Aol's First Day: How Much Mojo Will Seed.com Have?

Dec.10.09 | About: AOL Inc. (AOL)

It’s the first day for AOL as an independent company as CEO Tim Armstrong hits the New York Stock Exchange and everything seems possible—at least until reality hits the company again tomorrow. The most interesting item in AOL’s revamp may be Seed.com, its content engine.

As for AOL, what’s left to be said. It’s a public company retread that had glory, merged with Time Warner (NYSE:TWX), became synonymous with synergy debacles and now looks to revamp on the wings of a declining dial-up access business.

But during AOL celebration day—Thursday—you won’t hear those details. For AOL, it’s all about the content. Armstrong says in a statement:

Our company is focused on building the highest quality content for consumers and the best products and services for our advertising and publishing partners. Our content sites and advertising platforms give AOL a unique seat at the Internet table.

Indeed, AOL notes that its editorial stable has “nine Pulitzer Prize Winners, seven Baseball Hall of Fame Voters, three Heisman Trophy Voters and two Pro Football Hall of Fame Voters.”

That’s one picture. Then there’s Seed.com, AOL’s secret weapon now overseen by New York Times veteran Saul Hansell. Seed.com is essentially like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk for content. Seed.com is a content management system designed to game search engine optimization. In a nutshell, Seed.com is AOL’s spin on what Demand Media does.

Can Seed.com work? I took it for a spin—at least to the point of actually doing a 750 word story for $30.

The big takeaway for me. Seed.com is crazy enough to work assuming it gets writers and doesn’t become a vast wasteland of crapola. Judging from Seed.com’s “academy” it’s clear that the goal is to game the hot search stories of the day.

I certainly wouldn’t dismiss Seed.com, but harbor some skepticism.

Here’s a brief tour and some of the rates:

For science and tech stories, the pay rate was usually in the $30 range. The Seed.com system recommends stories to pursue. You can claim them and get to work.

The big paydays came for things like pet death and post traumatic stress disorder.

Generally speaking though, you’re looking at $35 for a 500 word riff.

There are a wrinkles in the compensation model (see fine print). If it’s content that’s published exclusively through Seed, AOL shares 75 percent of the calculated earnings with you. If it’s non-exclusive, AOL gives you a 25 percent cut of calculated earnings. You can name your own price if you provide AOL with an exclusive.