AOLOliver Miller, un ex empleado de AOL, decidió describir en detalle en The Faster Times lo que significa trabajar para la compañía en un artículo que tituló “El infierno de AOL” y algunos pasajes son imperdibles sobre todo para los que trabajamos alguna vez de bloggers y/o periodistas:

I got the job through a friend. The job was this: I would write about TV for a section of the AOL Television website. In theory, this sounded great. In exchange for writing about “The Simpsons” and other TV shows, I would be making $35,000 a year (which sounded like a shockingly large amount of money to me at the time; and sadly, it still does). I performed this job for less than a year before I was fired. During that period, I wrote more than 350,000 words for AOL.

We — by which I mean me and my fellow employees — were all so grateful. Which allowed us to ignore — or willfully overlook — certain problems. Such as the fact that AOL editors forced us to work relentless hours. Or the fact that we were paid to lie, actually instructed to lie by our bosses.

I was given eight to ten article assignments a night, writing about television shows that I had never seen before. AOL would send me short video clips, ranging from one-to-two minutes in length — clips from “Law & Order,” “Family Guy,” “Dancing With the Stars,” the Grammys, and so on and so forth… My job was then to write about them. But really, my job was to lie. My job was to write about random, out-of-context video clips, while pretending to the reader that I had watched the actual show in question. AOL knew I hadn’t watched the show. The rate at which they would send me clips and then expect articles about them made it impossible to watch all the shows — or to watch any of them, really.

But now, I am not so mystified. With the recent release of a top-secret business document from AOL, things have been clarified. “The AOL Way,” as the document is called, lays the whole plan bare — long flowcharts, an insane number of meaningless buzzwords… the works. One slide is titled “Decide What Topics to Cover.” It then lists “Considerations” from top to bottom. “Traffic Potential” is the top consideration, followed by “Revenue/Profit” and then “Turnaround Time.” “Editorial Integrity” is at the bottom.

When it comes to an article, what AOL cares about is the title, and the “keywords” that will make the article more likely to show up among the top results on Google. You type phrases into “Google Trends,” and it suggests the most popular combination of words associated with that topic. You then stick those words into your title and first paragraphs. Rinse, wash, and repeat. The article itself was just ballast. The important part was that the reader would click on those words to read the rest, thereby producing ad revenue for the websites. Words didn’t matter; stealing other people’s work also didn’t matter.

And so, eventually I was fired, of course. Fired for complaining about typos and for insulting a Hollywood star and such — fired even though I routinely worked unpaid overtime and would generally log 60 or 70-hour work weeks.

Under “The AOL Way” a huge number of other people were fired as well. AOL was hemorrhaging money. They had invested in a bad business plan, and we — the poorly paid writers — were the ones to pay. Never mind that paying us writers made up an incredibly tiny fraction of AOL’s total expenditures. We were all fired anyway. Some 30% to 40% of us were fired. We received a form letter; an email form letter informing us that our services were no longer needed.

AOL is among the most egregious offenders — but then, this isn’t just an article about AOL. This is an article about a way of life. “The AOL Way” doesn’t simply stand as a pattern for a major corporation; it’s the pattern of the Internet as a whole. The Internet has created more readers than ever before in the history of the world. And yet, perversely, the actual writer is more undervalued than ever before. Every news site that hopes to survive, The Faster Times included, thinks about whether their titles will show up in search engines. In the age of Internet news, Google “keywords” matter. …Regular old words, not so much.



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