Yahoo unveils revamped home page

 After multiple rounds of testing and nearly a year of painstaking development, Yahoo is unveiling a thoroughly overhauled home page, a major step in the struggling company’s efforts to remake itself for users, advertisers and investors.

The outlines of Yahoo’s approach to redesigning the most popular home page on the Internet have long been known. The company has said time and again that it wanted to provide something of a dashboard that offered its users a view not only into their favourite Yahoo content and services, but also into third-party applications and sites that they use frequently, like Facebook, eBay or Gmail. The idea was also to make it easy for users to customise that experience. Jerry Yang, Yahoo’s co-founder and former chief executive, had described the goal as making Yahoo into a “starting point” for users on the Web. In the Carol Bartz regime, the preferred catchphrase appears to be putting Yahoo at the “centre point of people’s lives online.” That’s how Tapan Bhat, a senior vice president at Yahoo who oversees the home page, put it in an interview.

But the specifics of the redesigned have changed several times, and the final release, which remains in “beta” testing, appears to have taken some elements in a new direction. Perhaps the most singular feature is how Yahoo integrates third-party applications and sites into its home page. Those applications, which are chosen by users, appear in a right-hand rail called My Favorites. When users hover over one of them with their mouse, a preview of that application, be it their Facebook page, the front page of The New York Times, or their Gmail in-box, pops up. That makes an easy way for users to check in with their favourite services.

In early tests, some executives complained that the third-party apps took traffic—and with it, revenue opportunities—away from Yahoo. Now Yahoo is including targeted ads in the preview window.

Yahoo’s home page receives massive amounts of traffic, Bhat said. “The thing that has been missing is context and brand advertisers want to buy context,” he said. “The contextual advertising in the My Favorites area starts giving us chance to do that.” Yahoo users will be able pick My Favorites apps from a list of more than 65 apps. They will also be able to create new apps for sites that are not included in that list. Yahoo promises that it will soon make it easy for users to keep their PC and mobile selections in sync. Other features of the new home page include more personalised news and “status” updates from various social networks like Facebook and MySpace.

Bhat said the overhaul represents “the most fundamental change to the home page in Yahoo’s history.” He said the company was trying to walk a middle road between sites that broadcast a single home page to all their users — the old or a newspaper home page — and services that allow users to customise their experience, like My Yahoo or iGoogle.

User tests show that a growing number of people say they like a custom experience, but the number who bother to program their home page remains relatively low, Bhat said. The new home page will not be imposed on users automatically — at least not yet. Bhat called it an “opt-in beta,” meaning that users will have to click on a link to select the new design. The new home page will be available in the US on Tuesday, and in France, Britain and India later in the week, with other countries to follow next month.

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