How AOL adapted in tech to survive the winds of change
No story illustrates the fleeting nature of success like AOL’s.
Back in the early 90s, at the dawn of the Internet Age, AOL reigned supreme over all other tech companies. It was one of the very first companies to offer consumers access to the Internet. At that time, if you were not subscribed to AOL, you probably weren’t online. You were off the information superhighway.
Fast-forward to the late 90s, when dial-up Internet—remember that?—began disappearing in favor of broadband high-speed internet, and we witness AOL’s first killer blow to its prowess. High-speed internet took all of the wind out of the sails of the tech giant. It was all downhill from there. Well, almost. Like all authentic stories, the actual story is more complicated than that.
Yes, it’s true. AOL has now been swallowed up by the new bully in town, Verizon. “AOL” may or may not disappear altogether from consciousness—the way “Cingular” has. Or Verizon may decide to keep it around as a brand. See what it can still do. We don’t know what will happen to the name, but we do have an idea what could happen to the spirit of AOL.
AOL’s takeover by Verizon is not, by any means, the folding of the tents of an enterprise. AOL has been making a comeback since May 2009, when it finally divorced itself out of the sorry merger with Time Warner. As it begins a new relationship with Verizon, its stated goal is to integrate itself into the booming mobile market and to become—with its owner—a “media company for the 21st century.” In other words, AOL lives on.
There must be something we can learn from the AOL story. It’s not on top today, but it hasn’t disappeared either. Not only has it not disappeared, it’s made some forward-thinking, bold moves in the years running up to its purchase that made it a worthwhile asset.
AOL—even if it was not always successful—never stopped attempting to adapt and innovate. Here are some moves it made right.
Its acquisition of the Huffington Post
AOL recognized the news wunderkind that is the Huffington Post. HuffPo began with a paltry $1 million investment to quickly become one of the most visited news websites in the country. The deal allowed “AOL to greatly expand its news gathering and original content creation, areas that its chief executive, Tim Armstrong, [viewed] as vital to reversing a decade-long decline,” wrote the New York Times.
Its acquisition of Tech Crunch
AOL’s acquisition of Tech Crunch bolstered its online editorial business, added to its technology coverage. According to the Times, “The acquisition [was] another step in AOL’s quest to revive its reputation as a hub for online news.
Both of these acquisitions signaled AOL’s intent to continue its transformation for a subscription-based service to an ad-supported digital media company. This strategy differentiates it from Google which—though also ad-based—does not create its own content. Then with the HuffPo and Tech Crunch, it had two top-quality content producers.
As AOL merges with Verizon, both companies stand to gain. AOL’s decision to sell itself to Verizon is not a signal of its demise but its desire to carry on. It has chosen to work with a partner as it continues its evolution to whatever it will be tomorrow.
Related Story: Mergers & Acquisitions
How changing your company's software code can prevent bias
Two-third of tech professionals believe organizations aren’t doing enough to address racial inequality. After all, many companies will just hire a DEI consultant, have a few training sessions and call it a day.
Wanting to take a unique yet impactful approach to DEI, Deltek, the leading global provider of software and solutions for project-based businesses, took a look at and removed all exclusive terminology in their software code. By removing terms such as ‘master’ and ‘blacklist’ from company coding, Deltek is working to ensure that diversity and inclusion are woven into every aspect of their organization.
Business Chief North America talks to Lisa Roberts, Senior Director of HR and Leader of Diversity & Inclusion at Deltek to find out more.
Why should businesses today care about removing company bias within their software code?
We know that words can have a profound impact on people and leave a lasting impression. Many of the words that have been used in a technology environment were created many years ago, and today those words can be harmful to our customers and employees. Businesses should use words that will leave a positive impact and help create a more inclusive culture in their organization
What impact can exclusive terms have on employees?
Exclusive terms can have a significant impact on employees. It starts with the words we use in our job postings to describe the responsibilities in the position and of course, we also see this in our software code and other areas of the business. Exclusive terminology can be hurtful, and even make employees feel unwelcome. That can impact a person’s desire to join the team, stay at a company, or ultimately decide to leave. All of these critical actions impact the bottom line to the organization.
Please explain how Deltek has removed bias terminology from its software code
Deltek’s engineering team has removed biased terminology from our products, as well as from our documentation. The terms we focused on first that were easy to identify include blacklist, whitelist, and master/slave relationships in data architecture. We have also made some progress in removing gendered language, such as changing he and she to they in some documentation, as well as heteronormative language. We see this most commonly in pick lists that ask to identify someone as your husband or wife. The work is not done, but we are proud of how far we’ve come with this exercise!
What steps is Deltek taking to ensure biased terminology doesn’t end up in its code in the future?
What we are doing at Deltek, and what other organizations can do, is to put accountability on employees to recognize when this is happening – if you see something, say something! We also listen to feedback our customers give us and have heard their feedback on this topic. Those are both very reactive things of course, but we are also proactive. We have created guidance that identifies words that are more inclusive and also just good practice for communicating in a way that includes and respects others.
What advice would you give to other HR leaders who are looking to enhance DEI efforts within company technology?
My simple advice is to start with what makes sense to your organization and culture. Doing nothing is worse than doing something. And one of the best places to start is by acknowledging this is not just an HR initiative. Every employee owns the success of D&I efforts, and employees want to help the organization be better. For example, removing bias terminology was an action initiated by our Engineering and Product Strategy teams at Deltek, not HR. You can solicit the voices of employees by asking for feedback in engagement surveys, focus groups, and town halls. We hear great recommendations from employees and take those opportunities to improve.