AOL has focused, almost pathologically, on local news over the past few years. The center piece of that strategy has been Patch, which is now getting a makeover. The new look focuses on social networking, and according to paidContent it will debut on five Long Island Patch sites, and slowly roll out to more - and that Patch CEO Jon Brod says the site is focusing on "content, conversation, and commerce."
Apparently, the social layout is designed to accommodate groups, created by editors and users alike. It's unclear what this means. What does belonging to specific group mean? Is it like Google+'s circles?
There are a few problems with AO'sL social networking aspirations. The company may want to learn a lesson from Google, and stop trying to beat Facebook at its own game. One thing is for sure, the only way to compete with Facebook is to offer something different and then integrate with the social networking behemoth (like Pinterest did). But local news sites are also notorious for problems with commenters. Neighborhood feuds and petty grievances have threatened to shut down more than one local site, and Patch will need to find a way to keep these kinds of incidents from turning its site into a gossip mill.