I'll confess, I got a lot of blank stares and "I'm sure you must know what you are doing" responses when I told my friends and family last month that I was leaving the New York Times after 17 years to join AOL.

AOL to most of them brings back a distant memory of a modem squeaking and the ever chipper voice booming "You've got MAIL!" back in the days when e-mail was exciting, rather than a mix of work obligations and offers for pills with rather unusual effects. Some associate the company with its rather ill-fated merger with Time Warner.

AOL is a very different company now. It is independent again. And its mission is to redefine journalism for the Internet age. That's why I joined. And that's why I'm inviting you to join us too, by way of this site, Seed.com, which I help run.

AOL today has 3,500 full and part-time journalists, asking questions, providing answers, telling stories, and taking pictures for 80 different Web sites including Engadget for technology, Spinner for indie music, Gadling for travel, and Politics Daily for, yes, politics. These sites served 77 million people last month.

But that's not enough. Our mission is what we call the Seed Creed: To satisfy the world's curiosity.

That's right. Whatever people want to know, whether it be about suffering in Sarajevo or shampooing a schnauzer, we want to be able to tell them -- fast, accurately, and in the most compelling way we can.

And that's where you come in.

Sign up
for Seed.com. It only takes a minute to register. Then you can see a list of all the topics we need you to write about or subjects we need photographs of. Soon we'll have video and other sorts of projects too.

Today, WalletPop, our personal finance site, asks people with first-hand experience to write "What it's like working at...Target." Sphere, our general news site, is looking for people to interview experts to write about "The Next Frontier in Space Exploration."

"You want me to be a reporter," you are saying to yourself with the hard-bitten cynicism of a veteran of the police beat. "What's in it for me?"

How does cold hard cash strike you? Well, at least the hot electronic equivalent zipped right to your bank or PayPal account. We'll pay anywhere from $10 to $300 for an article on Seed, depending on the complexity, your experience and the expected interest level. In the future, we may offer a way for you to share in the advertising revenue generated by your work.

The questions keep coming. "Aren't there a lot of other companies offering write-at-home work? How is Seed any different?"

Seed is different because AOL is different. With such a large staff of professional journalists working with Seed and some very sophisticated news-gathering technology, our sites offer readers a level of quality and breadth that others simply can't match.

And that means the experience of working for Seed is very different as well. Your work will appear right next to articles written by Pulitzer Prize winners and other journalists at the top of their game on sites seen daily by millions of people. And we're not just asking you to write from home in your pajamas. We're inviting you, if you're interested, to pick up your reporters' notebook and join us in our front row seats watching the most interesting events in our world.

Seed assignments will soon include covering sports events, press conferences and concerts. We're asking you to meet or talk on the phone with newsmakers, celebrities and experts in all subjects. We're looking for those with an eye for details to help us comb through documents and research a wide variety of topics to uncover interesting information. And we want those of you with a knack for taking pictures and shooting video to help document what our world looks like.

We're going to be picky. We only want to work with people with ability, dedication, and a commitment to the highest standards of accuracy and ethics. But we also know that there are people with talent for journalism in many places, not all of whom are interested in a full-time job. That's why our initial assignments are open to anyone. We'll buy the ones we like. Soon, we will add the ability to make specific assignments to people we've come to respect and others who have experience under their belts.

Over time, we're going to look for people to help us with other tasks too -- copy editing, fact checking, and compiling databases, for example.

I think we can say that we offer the widest range of opportunities for people interested in journalism and the very best place to build a career. We've got roles for people of every experience level, and a path to grow -- from Seed, to steady assignments on our sites, to full-time writing and editing positions.

That's what attracted me. And I hope you'll join us as well.