AOL wants you to check your Gmail and see what your Facebook friends are up to — the company just prefers you do these things from its site.
In an effort to increase user loyalty and bring more visitors to AOL.com, AOL is taking a step in a new direction by adding outside content, including e-mail from rival providers like Yahoo and Google and updates from social sites like Facebook and MySpace.
The moves also reflect Internet users' changing surfing habits and their reduced dependence on one-stop portals. Users are now apt to blend elements from multiple providers, including social networks and niche Web sites, and by providing easy access to those other services, AOL is hoping people will at least use its ad-supported site as a starting point.
On Wednesday, the Time Warner Inc. unit is rolling out the first round of changes, which includes the aggregation of e-mail previews in a manner similar to the site's current AOL e-mail previews. Users will be able to click on previewed messages and go directly to their e-mail account, or click to open a window in which they can write a message.
Other adjustments — including a box that lets users see their friends' status updates on Facebook and a few other social sites — are set to be unveiled along with a refreshed-looking home page in October.
Bill Wilson, AOL's executive vice president of programming, said the changes are designed to give consumers more choices and control over content.
"If you can come to this screen and find it relevant, you'll find it valuable," he said.
Other changes expected to come in October include the ability for users to add links of their choosing to the page, plus videos and local news. Later in the year, the portal is expected to take on another twist, automatically adjusting content based on user preferences. For example, users who click more on fashion-related news stories and less on finance stories will start seeing more of the former and less of the latter.