March 21, 2003 2:54 PM PST

AOL recasts home page

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America Online has quietly launched a redesign of its home page in a bid to appeal to subscribers accessing the Web outside the AOL proprietary service.

The redesign is mostly cosmetic, and most of the site's functionality has been preserved from its previous incarnation. will continue to offer subscribers Web access to popular features such as e-mail, instant messaging, MyAOL and other services such as stock quotes and online photo storage.

One new feature lets subscribers change the parental controls for their AOL service. The controls only affect Internet use in AOL's proprietary environment, but do not work for people accessing the Web from a different Internet service provider.

"We redesigned it as a home away from home for AOL members," said an AOL spokeswoman.

The new site, which went live Thursday, also gives more prominence to its Web search engine powered by Google. AOL struck a deal with Google to use its algorithmic and sponsored search listings as the backbone for its search product. The agreement, inked last May, bumped Google rival Overture Services from AOL, sending the paid commercial search engine's stock plummeting.

Perhaps the most visible change is the large advertisement box promoting AOL's dial-up and broadband service on the site. Previously, visitors to AOL were served a pop-up ad when accessing the home page. AOL last October announced it would discontinue third-party pop-ups as part of its drive to improve customer satisfaction, though the volume of internal pop-ups increased in the months following the announcement.

The AOL spokeswoman said the large advertising window will serve in-house ads for the immediate future, but she did not exclude the possibility of one day serving third-party ads.

AOL has been trying to revitalize its service after suffering a year pockmarked by plummeting online advertising revenue, federal investigations over its accounting, and declining subscriber numbers. Although AOL has been revamping its strategy to focus on broadband and paid services, it expects online advertising to continue to decline this year.


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