AOL and Blogsmith

Since the first story out there was that Valleywag one, I’ve gotten a bunch of email asking for the real Blogsmith details.

Here goes:

When Jason and I decided to create a blog network, I came up with two names: Weblogs, Inc. and Blogsmith. I registered both domains on the same day, June 15, 2003.

“Weblogs, Inc.” summed up “professional blog publishing company” really well, so Blogsmith (like blacksmith) became the name of our publishing platform. I built the first version of the platform myself in ASP, what I knew best at the time. Then I brought on a guy named Dave to help with development. We spent one summer dabbling in ASP.NET with another developer. I had high hopes for that and it seemed like the right thing to do next, but in the fourth month of a three-month project we figured out that was a disaster. Dave and I had recently built a publishing system for the Kansas City Chiefs in ASP that was scaling quite well (and still does), so we cranked out Blogsmith 2.0 in regular old ASP in time for AdJab to cover the commercials of 2005’s Super Bowl.

That Fall I hooked up with Gavin and we started building the Linux and PHP version of the platform, Blogsmith 3.0. (I think you can tell that I just skipped over a story that I’ll revisit out some other day.)

Later that Fall we sold Weblogs, Inc. to AOL. They did not buy Blogsmith, which was a separate company. They bought Weblogs, which was effectively a profitable magazine company that published in blog format. If I had to guess at why they didn’t buy Blogsmith, I’d say that they must have reasoned that they only had to buy Weblogs to hire Jason. The quality of that insight and the way I was giggling when I typed it should be an indication that I can’t tell you what goes on in the mind of AOL — especially back before we were a part of it.

So Blogsmith continued to run outside of AOL and we continued to expand the team and planned for rolling it out to more customers than just Weblogs, but I became busier than ever — mainly integrating Weblogs with AOL. Jason was put in charge of Netscape in the Spring and we ended up raiding my Blogsmith team to build the new Netscape social news platform that went live in June. The Blogsmith team members we didn’t hire onto Netscape I loanedto Netscape.

At the same time, the demand for Blogsmith was heating up. We were struggling to keep up with requests for blogs as our remaining two-man team was building out features for TMZ so they could go live on Blogsmith — also in June when Netscape launched.

June sucked.

Then AOL launched two music blogs in Blogsmith: AOL Music News Blog — which is better than you’d expect from the name — and, an older domain reborn as a great indie music news blog. Following that they launched The Fanhouse covering NCAA football and the NFL and an elections blog which features Sam Donaldson’s Ask Sam column.

That brings us to November and Blogsmith — like Weblogs a year before it — is now owned by AOL.

Obviously AOL likes our enterprise blogging platform, but I think the quality of Blogsmith’s versatile team factored into AOL’s decision — maybe even in equal parts. I reclaimed the team members who had been on a “Netscape detour” and we’ve kicked off some major upgrades. We moved to a multi-city version of the platform. That was both the largest and smoothest server move I’ve ever been a part of. Right now my team is in Florida without me working on an overhaul of the publishing tools.

So what is AOL going to do with Blogsmith? Whatever they want to do with it.

Is AOL going to release Blogsmith to the public as a Typepad/WordPress/YouTube/Wal-Mart/Starbucks-killer or not? Yes.

I hope that clears up all of the questions surrounding AOL’s acquisition of Blogsmith and the product’s history.

If you have any more questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll reply if I can.

Published by Brian Alvey

I build software that makes creative people more powerful.

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