First reported last night by PaidContent, AOL’s Patch is starting to roll out a redesign that de-emphasizes editorial content and news and puts much more focus on user generated content, groups and community. The redesign rollout is starting in the East and will be completed this year.
Here’s a screen from the homepage of the Alameda edition of the current Patch:
This is what the new Patch design looks like:
Patch’s editorial model has always been perhaps too expensive for AOL and so it has gradually been backing away from journalistic content. The new design is a further step away, emphasizing user-generated content and groups. AOL would likely say this is merely a continuation of existing strategies.
Gone is the pretense of being a news site. It now reminds me of a flashier version of AmericanTowns.com.
My sense is that to work Patch had to build a trusted local brand and become a destination — not just rely on SEO. AOL was also (may still also be) using the HuffingtonPost to drive traffic to the site. But I don’t believe that really helped all that much.
I’m sure there are individual Patch sites that are doing well but overall not so much.
Quality “hyper-local” content, which was Patch’s original raison d’etre, is costly to produce. And most institutional AOL investors complained that Patch wasn’t paying off fast enough to justify the continued level of spending on editorial.