AOL’s Falco Gets Something Right

In a memo to employees aimed at addressing fears of an AOL/Yahoo tie-up, AOL chief Randy Falco today penned a truth for social networks:

But despite drawing large, engaged audiences, other social networks have not been able to make the experiences relevant to users and marketers alike.

That right there is the reason I’m hostile to most social networking and social networking-related startups that plan to rely on advertising: They’re depending on marketers to foot the bill while at the same tailoring their content to users that are generally hostile to or uninterested in marketing.

Falco believes that AOL’s future combination of Bebo and Platform A will solve this problem. He’s wrong. Buying more companies with cooler widgets or more users isn’t the direction the Internet is heading. We no longer need portals because we now can navigate the web for ourselves. The real opportunity for a startup in social media is making social networks relevant for advertisers — and making advertisers see social networks as an essential forum for their messages.

It might start with a technological solution, such as the one from startup ScanScount, which is trying to isolate relevant content so advertisers feel comfortable placing their brand on social and user-generated media sites, but it won’t end there. These sites, no matter how useful, need to make money. The company that figures out how to do that will be the Google of Web 2.0.