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Yahoo CEO still breaking down silos

On stage at D, Carol Bartz says she is still trying to reshape the company's organizational culture, which was characterized by internal squabbles.

CARLSBAD, Calif.--Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz tried to paint Yahoo in a new light on Wednesday, saying it should be more than merely a starting point to the Internet.

"It's not just starting points," she said at the D: All Things Digital conference here. "People go wherever they want. They don't need to be quite as spoon-fed as they were in the beginning."

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz. Yahoo

But, she added, users don't have time to wander around--although they go to many sites, they spend a lot of time on only a couple. She noted that Yahoo's sites get 12 percent of all online minutes.

"It's where people find relevant and contextual information," she said. "It's news, it's sports...homepage, mail. It's a fabulous place."

Her answer was in contrast to the one that her predecessor as CEO, Jerry Yang, gave at last year's D, when asked "What is Yahoo?"

"I think of Yahoo as we have to be incredibly relevant and useful to users. You have to start your day at Yahoo," Yang said in May 2008. "We want people to come to Yahoo first thing in the day and multiple times a day. That is an incredibly powerful position, consistent with our roots and ripe for innovation."

Eventually Yang settled on the starting-point notion.

One of the directions the company needs to go, Bartz said, is offering content that is localized to the user. "As time goes we should get more local," she said. "People should see their high school Flip videos on Yahoo Sports."

The presentation started out with some good lines. Host Kara Swisher introduced Bartz's appearance as the presentation she was most looking forward to.

"As everyone knows I am obsessed with Yahoo and the telenovela that it is," Swisher said.

Bartz, an outsider who became Yahoo's chief executive in January, was ready for the match-up. "Do you want me to say something naughty now?," Bartz said, immediately after she sat down, a reference to her now infamous salty tongue.

Among the tales Swisher elicited was how Bartz first heard about the CEO job (Jerry Yang approached her after a Cisco board meeting), whether she was interested (she wasn't), and how he wooed her (dinner at his house).

Bartz also talked about the organizational problems.

"We had bigger silos inside the company than outside," she said, noting for example that the Yahoo home page people didn't want to drive traffic to other areas.

She rejected the notion that company needs to shed products, but said that its products need to be more social.

"We have 76 percent reach in the United States," she said. "We have to keep those people engaged and happy."