AOL is interested in buying the world's largest tech blog, Mashable, we hear from a source at the internet conglomerate. And in fact the two sides have been talking, people outside AOL have whispered to one another, and to us.
A sale to the content-obsessed internet company would mean Mashable's founder Pete Cashmore really would have everything. Youth, being all of 24 years old. Looks, of the dark and smoldering sort the Scotsman pulls off so well (his current squeeze is said to be
actress Lindsay Campbell Next New Networks' Michelle Deforest, and Inc. magazine popularized him as "the Brad Pitt of the blogosphere"). And cash, on the scale you don't get just by leaving TechCrunch in the dust to become the most popular tech blog on the internet, a feat Cashmore pulled off last year. The only hitch might be negotiating with AOL; visa issues have had Cashmore hopping back and forth between Silicon Valley, where Mashable is based, and Scotland, leaving one Valley observer to wonder if he would really attempt negotiating with AOL "from his parent's basement in Aberdeen." (We've emailed Cashmore's staff and will update this post if and when we hear back.) UPDATE: Cashmore wrote back with a sort of "no comment;" see bottom of post.
A deal would work for AOL, newly spun off from Time Warner, as well. CEO Tim Armstrong wants a "laser focus" for the company, on content. He's already bought a local content company from himself and launched a strategy to tailor content to internet statistics like search queries.
Mashable's proven ability to generate great numbers and game Google and Twitter is part of the appeal, then, our AOL insider tells us. The site excels not only at writing Google-friendly content but also at earning a flood of links on social networks, most notably Twitter. That re-tweeting, in turn, is driven by the party tours Cashmore stages, which draw crowds of 400-500 in cities across the country, according to Inc, and which no doubt have helped the site diversify beyond hard-cole young male geeks (Mashable has drawn notice for its half female audience, a rare thing among Silicon Valley blogs).
Mahsable has "definitely been brought up in meetings as possible driving force behind Seed," said our AOLer, referring to the stats-driven system for farming out editorial work to freelancers. The notion that there have been acquisition talks between the two companies is mere rumor at this point, but it has not escaped AOL's notice that Mashable writes the sort of content advertisers pay for at a time when AOL's own editorial staff has been heavily reduced amid company layoffs, said our source, clearly no fan of Seed: "Mashable has been getting so Mainstream News, and their writers get paid in Twitter followers and air, so it just seems like a good fit."
Disclaimer: Mashable writers do not literally get paid in Twitter followers and air. But then, they don't work for AOL yet.
If you know more, email us, we'd love to hear from you. Especially on pricing. It's entirely possible, for example, that AOL execs will try to pay Cashmore entirely in vests. But only if they're smart!
UPDATE: Cashmore writes us, "We don't comment on speculation, but we do hold our writers in high regard and pay a competitive salary for their tireless efforts."