AOL Supplements Local Content with Patch and Going

The local space keeps chugging along in what seems like a million different directions. As of today, though, AOL is the final destination for two little-known local content and community site networks. Small local community network Patch Media Corp. and young adult-aimed entertainment social play Going were scooped up by the firm, though exactly how they’ll integrate with the rest of their AOL brethren remains to be seen.

Both buys should complement AOL’s existing local and social content and ad offerings. Going, which lets young social butterflies post and comment on upcoming local entertainment events and meet up with others interested in attending them, would make for a natural fit with AOL-owned social net Bebo, for instance.

Patch, on the other hand, is more of a local, independent journalism project with a community feel, focused on local content topics like sports, restaurants, directories, and events. There’s also a somewhat unique area featuring contact information for local government, schools, and other practical info. The network offers self-serve Facebook-style text and image ads, and standard display units on just a handful of New Jersey-based sites representing Maplewood, Millburn-Short Hills, Westfield, and ScotchPlains-Fanwood. Local media consultant and blogger Jeff Jarvis is an editorial advisor for the young company.

The Patch acquisition can be viewed as somewhat nepotistic since new AOL CEO Tim Armstrong is an investor in the firm, launched late in 2007. “It was sort of inevitable that Patch would be acquired by AOL,” suggested local media analyst and consultant Greg Sterling. However, he believes the company is a “reasonably good fit” for AOL, whose local operations already include City Guide, Yellow Pages, MapQuest, and Moviefone.

“These are probably good acquisitions for them that complement what I would call their emerging local strategy�.I think it’s becoming a lot more cohesive,” said Sterling.

It’s unclear how the acquisitions will serve advertisers, though one obvious outcome is for AOL to include the sites in its Platform-A network, to extend its reach into niche, local markets. “This becomes part of this portfolio that they can push out to Platform-A advertisers to some degree,” Sterling said.

An AOL spokesperson told ClickZ News that the company is more likely to be able to address strategic plans for the new acquisitions after Armstrong’s initial hundred days. However, a company statement noted AOL will focus on investing in local in the future.

AOL is among several large online media firms looking for the local holy grail. Companies like Yahoo, Citysearch owner IAC, Yelp, and online newspaper publishers like Gannett are all competing to find the right mix of local news and information, community and social features, and ad opportunities to satisfy consumers and attract national and small business advertisers. Small local startups are also fighting to score local ad dollars.

According to local media research firm Borrell Associates, local online ad expenditures will go from $12.6 billion in 2008 to $13.3 billion this year.

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