This morning AOL is launching a suite of personalized products into beta: myPage (personalized home page), Mgnet (image-driven content discovery and recommendation engine) and Favorites (feed reader and bookmarking). All three services can be accessed via tabs on the main myAOL page.
More on each below.
myPage is a customizable home page, similar in functionality to products offered by Netvibes, Pageflakes, Yahoo, Google, etc. Users can put just about any content they like on the page, selecting from pre-fab modules or adding a RSS feed. In a nice non-competitive touch, AOL is also allowing Google Gadgets, Goowy Yourminis and other third party widgets to be added to the page.
They are also preparing an API to allow third party developers to create their own widgets. Like Yahoo, there is a non-negotiable advertisement included in the page.
As I said above, these customizable home pages are all starting to look pretty much the same – but the fact that AOL is allowing third party widgets on the site is, hopefully, a feature others will add as well.
Mgnet (pronounced magnet) is a news site that tailors itself to what you like over time. It’s also a lot of fun – to start off you are asked to click on pictures that you like, which tells AOL a little bit about your interests.
After that you are presented with a customized news page that continues to learn about your interests over time, both collaborative filtering and active inputs. Users can also click over to “what’s hot” to see the popular news items without individual filtering. Soon, they say, they’ll be adding social features to let users recommend stories to friends.
Personalized news sites have had a tough time. Services that we’ve covered that have entered this space in one way or another include Searchfox (deadpool, assets acquired by Yahoo), Findory (deadpool), Spotback (change in strategy) and Feeds 2.0 (no idea what their status is, site is live). Newcomer Thoof is trying a new angle.
But AOL really seems to be thinking outside of the box with Mgnet by focusing on images to grab the readers attention. Forget the headlines, some of the images shown on the page are compelling. Click on one and see the relevant story, and you’ve taught Mgnet a little bit more about what you like. I really like the service.
Favorites is a web based news reader similar to Bloglines or Google Reader, and it is a huge improvement on their existing product.. Like Google Reader, it renders HTML well, and it’s fast/responsive. Importing and exporting of OPML files is available and easy to find on the main page. Shortcut keys also work.
If you add feeds to a folder, the service allows you to create a new feed based on the feeds in that folder. That new feed can be turned into a public page for sharing as well.
The product also includes a bookmarking tool, which actually integrates nicely with the feed reading experience. And if you bookmark a page with a feed, the service will ask if you’d like to add that feed to the feed reader.
Overall I think this is an excellent suite of services. They have to find a balance between serving their massive (and less tech savvy) existing user base and finding ways to push the envelope on new ideas. There is some genuinely new stuff here, particularly Mgnet and some of the features in the feed reader.