NEW YORK — AOL is expanding to India with its first portal targeting Asia’s growing online population.
Although AOL has been dropping its Internet access businesses around the world, it has been making a bigger push at delivering content through free Web sites in hopes of boosting advertising opportunities. AOL expanded its portal audiences in Europe as part of deals to sell off its access businesses there.
The Indian portal, launching Thursday at http://aol.in/, will be in English. Although only a small fraction of India’s population can speak it, English has become a common language in business and government circles in a country with a slew of spoken tongues.
The AOL site will offer free e-mail accounts, search services powered by minority owner Google Inc. and news and entertainment channels targeting Bollywood, cricket and other areas of interest to India’s population.
“India is one of the world’s fastest-growing online markets, and our India portal will help us compete for users and advertisers in this important region,” Ron Grant, AOL’s president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.
Grant and other executives traveled to India’s high-tech hub of Bangalore for a launch event Thursday. Bangalore is also home of AOL’s new international chief, Maneesh Dhir; before, the position was based at the company’s global headquarters in Dulles, Va.
Separately, AOL unveiled a “beta” test version of a new portal for the United States. Among other things, the test AOL.com portal seeks to make gas prices and local news more easily accessible from the front page.
AOL also updated its Canadian portal Thursday, and updates to others are to come as AOL seeks to unify the user experience worldwide, while offering content of local and personal interest.
The Internet population in the United States has largely plateaued, with 70 percent of U.S. adults now online, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
That means opportunities for growth are largely abroad. India has about 8.5 million Internet users, out of 1.1 billion people, according to government figures.
AOL also has portals for France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Austria, as well as ones in the United States targeting Latino and Chinese populations.
Google owns 5 percent of AOL, with the rest belonging to Time Warner Inc.
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