AOL CEO Tim Armstrong: ‘We are focused on the next evolution of the internet’ (video)

19 Oct 2012

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong said the company is focusing on the next evolution of the internet; an internet that will be much more human in nature. He also said that between properties like Patch and The Huffington Post, AOL is one of the biggest investors in journalism today.

Armstrong said the company plans to continue its international expansion, including within its Dublin operations. Armstrong said growth in mobile is fuelling opportunities in web and content.

Armstrong, who made a surprise appearance at the Dublin Web Summit, emphasised the important role Ireland has played for the company.

“Ireland has been an important market for us and we have had tremendous luck on the software front, building software out of Ireland. We see it handling software for every manner of product the company will produce and we see Dublin as an important growth engine. Aengus McClean is an exceptional leader and we’ve established our new international HQ in Dublin.”

AOL recently announced plans to hire 35 people in Dublin. The company has been based in Dublin for the past 12 years and now employs 155 people at its development centre. The Dublin operation works alongside sister development sites in Palo Alto, California; Dulles, Virginia; Frankfurt, Germany; and New York.

AOL’s Dublin technology hub is working with cutting-edge technologies, such as big data, processing billions of impressions that AOL serves daily (Hadoop, Membase, Redis), and mobile, developing the foundation for AOL’s mobile Adserving product suite.

Armstrong said the trends around mobile are undeniable in terms of usage patterns. “We see mobile as additive to the core usage and when you look forward on mobile there are opportunities for monetisation. Mobile is always on.

“The future part of paid apps and content around mobile I’m pretty excited about. Our focus as a company has been to grow mobile usage and work on monetisation and we are working to get our mobile products in shape. We are No 4 in the US and growing mobile rapidly globally.

“We were one of the first companies to launch a cross desktop/cross mobile platform. We feel good about our position in mobile.”

Armstrong said Dublin is a core base for training and growing other facilities across AOL’s European operations.

“We’ve grown our headcount 50pc and we expect to continue to fill more and more roles. Dublin has expanded significantly – working on products like search, Mapquest and advertising services and we see Dublin working on projects of global significance for the company.

“One thing we focus on a lot when we choose to locate is talent. The policies in Ireland over the last decade have allowed more recruitment of talent overall.”

Tim Armstrong on The Next Big Thing

Armstrong said there is a hard drive by Silicon Valley-based platform companies to develop the next evolution of the internet.

“The next version of the internet will be much more human, serving humans with better content and services, not just online life and mobile experiences but offline life, too.

“What started as a small focused group of people 20 years ago has expanded to billions of users. The internet was originally built by a similar set of people like male engineers, but it is expanding into design and media and useful services.”

Armstrong said the acquisition of The Huffington Post a year and a half ago signifies the expanded urbanisation of the internet.

“People want trusted brands to get their information and The Huffington Post is a significant and growing property – since we acquired it it has launched in multiple countries. It is really becoming infused with video – our first cable TV channel Huffington Post Live has thousands of hours of video. We see it as a globally scaled platform that will grow for a long time. From a profitability standpoint, we are making significant progress.

“We would expect The Huffington Post to become a powerful growth engine for us in the next couple of years.”

In terms of journalism, Armstrong said that more than 50,000 people blog for the company as a business between The Huffington Post and other properties like Patch, TechCrunch and Engadget.

“We have been the single largest investor in hiring journalists between The Huffington Post and Patch. We are big believers in journalism and big believers in paying journalists.

“We will continue to invest in journalism and the content-management systems to help people share ideas.”

Armstrong described the company’s philosophy around content as 80-80-80: “Eighty per cent of the things that help people with information or purchasing are – content for women, content for influencers, and content to do things locally.

“In the influencer bucket TechCrunch is one of the best properties in the world for information and it’s a property and a brand we want to expand globally. We’re holding more international conferences and held one in China last year.”

Responding to questions around whether AOL plans to sell TechCrunch, which it acquired for an estimated US$35m in 2010, Armstrong said there are no plans to sell TechCrunch and AOL has been investing in expanding the editorial staff.

And in response to another question around potentially splitting out TechCrunch’s CrunchBase database, he said: “CrunchBase is an asset inside TechCrunch that allows you to search through a company index. That alone is an asset we will continue to invest in and fuel growth and we may or may not. It was one of the assets we were interested in when we bought the company.”

Armstrong discussed the phenomenal rise of local journalism site Patch. “It is serving local communities which is essential due to the receding amount of information as traditional media gets disrupted.”

He said Patch has hired 1,000 journalists and has put them into towns across the US.

“Seventeen million people in the US use it right now. It’s gone from zero revenue to US$40m in revenues this year. We still believe that local community information is something that people want and they want to deal with businesses and services locally.”

He said there are no immediate plans to scale Patch outside the US.

Returning to Ireland, Armstrong said AOL wasn’t swayed by the country’s economic problems in recent years.

“Most countries I’ve got to have economic issues at this point. Ireland has made great strides in improving its economy.

“One of the areas we watch … we want to invest in countries making smart steps in terms of policies and talent development. We feel that the policies that allow us to attract talent are here; it is a business-friendly environment.

“I would say from an individual perspective it is an attractive market and even though the country has had economic ups and downs, we will continue to invest here over time,” Armstrong said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years