AOL, Huffington Post and the value of sexy

A lot of smart online folks are weighing in about this morning’s joint announcement that AOL is purchasing The Huffington Post for $315 million.

Arianna Huffington will join the AOL team as President and Editor of The Huffington Post Media Group. As such, she’ll lead all content on AOL, including Patch.com.

In his announcement, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong said the acquisition creates a “next-generation media company with a global reach that combines content, community, and social experiences for consumers.” He further cites that acquisition fits with AOL’s “80:80:80” focus – 80 percent of domestic spending is done by women, 80 percent of commerce happens locally and 80 percent of considered purchases are driven by influencers.

Jeff Jarvis writes that AOL isn’t buying content; it’s buying “a new cultural understanding of media that is built around the value of curation, the power of peers, the link economy, passion as an asset, and celebrity as a currency.”

I think there’s something more direct about this acquisition. Yes, AOL is buying audience. Yes, it’s adding celebrity to its content stable. Yes, it’s buying an almost priceless level of experience in leveraging social media.

Most importantly, I think, is this: AOL is buying sexy.

Seriously, is there anything less sexy than AOL? Some of us still remember using AOL installation CDs – mailed by the kajillion – as beer coasters or makeshift Frisbees.  Now it’s known for a failed marriage to Time-Warner, a few failed attempts at local (adios, Digital Cities) and a once-ubiquitous instant-messaging app that’s been decimated by, well, the entire social movement.

And then, to put a capital U on just how Unsexy AOL is, last week we read the leaked “AOL Way,” an internal document to train Patch editors on AOL’s goals, metrics and definitions. And while it is intelligent and data-driven – and every media company should have its vision and tactics so relentlessly codified – it is about as inspiring as actuary’s crib sheet.

HuffPo brings the sexy. HuffPo knows how to write great headlines and great social aggregation. (Imagine!) It revels in the fact that it’s intelligent and sometimes a bit naughty.

Imagine how Arianna will rewrite the AOL Way.

So, while we’ll definitely watch how this purchase influences audience trends and whether it will kick-start AOL’s flagging online-sales presence, we’ll be curious to see if it’s possible to take AOL past its image as the online equivalent to the pajama-jeans Before segment in an episode of “How Do I Look?”