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AOL redoes home page

By Rob Pegoraro

AOL has a new home page today. That this may be the company's biggest news since ejecting out of its disastrous merger with Time Warner helps to illustrate the company's problems.



The new home page design, as outlined in a press release, isn't immediately earth-shattering. As you can see in the two screen grabs at right--with the new design above the old one, still available via a "Back to Classic" link," below--the changes mainly reorganize existing content in the first screenful. The directory of links at the left and the video module take up less space, allowing for an extra column of content and the trending-topics list that has become a standard ingredient at numerous sites (this one included).

Visitors who scroll down can see more interesting fare, such as a module for AOL's "Lifestream" social-media tool that can consolidate friends' updates at such popular (and non-AOL) sites as Facebook and Twitter. Local news also gets its own spot, provided by AOL's Patch network of neighborhood news sites in some locations.

The new site doesn't attempt to determine your location from your Internet address and fill in the local news and weather modules accordingly.

In a phone briefing Thursday, Chris Grosso, AOL's home-page general manager, and Kerry Trainor, a vice president for entertainment there, provided other details about the new design--the New York-based firm's first in almost two years. Both emphasized the importance of video (though the Adobe Flash-based clips on the old and new sites don't work on an iPad or iPhone) and sounded like TV execs as they discussed how the site is "programmed by daypart," with news taking precedence in the morning and lifestyle items getting more play in afternoons.

Grosso and Treanor noted another advantage to the redesign of a page visited by 15 million people a day: compatibility with the larger ad formats AOL recently launched under the unfortunate name "Project Devil."

AOL's publicists took the extra step of having chief executive Tim Armstrong do a series of phone interviews with journalists. My turn came up Friday afternoon, and my first question was this: What about a home page redesign is so special as to require the CEO's salesmanship?

Armstrong, hired away from Google a couple of months before AOL celebrated its 25th birthday last spring, gamely replied, "We have 15 million people a day on our home page, and I think anytime 15 million people a day are involved in something, the CEO should get on the phone to talk about it."

My next question noted the popularity of some of the sites AOL has bought or started up without a strong AOL brand: Engadget, TechCrunch, Fanhouse or Politics Daily, among others. I spend a good hour a day on the first two sites in that list alone, but little there makes me think "AOL" besides a small icon at the bottom of a page or the occasional disclaimer inserted in a story about their corporate parent. Will AOL try to funnel more traffic to its home page through those sites?

No, Armstrong replied. He compared the company's strategy to "a Disney construct," where one company is content to reach customers through an extensive variety of brands. "The future of AOL is doing very large communities around very large interests," he said. The new home page, however, may make it easier for visitors to discover some of these other properties, as it includes a row of links to some of them.

Putting things on the Web that people want to read, watch or listen to is a perfectly laudable goal. But the new look, however, a long way from the company that once declared its mission "To build a global medium as central to people's lives as the telephone or television... and even more valuable" and had an "AOL Everywhere" strategy to build its service into consumer-electronic devices.

And when so much traffic on the Web comes from social networks, blogs and other outside sources, can any new home page design help that much? You tell me: Take the poll below, then explain your vote in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  | November 1, 2010; 3:44 PM ET
Categories:  The Web  
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I suppose it isn't a good sign that sarcastic answers to the poll outnumber legitimate answers by a 2:1 ratio at the time I post this.

Posted by: slar | November 1, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

I suppose it's a worse sign when only 13 people bother to vote in the poll.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | November 1, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes I see news stories with reporters from "AOL." They might appear in Google searches. I don't who these people are or what to make of AOL as a news source. (Buying Engadget, etc, that I get.)

They're doing something in local news. I forget what.

They need Ted Leonsis back to whip it into shape.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | November 1, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Years too late. Tech companies need to be the first or near the first to do things....not wait years to implement something that is already behind others

Posted by: Bious | November 1, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse

Belongs with your MySpace article: zzzzzzzz

Posted by: GWGOLDB | November 2, 2010 7:02 AM | Report abuse

A.O.L. is still in business??? SRSLY???

Posted by: BoteMan | November 2, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Could you fill us in on the latest Gopher news as well?

Posted by: cassander | November 2, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Unlike the old home page, the new home page will never load after I exit AOL webmail unless I allow my browser to accept cookies from It just runs in circles. Not every upgrade is an improvement.

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | November 3, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

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