AOL, Fellow Traveler

Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) America Online unit sure has been busy lately. It seems that just about every Internet initiative that comes down the pike, AOL wants a piece of the action. This week, it's travel.

AOL is launching an online travel search engine called PinpointTravel.com. It will function as a search engine of travel sites.

Of course, as we all know, there are tons of search engines out there. When you think of the big guns, consider, of course, Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) Travel. This hub strategy, of course, leaves Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) brand of straight-up search out in the cold -- when it comes to a service like the one that AOL is providing.

Meanwhile, if AOL can bring enough interesting and useful features to the mix, it will likely be worth its while. For example, AOL will include use of its Instant Messaging platform, which of course can help users make travel plans with one another online. Sounds like a winning feature to me.

Yep, AOL's been doing everything but the kitchen sink recently, adding things I might have found farfetched, such as VoIP, or enhancing services that I think it has a good shot with, such as streaming Internet radio. It's been clear for quite some time that content and services will be key in keeping its subscriber base. Of course, while one might argue that AOL has been getting involved in everything but the kitchen sink, there's also the fact that it's ditching some of its tried-and-true services.

At first glance, I might have argued that the online travel sector has seemed way too competitive to me and that AOL shouldn't even bother dealing with it. However, the more I think about it, the more I give AOL a pass for this one, especially in terms of giving its own subscribers a sticky service that fulfills their needs within the walled-off garden that is AOL.

If you love someone, set them free, they say. By giving its users the means to skip town, AOL's service may very well give them a reason to stay. Stay on as denizens of AOL, that is.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.


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