Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL, used his appearance at the Web 2.0 summit Thursday to make a big non-announcement. He told event host John Batelle that he couldn't talk about it, but he was willing to talk about talking about it.
"We have been working on something for the last three months that I think is a fairly substantial shift in our technology," he told event host John Batelle. "When that's ready to announce, maybe we'll come back and talk to you about it."
Of course, he did reveal a few elements of the project.
“If you look at where everyone has invested in the web so far, you don’t see a lot of companies—well, you're one," he said, referring to Batelle’s Federated Media, “that have tried to tackle content platforms.” He said the project will merge New York and Silicon Valley in a way that hasn’t yet been done.
There are already signs of a greater focus on content production. AOL has upped the number of journalists on its payroll from 500 to 3,000 in the last few months, and is now producing 3000 pieces of content online per day. Armstrong said the new roster includes journalists from the Wall Street Journal and ESPN (one wonders if they’ll pick up some of the 100 recently-laid-off NYT writers).
Armstrong said the strategy centers on building content designed for the new distribution realities, rather than trying to force current content forms through pipes that don’t quite fit. “I’ll use a television example,” he said. “When you look at the television channels and look at the content, it could be deeper and more individualized. The distribution through facebook and myspace has changed. I look at content from distribution backwards.”
Armstrong was positioning AOL as the middleman that would help traditional content creators develop form factors that are, from the bottom up, catered to the new media consumption habits of users. The project sounds a bit like Demand Media, which hires writers to produce content based on search queries, or reader “demand,” but would do more hand-holding of the professional media producers.