AOL (NYSE:AOL) raised a lot of eyebrows when it announced that it is going to be laying off at least 150 staffers. These employees all come from its advertising team. AOL uses a very non-techy advertising placement system. It actually uses human beings to facilitate advertising sales. Compare this with Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) which use a self-serve automated system.
A lot of people got excited about this because they were reading all sorts of robotics technology into it. Don’t get too excited. It simply is just a series of online forms that advertisers have to fill out, which then leads to programmatic ad buys throughout AOL’s online properties. Not a biggie. There is no secret sauce here. It is fairly easy to put together. In fact, you only need to go to an online freelance platform and whip out some specifications to get this done. That is not the issue.
However, this piece of news did get my attention because it at least shows that AOL is paying attention to the profit-boosting capabilities of automation. It shouldn’t stop at automating its advertising sales processes. Instead, it should look at content generation.
I know this is going to ruffle a few feathers. Usually, Americans and many media consumers get nervous when they think about the content they consume being generated by machines. However, if you think about it hard enough, the state of artificial intelligence as well as curated content and social media detection have reached a stage where this is possible. How can this be possible? Pretty straightforward.
Twitter is an open detection system of hot news items. AOL can create robots that can detect hot news items that are being retweeted by verifiably influential people in certain niches. Once it gets this information, it can then collate this info using human feedback from discussion forums. AOL can then get a particularly interesting niche view or a particularly attention-grabbing perspective. At this point, it can crowd-source the information using unpaid users who are just happy to participate. Alternatively, it can use an automation software to synonymize and put together sentences based on the particular editorial angle it wishes to take.
This technology exists. Primarily, it is used for financial information. But there are enough bells and whistles as well as evolutionary leaps achieved with this technology to at least have it contribute a growing fraction of AOL’s content. If AOL is able to fix this, then it solves one of its biggest costs.
It costs a lot of money to produce content. Even if you are syndicating content, you still have to pay syndication fees. The name of the game is to use metadata and create fresh content out of it. If there is any one company that needs this technology, it is AOL.