Yahoo launching front page open to others' content

After months of testing, the Web pioneer opens up its new home page with the hope of attracting more active users and more lucrative advertising.

A significant redesign is finally coming to the Yahoo.com home page, one of the most well-traveled destinations on the Internet, and the company's search page will follow suit starting next month.

Yahoo plans to let people in the United States start selecting a new, more personalized version of the home page beginning Tuesday afternoon. The revamp lets people select basic applications to use not just Yahoo sites, but also others' such as eBay, Facebook, and Twitter, said Tapan Bhat, Yahoo's senior vice president for consumer experiences.

These applications are available on the left side of the page under a customizable section called My Favorites; hovering over them with the mouse pointer makes each application and its accompanying advertising pop up.

"We're pulling together everything about the user they care about, be it on Yahoo or off, to create a personally relevant experience," Bhat said. "In a world like this, Yahoo needs to make the user experience come first."

The effort is a centerpiece of Yahoo's effort to revitalize its core business: showing content and accompanying advertisements to a large, general audience on the Net. Yahoo's profitability for years has trailed that of its main rival, Google, which depends chiefly on search ads for revenue, and Yahoo faces increasing pressure from Microsoft's online business and new arrivals such as Facebook as well.

Yahoo's new home page permits applications from Yahoo or others. This shows use of Facebook.
Yahoo's new home page permits applications from Yahoo or others. This shows use of Facebook. Yahoo

The company also hopes for more success with advertisers. "We're creating great opportunities for advertisers to target content and context," he said, demonstrating a movie application that showed a prominent ad along with movie showtimes locally tailored for a particular user.

The My Favorites feature will arrive on Yahoo's search page, too, making the search site and results shown on it into more of a portal to access content. Yahoo faces search pressure from dominant Google and now to a certain extent from Microsoft's Bing, too. Even if it consummates a possible search and advertising deal with Microsoft, being able to show its own display ads in applications adjacent to search results could help the company extract more money from its search operation.

Long-coming changes
Newer Web sites change rapidly, but Yahoo proceeds at a relatively glacial pace to change its site, visited by a whopping 340 million people monthly.

Yahoo announced the new front page plan in October 2007, recognizing that people wanted to get to other destinations on the Net besides Yahoo's. It began "bucket testing" it a year afterward, trying variations of the new page on randomly selected users, some of whom squawked at the changes and their inability to revert .

New Chief Executive Carol Bartz has been trying to light a fire under the company's developers, but even this revamp is only is the beginning beta testing on Tuesday. The change will arrive in the U.K., France, and India later this week, in Spain and Mexico next month, and in Asia next year, Yahoo said. Users had no choice about earlier tests, but now they'll be able to select it as default on their own by visiting http://yahoo.com/trynew or clicking on Yahoo promotions for the change.

Yahoo's revamped front page.
Yahoo's revamped front page. Yahoo

"The home page was tested by thousands and thousands of people. We got tons of feedback--tens of thousands wrote about what they liked and didn't," Bhat said. "It was really key to helping us figure out what worked and didn't."

The new home page will become default for others when beta testing is done "in the coming months," Yahoo said. The revamped search pages will enter bucket testing in August, meaning that users can't choose to use or not use the new design.

More changes
Opening up Yahoo's content to other sites' operations--and letting other sites use Yahoo data can use such as Facebook-like status updates--is part of the Yahoo Open Strategy. That effort, under way for well over a year, is designed to increase users' activity on Yahoo, to draw more people to Yahoo, and to make the company a better partner for advertisers.

There are about 60 applications available now, and more are being added daily, Bhat said. Users can create their own, too.

Also coming in August will be the ability to select what type of news people can see, with a slider that moves on a spectrum between "fun" and "serious," he said.

In addition, Yahoo is revamping its mobile site. One big feature: when users customize Yahoo for use with regular computers, that customization will carry over to their mobile version.

Bhat wouldn't share details about whether the new home page fares better, either in terms of user engagement or revenue. However, because Yahoo plans to make its official home page announcement Tuesday while detailing second-quarter financial results, it's possible Bartz may be more forthcoming than Bhat.

Bhat did indicate, though, that things are moving in the right direction for the company.

"Our experience in our test indicates that people are excited about this home page. They feel this meets their needs and is fresh new look for Yahoo," Bhat said. "We are designing the page around users. What we do know when design page that users like, they tend to get more engaged."

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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