Commentary

AOL Goes Hyper-Local But Not Mobile

Aol.

AOL yesterday unveiled ambitious plans to bolster its hyper-local offerings, including relaunching its City's Best online guides and the expansion of Patch, its hyper-local news and information platform now in 40 communities.

The company has also launched a venture fund to finance entrepreneurial initiatives in the local space and geo-target home page content to a user's location.

"While there are companies in the local space, AOL has the technology to digitize the local space at scale," said CEO Tim Armstrong in the announcement. "We believe it's an untapped market for the most part and one of the largest commercial opportunities online that has yet to be won." Conspicuously absent in this sweeping strategy to infiltrate cities and towns nationwide is any mention of mobile.

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With the emergence of social location services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt in the last year, and the small-business marketing potential they represent, you'd think AOL might at least hint in at some mobile tie-in to its hyper-local push. But at least for now, the company doesn't seem to be trying to pair its niche and local content strategies with a significant mobile component.

Then again, mobile hasn't been a high priority for AOL under Armstrong, who justifiably has been more focused since becoming chief executive on reviving the company's core digital advertising business. But with location and mapping identified last year by Armstrong as one of the five key strategic areas for AOL (along with building content, display advertising, communications and ventures), you might expect to hear more about mobile initiatives by now.

AOL's low profile on the mobile front is especially striking in comparison to Armstrong's former employer, Google, which has been making an aggressive push into the space this year, bidding to acquire AdMob for $750 million, launching its own phone, and rolling out a series of new mobile applications.

In case anyone didn't notice, Google executive Vic Gundotra this week in a Webcast told analysts the company, "has bet big on mobile." Now, no one expects AOL to roll out its own phone or mobile operating system, but it could do more to build on properties like AIM and Mapquest to expand into mobile social networking.

Of course, they could also buy relevant niche properties like Yahoo did this week in acquiring Citizen Sports, which offers sports-related apps for social networks and mobile devices. Armstrong has said AOL plans to invest in mobile to improve the content experience on the platform, but when or where isn't yet clear.

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