With increasing traffic, AOL eyes 'social network aggregation'

With unique visitors and page views on the rise for September, AOL is giving much of the credit to last month's e-mail aggregation move. Now, another sort of aggregation appears to be in the works.

It's too early to tell whether the demise of AOL Journals and Hometown will make much of a dent. However, AOL.com's unique visitors rose by 12%, total visits by 15%, and page views by 34% for the month of September, according to comScore's Media Matrix report.

Also increasing were unique visits to "many of AOL's programming sites," which continue to be at "the top three of their categories" for unique visitors, AOL said in a statement today.

Based on comScore's report, AOL cited five of its sites -- Music, Television, StyleList, Black Voices, and Asylum, a site for 20-something men -- as number one in their categories.

Even before releasing the September results, though, AOL on October 1 announced plans to shut down two other sites -- AOL Journals and Hometown -- at the end of October.

AOL attributed September's gains for AOL.com in general largely to a new "e-mail aggregation" feature that lets people view Yahoo Mail, Gmail, Hotmail, and AOL Mail from the same AOL Web portal.

As previously reported in BetaNews, AOL -- the consistent fourth-runner to Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft in Internet search and advertising -- foresees e-mail aggregation as the first step in opening up AOL's "walled garden" to third-party content.

"We need to embrace the reality that you visit other sites and become more of a launch pad to your other online experiences," admitted AOL spokesperson Sanjay Nayar in a blog post in September. "We realize that AOL.com is not the only Web site that you use and that you may, like many of us, have multiple e-mail accounts with different providers. Why shouldn't you be able to preview all your e-mail in one place?"

On the other hand, AOL's statement today also claims that AOL.com has enjoyed 20 months of "consecutive year-over-year growth for unique visitors," although it doesn't give specific numbers, aside from the increases between September 2007 and September 2008.

In any event, over the past few weeks, AOL now plans to roll out other tools and features around integrating third-party content, including a new "social network aggregator" module -- which, among other things, will let people use AOL's AIM and Bebo along with several third-party offerings to provide profile activity across multiple social networks.

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