Peter Kafka

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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 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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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus