@ EconSM: Interview: Ron Grant, President, AOL: Bebo Will Return Us To Our Roots

AOL president Ron Grant, appearing on our EconSM panel, suggested new acquisition of Bebo would be used to thread social features throughout AOL’s new-look websites. In a later chat with my colleagues David Kaplan, Staci Kramer and I, Grant expanded on the philosophy and talked about the “turnaround” for a content-conscious AOL (NYSE: TWX). He encapsulated a litany of hinted-at forthcoming social publishing initiatives: “We have a very different approach to content right now.” And how

“We’re not trying to build a portal. We’re literally putting relevance front-and-center – relevant ads, relevant content, and letting the users decide where to take these platforms. That’s what you’ll see a lot with Bebo. We’re not going to care where the content comes from. We’re just going to put the right stuff in front of the right people.

“We have open APIs, we have the open platform that Bebo has. We have to look at everybody as a potential partner because, right now, it’s not about building destinations; it’s about really engaging people and expanding the reach. I’m not going to speak for Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO), but what we believe right now is, we want to be able to take this social media aspect and allow the users to take it anywhere they want to go – whether it’s a Bebo environment, a Google (NSDQ: GOOG) environment or a desktop widget or it’s something that’s within a passion point.

You will see AOL much more return to its community roots and Bebo will play a very central role in that.”

“Our audience is growing, but it’s a new audience we’re attracting. Look at (men’s lifestyle site) Asylum – that’s a brand new audience; they don’t even know they’re on AOL.” No title is divulged yet for the imminent women’s version, but: “If you look at what we have already, even if we never launched anything initially, we’re, like, number three and we would catch iVillage and those folks.”

Locating Bebo’s president: “She’s going to be in two places basically. She’s going to be part of the (AOL) management team. I’ll leave it up to her whether she wants a corporate title! She’s going to have an office right next to mine in New York. At this point, she’s going to go back and forth. It’s going to be hard to go back and forth but I want to make sure she has a complete presence at headquarters. I know the people at Google (from where Shields joined Bebo) think she’s fantastic; she’s got a great team.”

ContentScreen: AOL claims to have a solution to marketers greatest fear about appearing next to objectionable content on social net pages. AOL’s Platform-A is launching a content-screening application that employs the same technology used by AOL’s spam controls. Except this is not for e-mail, this is for serving ads. The screening app will contextually crawl content pages to apply a quality score. Advertising will only be served to pages that surpass a planned