There's a song by a band I definitely don't listen to that goes, "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow," but the lyrics rather tellingly continue, "Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone." Apparently Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) America Online unit is trying to get back to the future by revamping its service to look more like a Web portal again.

According to CNET, AOL's plans include heavier customization than is available now, Web search (compliments of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)), and prime real estate for its own services, such as email and instant messaging. (Separately, shopping, which has also been deemed hot property by Web search outfits, will be launched, with AOL's "Pinpoint Shopping" product.) CNET hinted that the portal idea not only will benefit AOL's own community members but also may be available to some degree to lure surfers from across the Net, since we already know that additional content is being eyed as a lure to outsiders.

None of this is surprising, given the remarkable resurgence of Internet advertising and recent data showing that online ads, while hated, do indeed work. So AOL's move is not exactly illogical in terms of getting in on ad bucks. But it might be a bit misguided if it's meant to lure more traffic, unless AOL has some nifty tricks up its sleeve to make its site more alluring than the rest.

Portals are a hot topic. In fact, several of our Foolish writers recently kicked around the idea of whether or not Google should become a portal. Regardless, Google has stayed true to its core mission of specializing in search and information while providing email, news, foreign language converters, Froogle, and targeted search, to name a few, and not to mention the list of ideas incubating in Google Labs.

If AOL does expand this initiative beyond its gated community in an attempt to cast a wide net over Internet users, we all know it's not just Google that AOL would be contending with but also Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) MSN; both have free content and loyal customer bases.

When it comes to AOL, will it be better than before, as the song lyric goes? I'm not going to say that it can't work, and a snazzier, more useful interface with relevant content could well help stanch subscriber defections. First off, though, AOL seems a little late to the portal party.

However, when it comes to a search for new community sign-ups, I think AOL's going to have to get more futuristic and original when it comes to envisioning new ways to lure Web surfers; it would be getting into the fray with a few rivals who are doing what they do best.

Here's more on related issues:

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned, nor does she listen to Fleetwood Mac.