AOL’s Armstrong Orders Up News That’s Automated And Advertorial

AOL’s emphasis on expanding its content offerings predates CEO Tim Armstrong’s arrival last spring. But as the company prepares for its Dec. 9 spinoff, Armstrong has told the WSJ of his plans to Google-ize AOL’s news, while involving advertisers more closely in the content production process.

Armstrong says he wants to “spark a revolution of people doing content at a different scale.” Rather than just rely on editors and journalists deciding on what kinds of stories to run, AOL (NYSE: TWX) will employ a system that relies on a series of algorithms that will predict of the kinds of stories, videos and photos that will have the greatest appeal to audiences and advertisers. The system will be based on the wide range of data gathered by AOL, including the searches made by subscribers on its dwindling dial-up service make.

Most sites have the ability to track where their audiences come from, as well as tell what sorts of posts attract the most visitors. In that light, AOL’s platform doesn’t sound that advanced, as the WSJ said the new content system will simply track breaking news and trends, and will offer the company’s roughly 500 editorial staffers additional guidance on when to run stories about seasonal and cultural events, such as Halloween or Monday Night Football.

On top of that, AOL will using the forthcoming site to coordinate article assignments among its 3,000 freelancers. The new system will also help determine how much freelancers get paid, as it predicts how much marketers might pay to advertise on a particular article. To make the articles more palatable to marketers, AOL’s system will also screen pieces for grammar, spelling, even plagiarism, before going through a human editor.

The automated tracking system could also mean that AOL’s freelancers make additional money. technology predicts marketers will pay to advertise next to their articles or videos. The predictions of what an advertiser might pay ranges from zero to over $100.

AOL will also offer more custom content to advertisers. In the past, AOL has created microsites on its various topic sections, like the broadband video show it set up for GMC two years ago. With the new algorithm-driven system, if AOL notices that searches are looking for a particular product, it will go into action and try to get a retailer to sponsor an article.

AOL promises that advertisers will have no direct role in the editorial content that they sponsor. That allows AOL to just come up to the “Chinese Wall” that most reputable publications say exists between it and the ad side. That said, there’s a real chance that if successful, AOL’s system could eventually upend that traditional model as more outlets try to find more ways of deriving revenue from content creation.