I may be a little late to the party here, but I just received my invite to test out Alto by Aol. Alto is Aol’s new take on the age-old thing we all use called email, and its actually got some interesting and useful ideas that are well implemented. But is it enough to get people to use the service?

See, the thing about Alto is its more like a wrapping paper over your existing email account than anything else. This isn’t a bad thing, either. In fact, I think it’s a great approach to reinventing email, mostly because these days people aren’t looking for a new email suffix (e.g. @altomail.com) that they have to tell everyone about. The fact that I don’t even see a way to get an @altomail.com address and that you can import your existing email account into Alto is a huge plus. And right now, Alto has support for importing your Gmail, Yahoo, Aol, and/or iCloud email accounts.

The main appeal for using Alto is that its pretty smart and can identify a lot of the email that’s being imported. For example, Alto will auto-sort all daily deals emails from sites like Groupon or LivingSocial into a special “Stack” or in Gmail terminology, a label. It does the same for social networks like Facebook and Google+ by filtering those emails into a stack called Social Notifications. It also will do the same for retailers such as Amazon.com.

Additionally, if you want, you can tell Alto to have emails that go to a particular stack not be put into your inbox and just go to the stack. This type of sorting makes browsing your email a breeze and it does all of this the first time you open it. No need to setup these three types of stacks — it’s all automatic. Of course, you can configure more stacks on your own, too. But it’s more than just the fancy filtering that makes Alto appealing.

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Alto daily deals

Alto presents email in the three main stacks in a unique way. All emails in the daily deal stack are presented in a gallery-looking layout, allowing you to quickly browse through those emails and see more than just a line of text. I also can’t help but wonder if this type of visual layout, may actually prove more effective in selling daily deals to people, when compared to just reading a subject line, because they can actually see what they would be getting prior to opening the email, which could entice more people to click.

When it comes to Social Notifications, Alto breaks down how many notifications came from each social network, making it easy to see how much you missed and where you missed it. For retailers, Alto presents emails in a website-like layout, with a nice tab at the top of the email letting you know when you received it, and next and back arrows that allow you to navigate through the messages.

Alto social notifications

Creating your own stacks is super easy, simply drag an email from someone into the new stack icon and it’s done, automatically. Of course, you can further customize the stack’s settings such as, adding additional senders to the stack, or if an email contains a particular words in a subject line to be added to the stack, after it’s created if you want as well.

It’s also worth noting that currently Aol is also working on developing its Calendar for Alto, but if you get into the beta right now it just points to Google Calendar.

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While Alto is nice, are a few nifty features enough to get people to use it? I just don’t know if there’s currently enough added value for anyone to make the switch. I also don’t understand Aol’s play yet, is Alto just some project or is a serious attempt to reinvent the way email is consumed?

Nonetheless, if you can get in, I’d say try it out, since you really have nothing to lose here being that you don’t have to give up anything to use Alto, you get to keep your current email address and all your email, you just access it all on another website.


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