AOL has been doing a lot of reinventing these days. It has to if it wants to stay relevant. It's been moving towards content creation and away from web products, even though that's what people know it for in the first place.
Its email, instant messenger and similar products have been taking somewhat of a back seat.
With the focus strictly on editorial content, the name of the game for its communication products has been integration. AOL IM has long supported other protocols and services, like Google Talk.
Now, AOL is debuting Alto – a new email integration tool that aims to bring together all of your email, from Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail, .Mac and .me accounts, into one place and let you manage it all via its rather slick interface.
Alto aims to fix several problems, one is having multiple accounts at the same time, but the big one is email overload.
AOL is hardly the first to try to make it easier for people to get through their email, but Alto comes with a few good ideas, as long as they work properly in practice.
Alto is in a limited, invite-only preview so it may take a while before you get to see for yourself how well it works, or not. You can sign up to be notified as soon as there's an "opening." It's also separate from AOL's existing Mail, it's a completely new product.
"Alto provides users with a visual story of their email inboxes using a variety of innovative features designed to make it easy to sort through and find what is really important," AOL explained.
One key concept is Stacks. Email is automatically sorted into these stacks, quite literal stacks in the UI. Messages from the people you talk to often goes in one place, daily deals goes in another and so on.
The idea is to make it easier to get through just the emails you want to read at that time. Photos and attachments are also stacked into their own piles, making it easier to find them later without having to scour through all of your mail.