The XX Factor

If You Google Those Exhibitionists, AOL Will Make them Come.

Content creators, content consumers, and advertisers already exist in an uneasy, precarious balance (and please don’t think I’m unaware of my own place in the media food chain). Online, the symbiotic cycle takes on new intensity because of the incredible speed with which it operates. AOL, which owns and operates a number of sites across the Internet, just announced a renewed intent to stay on top of the precise content we’re interested in, and to have freelancers and editors ready to respond with more and better stories about exactly what we’re looking for. (Disclosure: I’ve written for an AOL site.)

Of course, that’s nothing new-editors and writers have always intended to write and publish stories about things readers care about, and advertisers have always rewarded the publications that best achieve that goal with the most advertising dollars. What’s different is that AOL hopes to predict the most sought-after content, not through editorial judgment and reporting, but by using an algorithm created by a “wide swath of data” collected by AOL. In other words, when we search online for news, we won’t just be looking for news, but demanding it. So the more fascinated we are by the Salahis and their ilk, the more we’ll have to read about them.

That said, we’ve already moved on. According to Google Trends, neither the Salahis, the Heenes, nor any other reality TV celebrities or wannabes even made yesterday’s top 40. So while 15 minutes of fame may be easier to get, it’s also easier for our tiny collective attention span to hit the gong and get somebody else out on the stage. But if AOL’s plan works, we’ll have absolute proof that you’re both right: When it comes to the fame of the Salahis, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. Maybe we should all try Googling “health insurance that covers everyone” and see if we can’t get that, too.