I’m on the subway heading to my final day at AOL. Wow! I have worked at AOL during one of the most interesting times the web has seen. Within a few months of starting at AOL, Facebook opened up to everyone and launched its developers platform. That single event started the social web explosion (before social we called it Web 2.0)
I have been at AOL during that upheaval. Hired to do one thing but never actually having the platform built, I threw myself into the social web era and became the change agent within my small corner of AOL as part of Games.com. My boss (Greg, love you man) thought I was insane and actually wanted to let me go (your life would have been a helluva lot easier if you did!) But somehow (I still don’t know what I did) I was held onto and able to learn so much from each one of my co-workers.
At AOL I became a professional. (Yes folks, I was worse) Sure I had been working for ten years before but fundamentally I didn’t take work as seriously as I should have, At AOL I had a career, a focus and my ideas mattered (even if there were way, way, way too many of them). Even though we missed some major opportunities I feel very proud of the work we did and could not have asked for a better bunch of co-workers.
Fundamentally, what I will miss is my collegues. As a group they are the most respectful, competant and hardworking group of people I may ever work with. To a person, they always put the the group first. There was never a personal agenda, ever! We had the “secret”. We worked as a team, understood our roles and acted as a unit. When given opportunity to work, we were effiecient, quick and without parallel. Sure, there were struggles here and there, disagreements about direction, but over all we worked with mutual respect and caring.
AOL itself? Well that’s a different story. All you have to is go through Silicon Alley Insider posts on AOL to see all the absurdity and ridiculousness that went on. Most of the leaks and internal documents were and are correct. It was a made worse with schizophrenic direction and directives. From month to month and quarter to quarter, goals and strategy changed. From everything being labeled AOL to basically detroying the brand with mini-brands (we got up to 57) and now rolling everything back under Huffington Post, we did everything. Just in the games group we had five different VP’s in 18 months. We went from being for sale (just games) to status quo to doubling down.
I would say that all things considered? Tim Armstrong has done a good job. Tasked with turning around a ocean liner with a steam engine, he’s gotten us to be a second hand pleasure boat that at least runs on gasoline. (Don’t know what that means but go with it). What I can say is that he’s trying. People want a turn-around and he’s trying to find the right mix. Sure, one could be critical of the individual decisions taken one at a time, but when looking at the whole picture you can see what he’s trying to do. Create sellable content at scale that has some brand-trustworthyness. Not easy to do, but he’s trying.
So, to quote my favorite cartoons, "Thats all folks!“
Deep, deep thanks go out to:
Ken H. Lai
Joanna De La Cruz
Won Mu Hur
and everyone one else I crossed paths with and didn’t add