Earlier this month, we reported on a slew of domain name purchases and trademark applications that indicated some kind of AOL social network was in the works. At the time, we figured it could have just been speculative. But no, it looks like AOL is serious. MapQuest will be the hub of AOL's effort to get on the social networking map.
The original Internet behemoth purchased NVIBE.com, NeighborhoodVibe.com and mqVibe.com this year. All of those domains point to the new "coming soon" page. AOL also registered a big portfolio of trademarks for each of these domains that indicate a location-based social networking service. Here's a selection:
Serial Number: 85419192
Online social networking services; online local and community social networking services
Serial Number: 85419185
Providing a website that enables users to connect with people in a particular neighborhood or city; Providing user-defined content and content of others selected and customized based on the known or estimated geographical location of users
Serial Number: 85419176
Providing neighborhood and community information in the fields of education, entertainment, local events and activities, current events, shopping, arts, culture, and sports; Providing information about community and neighborhood livability
Serial Number: 85419162
Providing geographic information, destination information, interactive maps, and driving directions via computer and communications networks; Providing information, news, and commentary in the field of travel via computer and communications networks
Serial Number: 85419151
Providing information and news in the field of local business
Now that we have a hint on the MapQuest website, it looks like we can expect a map-powered social network that combines location-based services for individuals, local news, information, entertainment and shopping, and travel directions like those MapQuest already offers. This is a space Google, Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp and others are all vying to control. AOL has been silent about this, but it's strongly positioned to make this play.
Google Maps may rule the roost, but MapQuest is good technology. Moreover, Patch, AOL's network of local news sites, is dying for a sustainable business model. AOL launched a daily deals platform tied to Patch in June, and a map-powered social news network would be an ideal place to market it. AOL has all the pieces it needs to build this thing. It just needs to put them together.
Can AOL Outdo Google?
It will need to do it well, though. Google is going wild in all of these areas. It bought The Dealmap to integrate its own daily deals into its Maps product, and it keeps expanding Google Offers to more markets. It bought Zagat to provide content for local business guides, a shot across the bow at Yelp. And Google's even going where AOL can't by pushing NFC payments for smartphones with Google Wallet, which would close the payments loop on all of these local business plays. If AOL is going to win this game, it has to swing for the fences.
Do you think AOL has a shot with its mqVibe neighborhood social network? Sound off in the comments.