Los Angeles -- Internet pioneer AOL not only outsmarted Facebook in unveiling its upgraded email/messaging service, it also seemed to win the style battle. AOL has just acquired email prioritization app Unblab, according to an email sent from Unblab's founder Eli Holder.
AOL's latest acquisition is designed to help build out an area that was mostly neglected for years: its e-mail service. While "Project Phoenix" has similar features to the new Facebook Messages such as multiple outputs and conversation history, it also looked a whole lot smarter, especially with a preview pane reminiscent of the one Twitter added with its redesign.
Here is part of the message from the Unblab's email:
The next adventure in the Unblab history will be even bigger, better, and more action-packed; Unblab is now part of AOL and I will be joining the AOL Mail team in Palo Alto to work on Project Phoenix (the new AOL Mail).
Unblab's main product, a cloud-based Gmail application called Gtriage, which was designed to help people solve the problem of email overload, has been shut down and will likely serve as the basis for Phoenix. Essentially, Gtriage helps users set priorities for different messages.
Gtriage, which employs machine-learning algorithms to determine both universally recognized and user-specific traits that identify and prioritize important email messages. Think of it as attacking the email overload problem from the opposite end of the spectrum as the anti-spam vendors, but using similar technologies. It is similar in theory to Gmail's Priority Inbox.
Now with this acquisition, it appears that AOL has further sweetened its email pot. Although Gtriage is going down, but its features will play an important role on Phoenix -- and immensely improve, says Holder, who is joining the AOL mail team as project manager.
Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed (AOL also owns TechCrunch).
According to Holder, he has his work shaped for him. While once, the announcement "You've Got Mail" was everywhere, even serving as the title of a middling Tom Hanks romantic comedy, AOL's e-mail trails behind Yahoo, Hotmail, and Gmail, Holder said, adding that yes, AOL's current e-mail is "lame". He goes on to say, "But Phoenix is very pretty. I would even say it is very awesome. Really, when you see it, you will say 'Wow, AOL did this?!?'"
This acquisition comes on the heels of 'AOL' - the ailing media giant has been desperately looking to revamp its image and is hoping that bringing in new innovation will help with their overall strategy. Moreover, the changes to AOL's e-mail service also comes as Facebook is prepping on its messaging overhaul as well. That new service is already being billed as a "Gmail killer," so the idea of AOL improving its offering in that area, and connecting it to other services, could mean that the e-mail space is about ready for to be shaken up.
Interestingly, AOL, Yahoo and Google all face the similar challenges of messaging in a Twitter and texting world. There is a lot of positive buzz swirling around regarding Project Phoenix. The new email client allegedly brings a streamlined and uncluttered feel to the inbox, allowing users to text, email, update status and IM from a "quick bar". But the changes are overdue and it will be interesting to see whether Holder can help reform the "You've Got Mail" brand. Sign up for to receive an invite to Phoenix and enjoy!