AOL Redesign Has a Very Familiar Look

In its shift from being a dial-up Internet service provider to a free service, is testing a revamp to its portal home page that has a very familiar look.

The revised should go live this summer. For now, the company is restricting access to the home page to a few occasional visitors to the site so as to better manage the user response.

The new AOL looks remarkably like Yahoo’s  new Web 2.0-inspired home page, which it launched last year. The layout and structure of the two sites is almost identical.

AOL New Look
AOL’s new look (click on the image for the full size view).
Source: AOL

David Liu, senior vice president of the AOL portal site, said it’s inevitable given the common elements of Web design. “I think in this industry there are a lot of elements of portals that are just going to be similar because people have developed them to a point that they are standards,” he told

But, he adds, there are specific points of differentiation between Yahoo and AOL’s portals, such as the dynamic news window that scrolls between various news stories and the ability for users to use AOL page modules on their page. That’s part of a syndication strategy, which would seem contrary to the notion of driving traffic to the site.

Liu said it works out in the end. “What we realize today as the industry matures, it fragments. Users are going to many more destination sites. To rely on them to come to your home page from the start is a tough road,” he said.

Instead of driving traffic to directly, the strategy is to make the modules available so people can incorporate them onto their home page. Video search is already available, and AOL plans to add news and music search. “We’ve found it drives people back into our site through threading and with recirculation we drive people back to the home page,” said Liu.

There will be a relaunch of MyAOL this summer with even more modules. Right now it’s a feed reader, but when it’s relaunched in June, it will be a more all-inclusive, single point of reference similar to My Yahoo or Google’s personalized home page.

Liu said AOL is looking at new means to measure traffic, because as Ajax and Web 2.0 design has caught on, it’s become apparent that page views will no longer be an accurate measure of traffic. “What we need to do is find a standard around the visit, time spent on the site, or some other measure, because page views won’t be the most accurate measure of traffic any more,” he said. is not yet feature complete. More features will be added in the coming weeks, including new apps and content. The layout is expected to be revised for both regular and wireless browsers as well.

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