AOL has launched a beta version of MY AOL, a customizable portal that provides access to AOL.com's entire suite of features and allows users to add their favorite RSS feeds to the page.
With this initial launch, you can select feeds from a list of categories created by AOL. Topics range from national news, business news and politics to entertainment, sports news, technology and humor.
You can also add your own feed-based content to your My AOL page or feeds not included in AOL's categories by entering RSS/XML addresses or URLs for favorite Web sites. My AOL automatically scans these Web sites for all available feeds, and when found, lets you add them to your current list of feeds.
AOL says it does not yet support searching the web for feeds, but this feature is planned for an upcoming release of the portal. What this seems to mean is that despite the partnership with Feedster -- whose index includes over 11 million RSS feeds and hundreds of millions of XML documents -- you can't yet tap into its database of feeds
Instead, if you use the Add A Feed box on the My Feeds page, it appears to simply check a particular page to see if a feed is made available through autodiscovery. Our recent SEW Blog post, Yahoo Gains RSS Feeds For Web Search & Discovering Autodiscovery, explains more about how autodiscovery works. The short answer is this. Unless a particular site has this enabled (plenty don't), you cannot yet add that site's feed to AOL's My Feeds. This will no doubt change soon.
Other features promised for upcoming releases include a "Top Feeds" section that displays popular news and hot blogs. You can get a sense of how this feature will work by visiting Technorati's Technorati's listings of popular news stories and top 100 blogs, which is constantly updated.
AOL also plans to make it easy to access your My AOL page from any computer by exporting your settings.
In launching the My AOL portal, AOL has taken another step toward demolishing the "walled garden" of content the service has been known for. Over the past year, AOL has completely overhauled its web search capabilities, rolled out specialized local, shopping and travel search engines.
The company has also loosened restrictions on much of its proprietary content, making it freely available to anyone rather than requiring a subscription for access.
Last month, the company rolled out a new video search service. Unlike the video search services offered by Yahoo and Google which are both limited, AOL video search provides access to more than 15,000 licensed and originally produced video assets that come from various AOL services, other Time Warner properties (CNN for example), and many content partners like the Associated Press.
The video search works really well, with results clustered into related categories. You can also create your own playlists of favorite video and save them to your My AOL portal.
The launch of My AOL is a direct shot over Yahoo's bow. Both companies now offer an extensively customizable interface for their various services. While AOL doesn't (yet) have some features offered by Yahoo, it does boast an impressive amount of unique content.
And with the addition of RSS feeds to the My AOL home page, AOL now offers a compelling alternative for a start page for many people.Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the AOL Launches New Portal discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.
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