With HuffPo purchase, AOL just might, finally, be turning the corner. But probably not.

You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger skeptic about AOL than me, and my skepticism comes from many angles: as a former subscriber, a former advertiser, and even a former employee of the company for 2 years.

Yet with today’s announcement that AOL is buying the Huffington Post, and following AOL’s acquisition last September of TechCrunch, I’m wondering if maybe, just maybe, this dinosaur of an irrelevant brand might be able to be resurrected under Tim Armstrong’s watch. He certainly has kicked butt compared to what Carol Bartz has hasn’t done at Yahoo.

But I’m just not sure.  Despite making some bold and promising moves, Tim faces an uphill battle.  The reason is that the AOL brand itself has such a legacy of decline, mismanagement, and irrelevancy associated with it by many different constituencies, that I just don’t know if it’s salvageable. My advice: ditch it completely.

As I started this post I started remembering a bunch of specifics about AOL: the insane examples of dysfunctional management which occurred while I was a mid-level manager there, the wrath bestowed on the company by agencies and advertising clients who felt ripped off, the frustration of consumers as they tried to close their accounts, and the irrelevancy of the brand as millions of subscribers every quarter ditched AOL’s dial-up service to switch to broadband provided by someone else.

So much content came to mind that I though, hey – how about a series of posts on the subject?

Yeah, it’s easy to kick this maimed horse, but my real point will be to convey just how deeply damaged the core equity of the brand must be.  If I were in Tim’s shoes (and I am most thankful that I am not) the AOL brand would be out the window.

Thus marks the intro to my new, happy-go-lucky series entitled: “You’ve Got Stale: Why the AOL brand should be thrown out like last week’s curdled milk.” (I know, right? Catchy AND short.)

I know you’re riveted. Stay tuned.

Restaurant websites: Put daily specials on the homepage

I’ve written before about restaurant websites and how so many of them sacrifice clear and easy-to-find information for unnecessary, bloated design and animation.

Here’s a crazy thought: rather than bog down restaurant websites with unwanted animation and music, how about putting some actual topical info on the homepage, like “today’s specials.”  That would provide a solid reason for customers to check the site (thus creating an advantage vs. menu scraper sites) and might even stimulate incremental visits that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

It doesn’t even have to be in HTML. Just carve out a fixed portion of real estate on the homepage, spend 5 minutes each day taking a photo of a handwritten specials page or chalkboard, and use a cheap content management system to publish.

That’s timely, has character, and probably most importantly gives potential customers information of real value and a reason to visit the site. Oh, and it doesn’t beep, blink, spin or flash. Amen.

800-337-9249 spam call from eFolks.com on behalf of CreditReport.com

Nothing irks me like telemarketing spam.

I’ve been on the national do not call registry for years and thankfully rarely get telemarketing calls any more.  But this week CreditReport.com called my cell phone several times, using an outsourced telemarketing spamhouse called efolks.com (located in North Salt Lake City, UT).

Today I took the call (from 800-337-9249) and told them to never call back, that I had never done business with them, and that I was on the do not call registry.

I guess they thought I was playing hard to get, because they called back 15 minutes later with a different agent.  They launched in about helping me ‘find the negative info on my credit report.’ (there is none.)  It wasn’t a pretty conversation.

If you’re on the do not call list and receive a call from these phone spammers, file a complaint with the FTC.

This is just one more example of how the credit agencies are sleazy with their marketing methods.  See a related blog post here.

Side note: a recruiter reached out to me just this week for a SVP Marketing search for Experian Consumer Direct. His email pitch was:

CD is an extremely profitable $700MM division of Experian that is best known as freecreditreport.com; over the past few years the revenues of ECD have grown from $50MM to $700MM+.  This position has around a $200MM budget and is extremely high visibility within Experian.

No doubt it pays well. If you’d like to sell your soul and be a candidate, let me know and I’ll be happy to connect you with the recruiter.

New Hunch reports

We’ve been producing lots of interesting reports lately using Hunch data. Among them:

Voting in an Echo Chamber: The Myth of the “Informed” Vote

Aisle vs Window: The great debate

There’s also Magazines and Music, The Science of Attraction, and many more in the full report list.

