While AOL was officially launching its Socialthing for Websites initiative this morning, it was also quietly making some changes to the design of its homepage. There are some new themes, Twitter integration, a prominent RSS tab up top, and all the information and news modules are now collapsible. There are also a few new AOL content featured along teh left-hand column, such as Paw Nation and PoliticsDaily (see our review).
But if you haven’t been to AOL.com lately (you are not alone), you may not completely recognize it. For one thing, there is a lifestreaming box on the right that lets you log into various social networks, including Twitter, Facebook, and MySpcace. You can see all of the status updates from your friends on other social networks and respond to them from within AOL. AIM and Bebo are also options in that box, but for Bebo you have to click an arrow to even see it (and AOL owns Bebo). You can also check your e-mail from Yahoo and Gmail, as well as AOL. These changes began last year and reflect a growing agnosticism at AOL, which wants to make it easy for you to bring your social network with you to the site.
If you don’t like the look of AOL’s homepage, you can pick a new background theme. Ah, there. That’s better already. And the RSS reader has been moved up prominently as a tab so you can switch away from AOL’s pre-programmed page and program it yourself with your own news and blog feeds. On the main tab, each information and news box can be collapsed, but unfortunately they cannot be moved around. But the rigidity that was once there is beginning to ease, and that is a good thing.
AOL realizes it is no longer the center of the universe, and is adapting. In a sense, all of these minor tweaks add up to an embrace of other gravitational forces on the Web. AOL is presenting them in a way that is palatable to everyday Americans. Forget Oprah. Seeing Twitter on AOL’s homepage is the biggest proof that it is going mainstream.