May 15, 2011

AOL In the Attention Business, Mobile Getting More Of It

Following HP's acquisition of Palm last year, David Temkin, the VP for the Developer Platform at the company, exited stage left to AOL, joining forces with Brad Garlinghouse, Tim Armstrong and the new management at the firm which is working to redevelop and revamp one of the best known Web brands which comes with the baggage of significant history, with more than its fair share of ups and downs. With the move, Temkin gained an incredible role, running all of mobile for the Internet giant, at a time when mobile content is growing faster than any other segment and users are more likely to add new behavior to their repertoire, unlike on desktops, where users are less likely to change their habits. On Thursday, Temkin updated members of the media on recent product launches and how the company approaches the important world of smartphones.

AOL is no slouch when it comes to the world of content and demanding users' attention - so much so that Temkin said "AOL is in the attention business," adding, "You gain attention by going to the users where they are."

AOL's Engadget App Drives More Page Views than the Web Itself

Users are increasingly going to their mobile devices to consume content, which has led the company to create 30 or more applications for iPhone and Android, with simple presentations of content, focused on delivering a "delighting user experience". With just under a year's tenure at the company, Temkin started with reaching out to all the disparate brands at the company and working with them to take the content they were already producing and making a strong mobile experience. While the most popular app, by a long shot, is Engadget, others include Moviefone, which hit iPad less than a month ago, and Popeater. In fact, the Engadget app drives more page views than the Web site itself - excellent numbers.

With dozens of popular iPhone apps on the roster, AOL recently shipped an Android-only music application, called Play, which was quickly featured on the Android Market, scoring more than 300,000 downloads in just two weeks. As users are still finding which applications deserve their time, Temkin sees the mobile market as having serious greenfield opportunity, gaining new customers and pushing others to switch their preferences.

The New Moviefone for iPad from AOL

"On mobile, people are still establishing their habits," he said. "User behavior on the desktop is fixed and difficult to change. It's an uphill battle."

That AOL is dropping dozens of new applications and new brands on multiple platforms is a far cry from the environment Temkin joined in mid-2010, when even the main company site was optimized not for smart phones but for feature phones, without rich media capability.

" on mobile, when I joined, was a slightly upgraded WAP site," he said. "Now it's buzzword compliant and we have more than doubled in the year the number of users we have coming in. It's a nice thing to improve the product and see the kind of results we have."

Coming Soon: Editions from AOL

Still on the docket for release is the much-anticipated Editions magazine, coming for iPad in the vein of Flipboard and Zite, but driven by algorithms based on the users' interests and preferences - yes, much like my6sense and others have made their focus. As Temkin described, the application will not be an editorial publication, but driven by artificial intelligence, pulling in content as if there were an editor driving the magazine.

"Your cover will be unique to you, with the topic you are most interested in and what the publication thinks is most important," he said. "We are scanning thousands of sites. We track what you like to read based on what you click on and explicitly what you say you like by subject. Algorithms drive the layout."

If AOL is in the attention business, tracking your own attention to its properties seems like an obvious next step. As smart phones get more capable, and AOL pushes to have its content in front of as many eyes as possible, you should expect to hear the name David Temkin a lot, for he is running the strategy of the fastest growing piece of one of the biggest Web brands in the business.

As AIM head Jason Shellen quipped Thursday, AOL "has become a powerhouse for smart people, and it should become a not so quiet revolution soon. It's about bringing the brand up a level."

Disclosures: my6sense has similar functionality to that promised in Editions and other news readers with advanced personalization capability. I am VP of Marketing at my6sense. Additionally, HP is a client of Paladin Advisors Group, where I am managing director of new media.