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AOL Bought Techcrunch for More Than the Pageviews

AOL (AOL) bought TechCrunch today, adding the web's number one tech blog to its growing stable of media properties. Most pundits have highlighted this as a simple extension of CEO Tim Armstrong's focus on journalism. But TechCrunch also ties AOL to the best startup ecosystem and public database in today's tech community.

From the standpoint of journalism this purchase makes sense, but it doesn't come close to justifying the $30-40 million dollar price tag being batted around. In a video interview today Armstrong highlighted some of the other important reasons for this deal to TechCrunch co-editor Erick Shconfeld.

The "integration of structured data with journalism" is how Armstrong described one of the key attributes that drew him to TechCrunch. That's a wonky way to talk about features like Crunchbase, an online encyclopedia of technology companies, personalities and investments. For anyone writing or researching about the tech world it is frequently the best resource. Competitors like Business Insider have begun building their own versions, but TechCrunch has a big head start.

More interestingly, this data has also been made accessible to software developers through an API. This has allowed for experiments like Rapportive's integration between Crunchbase and Gmail. Few journalistic organizations have taken the breadth of their reporting and transformed it into rich data sets in this way. AOL could use Crunchbase to deepen the experience for readers across a number of their business sites.

This deal was also announced at the annual TechCrunch Disrupt event. Ostensibly this gathering is a forum for small entrepreneurs to pitch their businesses and find publicity and funding. But when heavyweights like Google (GOOG) CEO Eric Schmidt are attending, it's clear that Disrupt has become a crucial part of the Silicon Valley.

As my colleague Erik Sherman writes, integrating the culture's of these two companies may prove difficult. But if some of TechCrunch rubs off on AOL, that would be a good thing. Armstrong won't have first dibs on any promising startups, but for a company like AOL, which long ago fell from its perch atop the tech world, proximity to the energy and ideas of the TechCrunch community could pay big dividends.

Image from Flickr user George Kelly