AOL Looking To Make A Comeback With New Email Service
October 18, 2012

AOL Looking To Make A Comeback With New Email Service

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Those three square icons, the buzz and hiss of a dial-up modem connecting at 56.6k, and the glorious excitation of those three little words: “You´ve Got Mail!”

Very few things are as quintessentially 90s as AOL, their ubiquitous free-trial discs, and that single expression which spawned a Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie inspired by a  Miklós László play.

AOL isn´t nearly as popular as they once were, with Internet behemoths such as Facebook and Google running the show these days. They haven´t gone away completely, however, still owning and running little corners of the web, popping up every so often to make an announcement about a new product, service or acquisition.

“Yes, we´re still in business,” said David Temkins, speaking to the New York Times´ Jenna Wortham. “We´re still around.”

Temkins, the senior vice president of mail and mobile at AOL, was speaking with the New York Times to make yet another announcement to the world: the beta rollout of Alto, AOL´s new email service. That´s right, AOL has STILL got mail.

"Aol has been in the business a long time and has a lot of insights to do something more than what the other services are doing now," said Temkins, speaking this time to ABC News.

According to Temkins, there are 20 million people who still actively use AOL mail.

Their new service will be free and available to everybody, including Gmail, Mac and Yahoo members.

"We didn't want to alienate our current audience of mail users. They too have gotten to a point where they are a legacy product.”

According to Temkins, it´s not another email service that people want; They want a better way to handle the email they have.

One way Alto aims to make email management different is the use of stacks as opposed to folders. It´s a subtle, semantic difference, of course, but one that Temkins hopes will bring users over to the AOL side. Taking more of a “snail mail” approach to electronic mail, these messages can be lumped into 5 different stacks, such as attachments, daily deals, photos, retailers and social notifications. The photos stack, for instance, can be browsed through just like the photo gallery on a laptop or smartphone.

Alto has more features than stacks, of course. According to Temkins, AOL has made inbox searches even faster, bringing up results almost instantly. Additionally, just as most things in the modern age have become, Alto has gone social, giving users Twitter and Facebook information for the people they´re emailing.

For all the new potential benefits of Alto, there are a few familiar and very key features left out of the Beta. Threaded messages, for instance, are missing from this early version of Alto, making it more difficult to find specific conversations in the inbox. These conversations can be found a little deeper in the stacks once an email from the conversation is opened, but having them lumped together in the inbox is a feature many e-mailers have come to find familiar. The deep integration that Google brings to mail is also missing from this current beta, a feature which, while it will be missed, can´t really be delivered by a company who hasn´t the same amount of products as Google.

AOL will need to rely on the feedback of as many users as they can find in these early, beta stages of Alto. As such, they´ve released Alto today at as a private beta. According to Josh Ramirez, senior director of product management in AOL's Mail group, a full, public version of Alto isn´t likely to be released until at least the middle of the first quarter next year. While Alto remains in private beta, AOL will be accepting invites to join the service before the public release.

In the beginning, according to Ramirez, Alto will be free to all. AOL could begin making money from Alto in the future by either selling ads or a premium version of the mail client.