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Maturing with Version 8.0?

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

America Online Inc, the online arm of the AOL Time Warner Inc media empire, is showing signs of responding to the maturing consumer internet audience with the launch of AOL 8.0, the latest version of its flagship service,

writes Kevin Murphy

.

In the first service upgrade since CEO Jonathan Miller took over the reins in August, AOL has vowed to abolish third-party pop-up advertising and said it has introduced new spam-filtering tools, tackling the two major annoyances frequently cited by AOL users.

AOL has about 35 million users, but has recently seen investors urge it to reinvigorate the slowing growth of this subscriber base. Meanwhile, rivals such as Microsoft Corp's MSN and EarthLink Inc have made noise about offering customers an experience free of marketing hassle.

MSN, which pushes itself as the "useful" alternative to AOL's "easy" offering, kicked off a $300m marketing campaign for its version 8 this week. AOL now seems to be responding, by marketing to an increasingly savvy internet-using public that are fed up of seeing their screens filled with intrusive commercials.

AOL 8.0 users will now be able to create white-lists of users they are prepared to receive email from, which allows a virtually 100% spam-free inbox. The software will also have a button that, when clicked, tags an email as spam and reports it to AOL. Email can then be filtered by sender into known contact, unknown and known spammer.

The company also said that pop-up ads from third-party advertisers will not be carried, once it has worked through its current inventory of such placements. AOL has also scrapped its sly practice of resetting users' marketing preferences a year after they have opted-out of receiving commercial offers from AOL partners.

Miller said in a statement: "By ending third-party pop-ups and merchandise sales we are giving our members what they want, which in turn will make AOL an even better vehicle for out advertising partners." Last month Miller promised to "reinvigorate our relationship with marketers", and this could be seen as a first step.

A key part of AOL's strategy involves getting users to switch to broadband connections, where the margins are higher and there is a greater potential for add-on services such as pay-per-view. AOL 8.0 also has added features for broadband customers, in an attempt to drive this uptake.

While AOL has thrown more bandwidth-hungry content at its broadband subscribers, it also said it is to offer select customers the ability to have multiple AOL accounts logged on at the same time through a single connection. It will only be available to subscribers on Time Warner cable connections using AOL-compatible home networking hardware.

In other features, AOL has upgraded the parent controls tools to allow parents to receive reports on their children's surfing habits, and to remotely configure the controls via the web, so they can monitor surfing from work while the kids are at home.

AOL said 1.5 million subscribers have downloaded the new software since it was published on the proprietary service last week. The software will also be distributed on CD via a number of US retail chains. International AOL users will get to upgrade in the coming months.

© ComputerWire

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