So Sphere — the “related-content engine” whose plugin I have been using here for some time — has been bought by AOL. As my friend Om Malik is, I’m happy for Tony Conrad and the team. At the same time, however, I have to wonder whether becoming part of AOL is such a great idea. Is it better than struggling along as a startup? Perhaps. But Sphere could be exchanging the frying pan for the fire. Chaos may be too strong a word, but AOL has been going through considerable upheaval.
Obviously, an exit that is in the $25-million range (according to Mike Arrington) is nothing to sneeze at. But will it help Sphere to be part of an online venture that is still trying to remake itself, and is part of a gigantic media conglomerate — a conglomerate that may or may not have a commitment to the company longer term? I’m not so sure. I hope that the company’s advisors, who have included Toni Schneider and Matt Mullenweg of Automattic, are guiding the company in the right direction (Toni Schneider certainly seems to think it is).
As Kara Swisher says, it would be a shame if Sphere were to “fall into one of the dark holes” over at AOL, since Tony and his team seem like a great group. Before I added the Sphere plugin to my blog, I tore a strip off the company’s blog search for being irrelevant — and Tony not only took it in stride, but listened to the criticism and the service got better. I wish them nothing but the best, and I hope that AOL is it.