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AOL Readies Its Robot News-Writing Army

AOL head Tim Armstrong raised serious questions earlier this month when he announced imminent plans to ax about 2,500 employees. How could the company continue operate sans a third of its existing workforce? What would such a company even look like?

Now, partly addressing both issues with yet another bombshell announcement, Armstrong says the company will begin partly automating its online news reporting process.

"Instead of relying on AOL's experienced staff of editors and writers to put together the written content for AOL's news Web sites, the company will be employing an algorithmic system that trawls the Internet and examines the stories its Net visitors will most prefer," according to Fast Company. "It'll then advise the humans in the loop which stories are likely to do well, and when to run them--particularly pieces like seasonal or sporting-interest ones."

AOL will also be using Seed.com to parse out article assignments among a large freelance staff. Payments for freelancers will also be calculated automatically, along with ad fees. What's more, it plans to screen the submitted pieces for grammar and even check them for copyright infringements.

Asks Fast Company: "Is this the thin end of the wedge that ends with fully-automated news writing?" Its answer? "It's clearly the next-level of automation to the automated headline-choosing at Huffington Post. And it certainly could spark a revolution off within a giant publishing machine like AOL -- where the chase for every penny of profit, in terms of efficiency and targeted advertising is the key part of business."

"Armstrong's goal is to make AOL, which has been losing visitors and revenue, a magnet for both advertisers and consumers by turning it into the top creator of digital content," writes The Wall Street Journal. "He hopes to do so in part by turning some media and marketing conventions on their ear, and potentially blurring the lines between journalism and advertising."

Under the headline, "AOL's Big Plan: Robot Traffic Whoring," Gawker writes, "The internet needs more hot search keyword-driven advertorial 'content' about as much as the internet needs AOL.'

Notes MediaMemo: "It has a hint of Google to it, which makes sense given Armstrong's long tenure there." To Boot: "AOL's plan also sounds very similar to Associated Content, a search-driven content mill run by Armstrong's former co-worker, Patrick Keane ... Armstrong also happens to be an investor in the site ... And earlier this year, AOL explored a purchase, sources say.

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