Enjoy!

New Verizon iPhone NOT coming by Jan (reliable source)

It’s confirmed: there will not be a Verizon iPhone available anytime before February 2011.

I know this because I had a 15 minute conversation with a local Verizon rep. while he was selling me a Droid X. I’ll call him Myron to protect my valuable source. This is serious intel.

"Ain't happenin'": A reliable source

“It’s happening, but not anytime soon,” Myron said, “And certainly not in January,” he added for dramatic emphasis.

How was he so sure?  He cited two reasons.  First, he says that secrets aren’t kept very well at Verizon, and if the phone were truly coming out in January, this would be the best-kept secret the company had ever had.

Secondly, he said that typically, training for major new products begins months in advance of their release, since customers start coming in and calling to inquire about the upcoming change. But there hasn’t been a peep about iPhone training.

These sound like perfectly reasonable conclusions to me.

So I’m discounting the fact that reputable media sources have followed the CDMA chip supply chain to note huge increases in core component sourcing.  I’m also ignoring the reports that contracted call centers have been asked to massively ramp up in anticipation of a major launch. And analyst speculation? Poppycock.

Could this conclusion have anything to do with justifying a decision to buy a pricey Droid X (with not much of a discount), because I just couldn’t stomach my POS LG “touchscreen” for one more day?  Could it have anything to do with the fact that Myron wanted to close a $350 deal today rather than see a customer walk until January? Nah.

So, draw your own conclusions based on “facts” and “senior management insiders”, but on this one, I’m going with Myron.

A weekend above 23rd Street

Since this was our first weekend in the city after closing up the Fire Island house, we decided to break out of our routine and venture uptown.  It was great.

We had dinner Saturday at Robert, in the Museum of Arts & Design on Columbus Circle.  (Warning: the restaurant’s website is really irritating.)  Food was great, interior design is terrific, views are amazing, and service was spotty but generally ok. We’ll definitely go back.

Our table at the restaurant. Amazing views of Columbus Circle, the Upper West Side, and Central Park.

The view of Columbus Circle from our table at Robert

After dinner we took a 10 min tour through the Hudson Hotel, which has an amazing outdoor terrace/bar.

Then we walked another 10 minutes or so to the new Ink 48 hotel on 48th & 11th.  Views from the 16th floor rooftop bar were absolutely stunning; there are no other tall buildings around, and it provided a rare East-facing view of Times Square and midtown.

Big City Lights

270 degree panorama shot taken with the help of my new Droid X

Nifty water feature has changing light colors

Sunday we headed back to the Upper West Side, starting out with a stroll around the Natural History Museum.

Museum of Natural History

Heed that warning

We passed by several nice-looking brunch places, but most were pretty dog-unfriendly and wouldn’t allow Nanu to sit under the table in their outdoor patios. Finally we found a place with less stringent rules. Our brunch at Al Dente was actually quite good, although the online reviews I read today are pretty bad, so I guess I wouldn’t recommend it in general.

Our meal was good at Al Dente, but online reviews are pretty bad

Next, we checked out an outdoor flea market. It was pretty upscale and they had some interesting stuff.

Old compasses, magnifying glasses, telescopes and sextants

Still, there were no buyers

Finally, someone’s short, little legs were getting tired. (And Nanu seemed to be getting pooped, too.) So we headed back down to Chelsea, with one of us hanging out the taxi window to greet passers-by.

Short legs are getting tired by this point

City girl on her way home

Key performance metrics for pets

It’s good to have goals, and it’s even better to measure progress against them.

Even Nanu knows that. That’s why Diane, our dog walker, measures performance every day on Nanu’s Key Performance Metrics dashboard.

It’s all very demanding & intense.  So much so, that sometimes a performance slip-up warrants an explanation.

Take Sept 27th, for example.  A less-than-perfect performance came with the caveat: “Too much rain for her to poop.”

Seems like a reasonable justification to me.  And that’s exactly the excuse I’m going to use the next time my  TPS reports are late.  Good inspiration, Nanu.