Project Phoenix: Reimagining Aol E-mail

Aol practically invented the internet as we know today. From email and IM to social networking, they’ve done it all decades ago in varying sizes and forms. After a high profile merger that went tragically wrong, Aol is no longer the giant it used to be. People have slowly migrated to more friendly and sophisticated tools from Yahoo, MSN and of late, Google.

With a sudden realization that a reboot is critical to survival, Aol has undergone a rebranding under a new leadership. Several of its products have either embraced a new identity or are in the process of getting one. One such property is Aol mail. After the jump, we’ll take a look at their email reboot, appropriately named Project Phoenix.

Overview

Overview

Overview

The newly revamped email product under the alias Project Phoenix isn’t live to everyone. If you want to test drive the service before others, join the list here. You may need a little patience as it took several weeks for my invite to arrive.

Sign Up

Sign Up Page

Sign Up Page

If you follow the link sent in the invite, you will be taken to a swanky sign up page. There aren’t many fields to complete (at least not on this page, as there’s an indicator which shows that there are two more steps ahead). Like Yahoo mail, Aol also offers you few choices to choose from such as your domain name. Domain suggestions start showing up as you start entering your username and it’s nice to see that many of the variations are shown based on the first and last names you’ve entered.

Personal Information Page

Personal Information Page

Next up is the Personal Information Page. You need to provide your date of birth in order to verify your identity in account management and to ensure that you’re eligible to use our products. Other data, such as Zip Code and Gender, are used to personalize your AOL experience (e.g., display local weather and news). After successfully entering the CAPTCHA in the page that follows, the sign up process is finally over.

Getting Started

Status Information

Status Information

After a few seconds of processing information, your email account is created with the username you’ve selected. While we are taken to the inbox, it won’t be accessible until you address the overlayed Getting Started window.

Getting Started

Getting Started

The Getting Started window is a slideshow offering you nuggets of information about the new email product. I found the tips to be well thought out and saved me a lot of time, usually spent on exploring an app.

Integrating Other Email Accounts

Integrating Other Email Accounts

Once the tips are over, you’ll be offered the option to integrate your existing email accounts to this inbox. Popular email services like Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, Comcast and more are supported.

The Inbox

The Inbox

The Inbox

At first glance, the inbox looks minimal yet awesome. Since this is a new product, Aol is promoting it with invites and help menus, but still the design uncluttered and very pleasing. The arrangement of folders and chat client on the left side among other familiar elements, reminded me of Gmail. However, I’ll have to agree that this inbox is much better in comparison. On the right side column, you have the search bar and links from Aol’s blog network (totally pointless right now but ads might be displayed here later).

Quick Compose

Quick Compose Window

Quick Compose Window

The Quick Compose Window at the top is the star attraction of Project Phoenix. From this compose window, you can send an email, a text message, chat message or update your status at Aol Lifestream. Being able to communicate across all platforms from a single window is a compelling feature, something that Facebook is also planning to do.

Quick Reply

Quick Reply

Phoenix offers quick compose for replies, too. Just hover over a message in your inbox and icons to reply or delete will appear. Clicking reply will bring up a tiny compose window without any of the frills of a full blown WYSIWYG editor—enter the message and send. This is a welcome feature for people suffering from email overload. An option to bring up the full compose window is also available.

Inbox Views

Tabbed Inbox

Tabbed Inbox

With the Tabbed Inbox, it’s evident that Aol tried hard to bring together the best features from both Yahoo and Gmail. You can now have multiple messages open while composing an email and don’t have to scramble from draft to inbox all the time.

You have the option to customize the inbox view in three different ways: compact (subject only), expanded (subject + first few characters and is the default view) and reading pane ( displays the full message when you click on the subject).

Viewing Attachments

Smartview Pane

Smartview Pane

If you’re someone who receives lots of images via email, you’ll love the smartview pane of Project Phoenix. Images appear on the right column of the inbox in a thumbnail view. Clicking on the images does not open them in a new tab or page and is displayed in lightbox fashion, as an overlay. Address attached to messages will also be displayed via Mapquest. Video and document previews are also planned in the future.

Integrating other Accounts

Adding Accounts

Adding Accounts

Integrating your existing email accounts is done tastefully. After entering the login credentials of the email account, you can choose to import all previous mail or only the mail that comes in after integration. Similarly, you can keep a copy of the mail received at the original inbox or delete them. Depending on the service, you might need enter POP and SMTP information as necessary.

Final Thoughts

Project Phoenix is downright brilliant. It might not be capable of pulling new users in troves from Gmail but is definitely better than Yahoo and Hotmail. While it might look like an effort too little too late, Phoenix will help Aol retain its existing userbase firmly at its grasp. At this juncture, that itself would be a huge victory for Aol.

Share Your Thoughts!

What is your take on Project Phoenix? Is it worthy enough to make the switch from Gmail or Yahoo?


Summary

Project Phoenix is the reimagined version of Aol Mail.

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Responses

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  • It looks awesome but I’m so hooked into my gmail account it will be hard to mentally make the switch. I think I will try it out though. Great article!

  • That actually looks really nice. I’ve been searching for a really nice webmail client for ages. I’m definitely considering making the switch from Yahoo! to this since I won’t have to worry about neglecting my other account because it’ll be available in this.

    Thanks for heads up!

    • I reccomend you gmail. It is more mature than this one, as this is an exact copy of it.

  • this is a really neat idea and it seems to me that alot more can be accomplished from a page such as this one, thumbs up AOL

  • I’M NOT SURE ABOUT IT ………I LIKE IT WHERE I CAN CHANGE THE COLOR OF THE PAGE !

  • i just received my invite…i have to say that phoenix is amazing and i might permanently move from gmail (the only thing holding me back as of right now is chat with gmail users, though there is probably a way to get it on phoenix).

    the design and interface is minimal and very apple-like, which is definitely a good thing.

    everything is smooth and fluent, not to mention very fast.

    i’m looking forward to future upgrades that will make this an amazing service!

  • I can’t get back on Phoenix after closing it out.

  • No support for Opera? I don’t feel like using another browser just to use this. Plus, I haven’t checked my AOL email account in ages, and don’t want to go through the thousands of spam emails I’ve probably received since then.

  • It is definetely a Gmail copy.

  • Anyone remember this?
    http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/20/aol-mail-goes-down-no-one-notices/

    AOL is just responding to improve their corporate image.

  • I’ve only been on Phoenix for a couple of days, so I’m still adjusting. I wanted all my old messages from my old AOL account to be copied over, but that didn’t happen, so I still have to log in to my old account if I want see something I saved there. If I delete something in Phoenix, I would like it to delete in my old account, but it seems like that doesn’t happen. If a message comes to my old account and gets filtered to a folder other than the inbox, it doesn’t show up in Phoenix. I really like the new interface and my new email address. I gave the new address to someone over the phone yesterday and they had no problem understanding how it was spelled, unlike my old account.