Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

AOL Sells Content Recommender Surphace to Content Recommender Outbrain

Tim Armstrong has disposed of another asset that AOL bought before he showed up: The company has sold Surphace, its content recommendation engine, to Outbrain, which does the same thing.

I don’t have the deal terms, but my hunch is that no cash is involved, and that AOL’s compensation could come in the form of equity in privately held Outbrain, or a tax benefit, or both.

“In keeping with the AOL strategy, any place where we are not a leader in the category or profitable, we are going to look at partnerships or other alternatives. This is one of those businesses. We are pleased we found a great home for the Surphace technology and its employees,” AOL venture and local head Jon Brod said in a statement.

Outbrain CEO Yaron Galai declined to comment.

AOL acquired Surphace for something north of  $25 million in 2008, when it was called Sphere, and Armstrong was still running ad sales at Google. Co-founder Tony Conrad left AOL in 2009, but has since come back as part of the About.me acquisition late last year.

Both Surphace and Outbrain do roughly the same thing: They allow publishers to automatically present related pieces of content to Web surfers, based on the very straightforward theory that a visitor interested in a certain kind of story would stick around if offered similar stuff. (All Things D is a Surphace customer, so you can see it in action at the bottom of this post).

AOL reports earnings early tomorrow morning.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik