AOL Launches Project Phoenix Email Upgrades—About Five Years Too Late

New features from AOL's Project Phoenix are all very well, but can the firm's email service compete with its rivals?

AOL Mail

Say the words "Internet giant" and "email," and you're probably thinking of Facebook's upcoming product launch at 10 a.m. PST in San Francisco today. But yesterday, Aol rolled out Project Phoenix, a relaunch of its email service, which include some very smart ideas. But is it enough to make Aol a player on the email front again? After all, it was overtaken by Gmail 18 months ago, after a 22% decline in unique visitors in just one month.

The best bits of the new features include adding SMS and instant messaging capabilities in the inbox, plus "Smart View," which allows users to see the attachments, such as maps or images, in emails without clicking on the message itself. Other improvements are nothing that you can't get from Aol's rivals: email aggregation, single-click search, choice of domain name, and free access to premium service.

Aol sees itself "the company that brought everyone online"--that's from the horse's mouth, or Brad Garlinghouse, Aol's Consumer Applications Group, which you may or may not buy into. So it's interesting that it calls Project Phoenix a "disruption," when actually the changes have come about as an attempt to simplify existing Aol users'--probably not the most Internet-savvy people currently--online lives. After all, 45% of Aol's page views come from its email users, who are a dwindling bunch.

But is the Gmail-esque redesign enough to claw users back? After all, the fact that Phoenix essentially admits to the world that, when it comes to email services, Aol is way behind other firms, such as Google and Microsoft, but perhaps its nifty little add-ons such as Quick Box and Smart View mean that Aol retains its position as an online portal, but leaves the innovative back-end stuff to the big boys.

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