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You’ve Got Alto: AOL Introduces New Spin on Email

Aol(NEW YORK) -- For most people on the Internet, it has been ages since they've heard the chime "You've got mail!" or associated AOL with modern-day email.  While it was reported last year that a large percentage of AOL's profits still come from people who use AOL.com's webmail service, many have moved to newer webmail options like Gmail, Yahoo or Apple's iCloud.

But now, AOL is hoping those who haven't used AOL email in a decade will start again on Thursday.  The company has unveiled its newest mail service: Alto.

"AOL has been in the business a long time and has a lot of insights to do something more than what the other services are doing now," David Temkin, Senior Vice President of Mail for AOL, told ABC News in an interview.

Alto isn't a new site to get a new email address; it's a site, Temkin says, that will help solve the "issues we all have with email now."

With Alto, which will be located at altomail.com, you can log in to your current Gmail, Yahoo, iCloud or AOL email address and it will function like a webmail app, just like the one on your smartphone.  Once you log in to your existing account, your email from it is ingested by Alto.  There's not even an option to sign up for an @alto.com address.

But why use Alto over Gmail.com or Yahoo.com?  AOL is hoping you'll switch over for a slew of new features it has built to better organize your inbox.  

The Alto interface is clean and shows two panes.  On the left is your inbox and on the right are what AOL calls stacks.  In those stacks, you can group emails according to their content.  There's even an automatic stack for your "attachments," so you can view all your photos or documents in one area without having to dig through your inbox.

The stacks feature is similar to what Microsoft introduced a few months ago with Outlook.com; both services offer to organize your inbox automatically so you don't have to do the constant deleting and sifting that takes so much time for email users.

But the company says there will be more than stacks to set Alto apart.  AOL has improved the speed of its inbox search; it almost instantaneously brings up messages with the word or a contact you might be looking for.  Additionally, it has integrated social features, so when you look up a contact you can see their Twitter and Facebook information.

But for all the really attractive and useful features, there are some key ones missing in Alto.  There are no threaded messages -- a feature that groups your messages by conversation in your inbox.  (You can see a threaded view of a particular email chain once you open the email, but it doesn't gather them together in the inbox.)  That's one of the features that makes using Gmail.com and the others so appealing for many.

There's also no Gmail chat function integrated, at least not in the "limited preview" beta period.  AOL says those features are coming and that the team wanted to focus on the "core email experience" for now.

Of course, like the other webmail services, AOL plans to make some money off of the service.  While there will be a base free offering, AOL says it is exploring a paid service option for aggregation of more than two accounts and other premium services.  It says there won't be typical display advertising as there is in Gmail, but it might place advertisements at some point around your retail stack.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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