a similar format starting Monday.
Elsewhere on the updated sites, there are headlines from traditional news sources and links to popular news bloggers and message boards where readers can comment. The style is reflective of a general shift in how consumers prefer to get information on the Web.
"People will consume news in a way they want to consume it," said Lewis D'Vorkin, senior vice president of AOL news and sports and an architect of TMZ.com, the entertainment blog co-owned by AOL and Warner Bros. "The more choices we offer, the more they are able to pick and choose between traditional, blogging or user-generated news."
The success of TMZ.com, which has become a magnet for Web surfers who are more interested in Paris Hilton than in President Bush, has taught the executives at AOL a few things about the habits of Web surfers, notably that online readers aren't afraid to scroll through several screens, D'Vorkin said. The more time users spend on a site, the more money AOL can collect from advertisers.
"TMZ.com is a very long page, sometimes 10 or 12 posts or more," he said. "One of the most clicked-on links on that page is at the bottom, the 'go to next page' link. If you give them what they want, people will scroll."
Yankee Group analyst Jennifer Simpson said the approach could lure younger audiences, a demographic that increasingly turns to the Web for news coverage as well as the opinionated commentary of the blogosphere.
"This is a trend that we'll see growing more and more as time goes on," she said.
Simpson said that AOL is a popular service with older people who signed up when the company primarily sold monthly Internet access. "This is making it feel a bit more hip with a blog style," she said, noting that many younger readers don't make distinctions between traditional news sites and blogs. "They think of it more as a Web site. They're not conscious of the fact that it's a blog. To them, that style is becoming a lot more associated with what a Web site looks like."