Being outside looking in, I just know what I read in the trades, so I have no idea how much traffic they get from other AOL properties. But it seems to me, trapped by my prior experience as I am, that there's nothing really new under the sun -- they're just recreating their content channel strategy, only unbranded, blog-based, completely outside the client (duh), and oh yeah, relying heavily on relatively low-paid contractors.
(Bonus: No need for costly partnerships for content... just steal content [it's not really stealing if you attribute it properly], borrow graphics and link externally, like every other blog out there.)
When I was at People Connection, I was tangentially involved in our own niche blog efforts. These were independent of the channels' blog efforts; some of what we were doing didn't really make sense (until you accounted for organizational dynamics); and most of these are now dead.
A Red State Strategy
One thing that I suggested a few times, but didn't get any traction, was a "Red State" content niche play. I don't mean Red State in the political sense; I just meant "anything not favored by the bi-coastal media elite." God, guns, and gays. [That is, anti-gay, or at least not homo-friendly.]
Probably NASCAR, too.
I still think there's an opportunity. It would involve extensive coverage of:
* Guns, hunting and shooting sports. (There are a lot of gun nut message board community forums and blogs, but off the top of my head I can't come up with a slick, channel-style niche blog)
* Religion. I don't mean this high-falutin' BeliefNet-style "spirituality" crap. I mean prayer circles (requests for prayer, prayer-swapping -- people do this), guys in John 3:16 clown shock wigs, that sort of thing.
Yeah, I'm cynical and opportunistic when it comes to religion. But no moreso than the Bush administration.
* Larry the Cable Guy. Hey, I'm on the David Cross-side of the debate (to the extent that there is one), but somebody out there likes him.
* Wal-Mart. And not the breast-beating, muckraking stuff. It's the biggest employer in the US, and most of the country has shopped there. Shouldn't BloggingStocks give them a "The Unofficial Wal-Mart Weblog" treatment, more than a half-assed subcategory listing? If Trader Joe's has a fan site, shouldn't Wal-Mart?
* Living With Your Obesity-Related Health Complications lifestyle pieces.
If this list sounds condescending, it is. But not intentionally -- I'm a product of the urban/suburban East Coast, and I've spent a lot of time near the media elite. But it seems to me that there's an entire audience out there that deserves to be pandered to, that the bicoastal media elite won't touch because it's uncool. (At least, not until the hipsters ironically co-opt pieces of their culture -- see Crafting, PBR, and Deer Hunter videogames in bars.)