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AOL buys TechCrunch

By Stacy Cowley, tech editor

SAN FRANCISCO (CNNMoney.com) -- TechCrunch said Tuesday it has agreed to be acquired by AOL, a deal that came together quickly after rumors of the negotiations leaked.

"This wasn't supposed to happen today -- this was supposed to happen later," TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington said from the stage at TechCrunch's Disrupt conference. "So we had to rush through this."

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong joined Arrington onstage to sign the acquisition papers in front of the conference audience. Arrington polled the crowd on whether or not he should sign. "Absolutely not!" beat "yay" by about a 60/40 split.

Arrington signed anyway.

TechCrunch, which launched in 2005 and quickly became one of Silicon Valley's most influential news outlets, operates a network of tech-focused blogs. Audience traffic tracker Compete.com estimates the TechCrunch network generates more than 2 million visitors each month.

AOL (AOL) already has a foot in the tech blog world with Engadget, the popular hardware enthusiast site it picked up in its 2005 purchase of blog network Weblogs Inc.

While many Weblogs sites folded in the wake of that deal, the survivors include some high-profile successes like TVSquad, Autoblog and The Unofficial Apple Weblog.

These blogs help anchor a fast-growing AOL blog network whose marquee sites include DailyFinance, WalletPop, Luxist and SlashFood. (DailyFinance and WalletPop are CNNMoney.com partners.)

AOL's highest profile -- and most expensive -- initiative is Patch, a hyperlocal blog network that currently has more than 100 sites chronicling communities across the U.S. AOL says it is investing $50 million to rapidly expand Patch, which aims to cover 500 places by early 2011.

Like Yahoo, AOL is trying to develop a vast content reservoir while walking the fine line between mass and class. Its Seed system for buying and distributing content mimics the model eHow creator Demand Media popularized: Pay freelancers rock-bottom rates to churn out a flood of dashed-off content optimized to rank highly in search engines. Demand filed for an IPO last month.

But AOL and Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) -- which in May acquired Demand rival Associated Content -- have recently made moves aimed at boosting their content quality. Each has poached star journalists from outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek and Politico to build sites focused on breaking news and investigative reporting. To top of page

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