AOL Embraces Rivals in Homepage Redesign

In its early days, AOL guarded its content in a walled garden, providing access to only subscribers. The portal’s latest redesign takes a 180-degree turn, allowing users to personalize their homepage with RSS feeds, e-mail, and updates from social networking pages.

Previously all links on AOL.com went to other AOL properties. “That model doesn’t really work anymore. If every link in that homepage comes from our stuff, we can’t possibly expect that to meet all the needs of every user,” said James Clark, vice president of Homepages at AOL, in an interview yesterday with ClickZ. “Hence we have a choice. We can pretend that fragmentation isn’t happening, or do what the portal page intends to do, but to be that for the entire Web at large.”

That service for the entire Web means in large part the same type of content from AOL.com, but with outside sources mixed in. On the right-hand side of its homepage, AOL added a module showing multiple e-mail providers. Users can sign in to AOL Mail, Yahoo Mail, Gmail, or other Web mail provider simultaneously. There is also the ability to check eBay auctions, weather, and toggle through other content feeds.

Users will soon be able to customize the home page to add their preferred RSS feeds. Users will also be able to program the page to receive updates from their Facebook, MySpace or other social network pages. “We seek to be that organizing principal for users, by giving them that keyhole,” said Clark.

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“For the existing user base we have, is to reflect and know and understand that they are using content from other providers, and increasing the value from our services,” Clark said.

AOL hopes to become more relevant to a broader range of advertisers as well as consumers with the redesign.

“We really want to make sure AOL.com continues to an appealing destination for a broad number of advertisers, and moving the needle to a broad audience,” Clark said. To do that, AOL has opportunities including a premium 300 x 600 banner it recently introduced with Samsung, and has sold to a number of advertisers going forward.

Additional placements include contextually integrating Quigo links, content integration, and engagement modules such as polls and quizzes embedded into the page dynamically. All of those units are able to be skinned with an advertiser sponsorship as well as homepage skins.

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