AOL (NYSE: AOL ) wants to be your digital postman. Again.
The company best known for the refrain "You've Got Mail" -- so popular that producers adopted the name for a 1998 romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks -- has introduced a self-organizing email app in limited release. Those who have access as of this writing can sign in with an existing AOL email account or any of a number of other cloud-accessible services from Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) , or Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) .
Alto's purported innovation is organizing email into "stacks" of common content. Not that the system lacks an inbox. Rather, the main screen is divided in two, with the left side resembling a Twitter feed, and the right screenshots of "stacks" of mail that share an attribute, such as sender or domain. Default stacks include daily deals, social notifications, retail, photos, and attachments.
Though the look is certainly different, the 'stacks' concept isn't necessarily new. Gmail uses patterns to determine when messages are 'important' and creates a custom tab for organizing them. And Yahoo! Mail has Organizer, which sweeps messages into folders automatically. Organizer also uses similar defaults to Alto when self-selecting new folders.
And yet, David Temkin insists there are differences. AOL's senior vice president of mobile and mail told Fast Company, which broke the news, that Alto's Twitter-like interface was built to "attract people from across a coffee shop" as it boosts productivity. Whether users come to appreciate the intended nuance is a question only time can answer.
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