I have been mulling over the whole Google / AOL deal and trying to figure out why it would be promising so much. For example, Google will be showing AOL ads that link directly to AOL topics which match the search term. At first glance, this sounds like simple favoritism designed to be able to keep AOL as a revenue stream. However, after thinking about it, it may go beyond that. What do MSN and Yahoo! have that Google does not have? Original Content. What does AOL have? Original Content. Just as Google uses the DMOZ directory as if it were its own, it may be trying to compete with the likes of Yahoo! and MSN by using AOL's content as its own.
It is not all that unusual for a search engine to partner up with a company that has what it needs. Yahoo! itself used Google as its search engine until it developed its own. And of course, Microsoft also used other's search engines until it developed its own. Both of those companies already had original content, but they didn't have a viable search engine, so they partnered up to use someone else's.
Now Google is doing the exact opposite. They already have their own search engine, but they lack original content. Partner up with AOL, and voila, instant content.
If this is their purpose, and this is just speculation, then will it work? Will a few links or graphical ads give users that sense of content that a full fledged portal would? Personally, I don't think so. But I guess that the ease with which it can be accomplished (as compared to hiring a huge staff to create original content on a daily basis) makes it worth a shot.