Cloning AOL

One of the more exciting interviews I’ve gotten since I returned to freelancing in 1997 involved the launch of Above.Net.

The implications were obvious. By placing a data center by the Internet backbone, connected to all major carriers, and by mirroring that center at other sites around the world when needed, even the most popular files could be reached quickly.

In fact, it turned out that I was witnessing the birth of a new industry. Companies like Above.Net, Exodus Communications and Global Crossing Ltd. re-defined how major sites are served. There is no going back.

That Above.Net feeling returned this week as I listened to CMGI chairman David Wetherell, Novell Inc. chairman Eric Schmidt and Sun vice president Jonathan Schwartz describe CMGion, CMGI’s latest infrastructure venture.

CMGion solves a problem Above.Net left unsolved. That is, what happens to ads, profile data, and other information of value to marketers when you start mirroring sites worldwide?

The CMGion idea is based on building an “infostructure” around CMG’s NaviSite hosting, Novell’s NDS and Directory Enabled Net Infrastructure Model (DENIM), and Sun’s servers that will “mine the flow” of Internet traffic and support privacy-enabled personal portals. What this means is that advertising and profiling data won’t get lost when sites are cached.

“This will create a more efficient delivery of content and advertising,” Weatherell explained. “It means Web sites perform better. It also means you can get global distribution more efficiently, because you don’t have to replicate your site everywhere.”

“You need a directory to provide enhanced services, and know the person you’re delivering to is who they say they are,” added Schmidt. But this will enhance privacy, not degrade it, he insisted. “You’ll be able to edit what you want known about you. Your profile won’t be available to others, but it will be available to you.”

In addition to giving advertisers better targeting and (for the first time) accurate impression counts, the new architecture will also be platform-independent, working with Palm Pilots and cell phones, and it’s completely transparent.

Money to pay for all this will mainly come from corporations that want to improve their access to Internet resources or sites that want to improve users’ access to their resources. Capturing cached ad opportunities would also be a very good thing. Taking this load off the public Internet improves service to everyone.

If this is a good idea, like Above.Net, there will quickly be imitators. There are also many companies, like Akamai, Sandpiper and Digital Island, making a market in improving access to popular files. Weatherell said while they won’t disappear, they might be pushed into the outer edges of the network, improving access in places like Bangalore, India. He also invited satellite companies into the fray.

One of the reporters on the conference call mentioned America Online. How will they react to this news?

By becoming a customer of CMGion, Weatherell replied, AOL can be cloned and become instantly accessible worldwide. “They’re a centralized service. This would give them more efficient distribution,” said Weatherell.

Something that would make even America Online shout “Yahoo” can’t be all bad.

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