You've Got Even More Mail
AOL unveiled the first feature of a new home page today aiming to regain the eyeballs it lost as it has phased out its subscription service.
The company plans to revamp its entire site to let consumers customize the portal to fit their own tastes. Starting today, visitors to the site can log onto their Gmail and Yahoo email accounts as well as their AOL accounts. Sometime in the next six weeks, AOL will start to let consumers receive their own mix of RSS feeds directly to the bottom of the site. In October, you'll be able to log into Facebook, MySpace and Twitter from the site, as well as Bebo, which AOL acquired earlier this year for $850 million.
The changes are part of a broader effort to get people to stay on AOL.com longer -- and get more advertising revenue -- rather than using it as a starting point before going elsewhere. AOL has branded itself as more of a portal site, similar to Yahoo.com and Microsoft's MSN.com, where people come to check their email and quickly browse the top headlines and other site content.
But Web audiences continue to fragment, going directly to favorite sites, blogs and social networks to find niche material they're interested in, rather than going to a centralized homepage for a round-up of general information. For example, AOL will eventually let users find content from more than 3,000 local news sites from around the country, so Washingtonians can get news from the Washington Examiner as well as the Washington Post. That capability is made possible from the integration of Relegance, the real-time news service AOL bought two years ago.
"If we want to remain relevant as a launching pad, we have to accept the fact that we have to be a starting point for all of the Web and not just our own stuff," said James Clark, vice president of AOL's home page operations.
The new approach is not trying to supplant Facebook or Gmail, Clark said, but rather to be an aggregator. So a consumer can immediately see if they have new messages in their Yahoo inbox and any Facebook friend requests instantly without logging onto the individual sites.
Other companies, such as Pageflakes and NetVibes allow users to create customized home pages, as well as the widely used iGoogle. AOL says it's the first large portal to allow visitors to control the information they can access through the site. Letting Web users log onto multiple social networks also gives AOL an opportunity to play up the new -- and expensive -- addition to it's line-up: Bebo.
Bebo is the third-largest social networking site on the Web, and is part of a major push by AOL to attract younger audiences. The company is also trying to appeal to the female set with new content in categories such as parenting, health and movies. The main stories highlighted yesterday on the site included a discussion about Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain's running mate, a list of the top life insurance policies, a how-to guide on vanquishing driveway stains, and a video of Pamela Anderson strutting her stuff on the Ellen Degeneres Show. AOL also launched LemonDrop today, a women's site.
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