Home What AOL Got When it Bought About.me

What AOL Got When it Bought About.me

The guys at About.me say they considered a number of different URLs for their company. That they chose the name About.me seemed to pay off today when it was announced that the four-month old company, lead by some of Silicon Valley’s best known startup people, has become AOL’s latest acquisition.

With the startup acquisitions piling up in just the past couple of years, including About.me, 5Min, ThingLabs, SocialThing and TechCrunch, it looks like AOL is trying to take a shot at what Yahoo! is now admitting it failed at: amassing hot little startups and the brains behind them to try to form a cohesive whole. But what did AOL get in its acquisition of About.me?

It would be easy to say that About.me is a silly website, hyped in a circle by Valley insiders and bought by a desperate old Internet company for far too much money. That’s the cynical way to understand this deal – but in case you haven’t noticed, the Web is in the midst of an incredible period of creativity and change. How could one understand the About.me deal within that less cynical context?


People need placeholders on the web, hubs for identity, calling cards; though Facebook owns identity today, that grasp is only as strong as the begrudging love of its users. People both love and hate Facebook – and a very large percentage of them don’t trust it.

Tell them they can get a simple, attractive, clearly understandable central identity repository on the web and they may respond well. That may be more true in the future than it is today. That’s at least part of AOL’s bet on About.me.

Call it a logical way to take advantage of widespread digital photography, call it Glamour Shots 2.0, call it what OpenID wished it could be but with a much better User Experience. Will people want to use this service? Many people undoubtedly will. Funny looking people, maybe not, but most people online (and on AOL) are good-looking San Francisco artist types, right?


In addition to having a much better name than competitor Flavors.me, About.me also offers simple but attractive personal analytics.

Its users are presented a dashboard view of the number of times their profiles have been viewed, the number of inbound links to their page and the people they interact with most commonly on other social networks.

That sounds simple, but if well executed this is what such an analytics feature promises: you are here on the internet, it’s a big part of your life, let’s set you up with some way to keep track of your experience and how it changes over time.

It’s part of a larger trend, too. O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures invested last month in RunKeeper, a service that tracks all kinds of exercise experiences its users have and share, and they said it fit under the broader category of the quantified self.

About.me’s analytics are like the Quantified Self for a person’s experience across the social web.


In acquiring this new startup, AOL lands the talent of multiple serial entrepreneurs, most notably Tony Conrad. Conrad was already a “special advisor to AOL” after the sale of his last startup, Sphere, to the company. He’s also the best-known face at venture capital firm True Ventures, on the Board of Directors at Automattic (WordPress), sold Oddpost to Yahoo and now landed more millions for selling a not-even-launched startup to AOL.

If you’re someone who is suspect of people with thick, elite resumes, you’re probably suspect of this guy. He recorded a charming video today with his old friend Michael Arrington and said he sold to AOL because of the natural synergy between the startup and its acquirer, believe it or not. (Silicon Alley Insider got the real story on why the startup sold so fast.)

Get a little bit more of his time spent at AOL, together with Arrington, Jason Shellen, creator of Google Reader and most recently co-founder of Thing Labs (Shellen worked on a startup called Plinky with About.me’s Freitas, too) and a growing number of others, and you’ve got a pretty strong team of Web 2.0 winners. That’s the kind of experience that could inform some decisions that would help get AOL back in the game.

Put all of those factors together and the deal looks more interesting. Can AOL put About.me to good use? Time will tell. Who knows? Maybe this is just a silly website, hyped in a circle by Valley insiders and bought by a desperate old Internet company for far too much money. Time will tell.

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