AOL’s Propeller launched in 2006 as a “Digg Killer” – a Digg like site with editorial oversight that had massive netscape.com traffic directed to it. All those Netscape users were used to seeing a standard news page, though, and didn’t quite know what to do at the new site.
A variety of changes were made over time, including paying news submitters to lure them from Digg, changing the name to Propeller.com, and occasional layoffs. They even added a mascot. But nothing has stopped the decline of the site, and now AOL is appealing to previous users to come and give it another try.
A year ago 4.6 million people a month visited the site (Comscore worldwide). Now its 2.1 million, more than a 50% decline in unique visitors. Page views have also dropped by 50%, to just 6 million/month. Revenue is likely in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars per month at best, meaning that it is almost certainly costing AOL money to keep the lights on at the site.
It’s pretty clear that Propeller is a candidate to enter the deadpool, although the upside is the people working on it could go to more interesting projects at AOL. But they’re not giving up just yet. In an email to registered users who haven’t signed in recently (that would be me), Propeller General Manager Tom Drapeau said:
We at Propeller have noticed that while you have an active account with us, we haven’t seen you for a while. This e-mail is being sent to encourage you to come pay us a return visit, with the hope that you will consider making Propeller a part of your daily news consumption.
Over the past several months, we have greatly improved the experience at Propeller. We have added a member comment page and a Groups directory, added several RSS feeds, comment detail pages, greatly improved the homepage, added story sharing, member blocks, and improved the story submission process, allowing for images to be picked for stories.
We have also spent a considerable amount of time improving Propeller’s performance, the end result of which is a more functional, better looking and better performing site.
Propeller remains a news community with a strong politics and current events influence, where many different political views are heard and oftentimes spur substantive discussion on topics such as President Barack Obama, his first 100 days, and his domestic and foreign agendas. We also have our share of fun, with jokes, satire and YouTube videos populating our Humor category, as well as compelling submissions in our Arts & Entertainment, Business & Finance, Science & Technology, Religion, Style, Health & Fitness, Family and Sports categories.
We understand that you might have signed up on Propeller, only to have life events conspire against your time for online news reading. We especially understand given the current hard economic times. We are asking you to take a few minutes and pay us a visit. If Propeller isn’t to your liking, and you would like to tell us why, please leave your feedback here–it is greatly appreciated.
I have my doubts as to whether this’ll lead to a spike in unique visitors next month, but it shows they still have some fight in them. Good luck, Tom. I hope our next post on Propeller is something more positive.