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AOL targets classified ad dollars with launch of 500 local sites

AOL is to launch an additional 500 websites under its ‘Patch’ brand this year, part of a broader effort to remake itself as a destination for users seeking maps, reviews, and other local content.

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AOL has launched 100 of these local sites so far and plans to spend more than $50 million to initiate hundreds more this year.

The company, which is trying to move past its roots as a dial-up Internet service provider, AOL is eyeing $20 billion of local online advertising dollars,

The move, announced on Tuesday, is part of the company's turnaround strategy conceived when it spun off from Time Warner Inc after a disastrous 10-year marriage.

AOL has been since shedding properties like the social networking site Bebo, streamlining its sales force and rebuilding its ad platform to capture more marketing dollars.

"We think local will be an important part of future," said Chief Executive Tim Armstrong, who was an original investor in Patch before he joined AOL from Google Inc.

Jon Brod, executive vice president for AOL Local and a Patch founder, said that as traditional media struggles there is chasm of quality information at the community level. "That is the need Patch is filling," Brod said.

The AOL-owned Patch sites operate as an ‘online-only community newspaper’ covering everything from neighborhood crime-related events to gallery showings.

Brod said AOL first wants to concentrate on increasing Patch readership as its sales team hunts for three types of advertisers: small, locally owned businesses, banks and auto dealerships, and national advertisers interested in targeted buys.

Patch is just one part of AOL's content offering, which also includes Seed, a platform that relies on user-generated material on popular topics, and several popular topic-specific sites like Engadget, which is dedicated to consumer electronics and tech gadgets.

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