AOL Unveils 'Alto': Email Organization Tool

Dennis Faas's picture

You've Got Mail -- again. AOL is introducing a new email tool designed to make life easier for Internet users, even those running rival email services.

About 20 million people still use AOL's email service. That user base is dwarfed by some rivals; for example, Google's Gmail boasts 425 million users. Nevertheless, AOL thinks it can improve everyone's email experience.

That's why it's launching Alto, an email service that runs in a web browser and brings into a single location messages from AOL, Apple, Gmail, and Yahoo accounts. AOL plans to tweak the service later on so it can work with messages from even more email services.

Emails, Newspaper Style

AOL's idea is to make the inbox more attractive and useful. Instead of simply displaying a list of messages in plain text, Alto splits the computer screen.

A column on the left shows all the messages in a style similar to a newspaper website: the sender and subject line are displayed in larger text like a headline and sub-headline. There's also an image thumbnail.

The rest of the page displays some "quick-glance" folders grouped by content, "social notifications" (from sites such as Facebook), advertisements, and attachments.

Users can also set up their own custom folders. (Source:

The Email Service for Busy People

AOL is hoping to appeal to people who receive a wide variety of email messages. Alto will be particularly useful for people who want to carefully organize their email messages.

The new system is currently in beta testing, available only by invitation. The company wants to iron out as many kinks as possible so it can make a good impression when Alto eventually launches. (Source:

There is one problem, however: most of the email organizing tools offered by Alto are already present in competing services like Gmail. That could mean relatively few users find enough new here to warrant giving Alto a try.

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