Are Editors Obsolete? AOL Plans For Algorithms To Run Digital Newsroom


aol_logoThe new AOL — er, Aol. — has a vision for the digital future, in which a consolidated editorial product is curated and created in the most efficient way possible: by computers instead of people. That’s right — in the wake of layoffs, but amidst a concerted effort to surge ahead with online content, AOL is making due with what they have, which happens to be lots and lots of technology. And freelancers.

CEO Tim Armstrong told the Wall Street Journal that the company is “putting the finishing touches on a high-tech system for mass-producing news articles, entertainment and other online content,” to revive the one-time internet giant after it splits from parent company Time Warner by assigning digitally optimized stories to freelancers through

“Content is the one area on the Web that hasn’t seen the full potential. Hopefully, we will spark a revolution of people doing content at a different scale,” Armstrong said vaguely.

What is he talking about? Here’s the closest thing to an explanation:

AOL is betting it can reinvent itself with a numbers-driven approach to developing content, based on what Web-search and other data tell it is most likely to attract audiences and sponsors.

AOL says its technology also streamlines the process of assigning, editing and publishing stories, and can record data about every story, such as a synopsis, key words and a location, so the stories can be refreshed quickly.

That is, algorithms will play the role of editor — deciding what content is most likely to be successful using information like Google analysis.

The system is designed to track breaking news and trends and identify the best times to write about seasonal events, such as Halloween or Monday Night Football.The system is designed to track breaking news and trends and identify the best times to write about seasonal events, such as Halloween or Monday Night Football.

October! And Monday? Nevermind.

The full WSJ story gives an hypothetical example based around the popular search “crib recalls.” AOL would have had a number of articles submitted on the topic, which would then “go through a series of filters to scan for plagiarism, obscenities, grammar and punctuation, and will be tagged with other information” — robots! — only to finally be touched up by an editor before publishing. Should it work as smoothly as it’s described, it sounds efficient.

And like the rest of the forward-thinking web, the company’s stable of sites will also attempt to “offer marketers the chance to work with its editorial team to create custom content.” But you can still trust them. Trust them:

AOL says that its ad model will allow advertisers to be affiliated with the content but not control what is written or created. Media experts and others say that disclosing when articles or videos have been shaped by advertisers will be crucial to AOL’s credibility.

Welcome to the future?

AOL to Produce News, Videos by the Numbers [Wall Street Journal]

Have a tip we should know?

Filed Under: