Friday, December 11, 2009

Video: My New Job as Master of the Borg

I always found one of the hardest kinds of interviews was of someone on the eve of starting a new job. Mostly they don't know anything, and what they do know they don't want to say before they get to spend time with their new coworkers.

Peter Kafka of AllThingsD's MediaMemo did his best to get me to say something interesting in a video chat at a coffee house in Chelsea Market Thursday. He mainly wanted to talk about "robot editors," which is how some have interpreted what Tim Armstrong, AOL's CEO, described in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal.

AOL may have an army of robot editors ready to unleash on the world, but no one mentioned it to me when I was interviewing for my new job. (I don't start work until Tuesday.) We did talk about using data from AOL's search service and its other windows on the pulse of the Internet to find out what people are curious about.

Some people worry that this might lead to what Gawker artfully termed "slapdash, disposable content churned out en masse." I'm not worried. One thing that all journalists hope to do is tell people what they want to know. Most of us also want to tell people things they didn't know they wanted to know but nonetheless find interesting. AOL, including Seed, will do lots of both.

The thing that most excites me about AOL is that it isn't devoted to one method of producing content. It has full-time journalists, wire service and syndicated content, bloggers, freelancers, input from the entire Web community, and all kinds of automated ways to find interesting stuff. Our challenge is to create right blend of information from all these sources for each page that will be the most interesting, accurate and engaging for readers and to do it at a cost that can be sustained by the revenue available to Internet media.

How do we do that? I don't know, and if I did I couldn't say. I do know that Seed is an important component because it can bring human intelligence into the mix at vast scale.

Here is the six minute video of my chat with Peter in which I try to vamp around my ignorance.