AOL unveils Project Phoenix


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Continuing efforts to revamp its image, AOL unveiled a beta version of the new AOL mail -- aptly code named Project Phoenix -- with snazzy features to streamline communications.

“We wanted to start from scratch and build a new product and free ourselves from requirements to build something that was similar to what we had,” said Fletcher Jones, senior director of AOL mail. “So we identified three key points to address in the new application.


Project Phoenix isn’t a close sibling to the old AOL mail, more like a spiffed-up (very) distant cousin. The new system can aggregate other e-mail accounts (point one), allows for quick multimedia messaging (point two) and offers the chance to grab a user name that might actually be, well, your real name (point three).

It also comes equipped with some fresh tools, like Smart View, a kind of digital curator that combs your in-boxes and aggregates interesting info in a box on the right. Someone messages you an address? Smart View will preview a map. Does your in-box include a lot of photo attachments? Smart View will display them in a thumbnail gallery. Back-and-forth banter? Smart View displays the conversation thread.

The struggling Internet giant has been trying recently to recapture its former glory and regain traffic and advertising revenue, an effort that spurred a redesign of its homepage, a push for more original content and the purchase in September of influential technology blog TechCrunch.

AOL hopes that Project Phoenix will attract new and old users to the site. “Mail is a very sticky application,” Jones said. “AOL is really about new content. But building great content isn’t enough unless you can make people aware of it. E-mail is the anchor of our ecosystem.”

Those interested in testing Project Phoenix can go on to request an invite. A broader beta phase rolls out early next year, but no definite time is set right now for launching the final product, Jones said.



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