AOL wants its publishing technology to become the backbone for social interaction for a slew of non-AOL Web sites.
The company has introduced Socialthing, a suite of tools and services that promises to make static content sites more social/community oriented. It also aims to interconnect the average user’s set of social media experiences, so that when a person interacts within a community on a particular content site that interaction is linked to his or her other social networking platforms—such as AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Facebook or Twitter.
At the core of Socialthing is a new technology called The Lifestream Platform, which essentially syndicates a users social activity (comments on articles, status updates, etc) from one publisher to all other Socialthing-enabled sites. The product was created by AOL’s People Networks group, which was formed following its much-derided acquisition Bebo.
The Socialthing technology also enables users to seamlessly log onto multiple sites using their AOL screen name and platform, eliminating the need for multiple registrations and password log ins. In addition, it provides sites which don’t already have such community tools with AOL’s own chat and IM tools. Plus, developers can build their own applications for the service.
AOL is first rolling out Socialthing on its own collection of MediaGlow sites, starting with the country-music-themed The Boot, but the plan is to offer Socialthing to Web publishers of all shapes and sizes, free of charge. According to Ziv Navoth, senior vp, marketing and partnerships, AOL People Networks, the benefit to AOL is that its own social platforms, which include Bebo, ICQ and AIM, should become stickier, while its MediaGlow properties should be introduced to new audiences as more users alert friends when they visit these sites.
Navoth believes that Web navigation is changing given the emerging culture of continuous status updates, and that Socialthing can help publishers adapt. “This is really about users wanting one core experience [when they use the Web],” he said. “When people go online these days, its about “what’s going on in my world, and how do I tell the world what’s going on with me?’”
AOL clearly sees Socialthing as a means to bolster its reputation as a cutting edge social media technology company (and a way to make its Bebo purchase bear more fruit). But will competing publishers employ AOL technology on their own sites? Navoth doesn’t see a problem, but knows its crucial to get other sites on board.
“This is a way for sites to drive reach and introduce their content to other people,” he said. In this new social environment, “people are starting to expect that ‘stuff will come to me’ So I don’t think competition will be an issue, but we need to show that when we say this is an open platform, we really mean it.”