Brad Garlinghouse goes to AOL; 9 yrs ago, I was there.

I was thinking this afternoon, as I hung out at a friend’s BBQ, that November is the 10 year anniversary of the job interview that led me to move to California to be a VP at Netscape.com. I started end of December, 1999, and moved out right before the AOL-TW merger. The campus was gorgeous, cascades of yellow roses and fountains everywhere, with happy engineers playing roller hockey at lunch and tossing frisbees with their dogs (really!). Of course, that changed by 2001 and AOL shrunk the staff down to perhaps one building from. oh, 10–and shipped as much of the talent as would go to the Compuserve campus in Columbus, Ohio. (No, I did not go there).

So tonight I learned that ex-Yahoo SVP Brad Garlinghouse is heading over to the new AOL, the one Tim Armstrong is rebuilding out of the ashes of 50 past versions. And that AOL is going to–with Brad’s direction–expand the SV campus, once again.

What’s it like to take the reins of a legacy organization that has been reinvented so many times the people with the baggage hopefully left long ago? Is AOL today a tribute band, with the leaders trying to channel Steve Case and Ted Leonsis in the bright hope of the early days, or is it something old and familar that suddenly has the freedom to reinvent itself anew?  It would be great for Brad if it were the latter, and if all those resources AOL still has were placed in Brad’s hands.

The law of eternal return suggests how small a valley it is, and how much the same execs combine and recombine in new combinations and roles. If Brad can make AOL apps relevant again, then Tim Armstrong’s made a damned good hire.