After almost a year of testing and development, Yahoo on Tuesday plans to unveil its revamped home page, aimed at helping the Internet giant fulfill its oft-stated goal of being the Web's most popular starting point.
To that end, the new home page sports a more streamlined look and makes it easier for users to access third-party applications, social networks and Web sites in addition to their favorite content and services from Yahoo. The increased emphasis on personalization, glimpsed during testing in recent months, is intended to keep people not only starting the day with Yahoo.com, but sticking around longer.
"Our goal is to make Yahoo the center of peoples' lives," said Tapan Bhat, a Yahoo senior vice president overseeing the home page upgrade, during a conference call Monday. He called the latest version the most radical overhaul of the home page during the company's 15 years.
The biggest single change is the redesigned left navigation bar featuring Yahoo properties that now allows people to add or edit links to outside sites through an "application gallery" that opens up via tabs at the top and bottom of the section. Users can choose from 65 My Favorites apps for easy access to services and sites from Gmail to Facebook to NPR. They will also be able to add their own favorites to that list.
The window that opens when someone clicks on an app also features a large banner on the right side that is contextually relevant to the content. So Yahoo's Movies app might show an ad for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." "We're creating a great opportunity for advertisers to target content and context in a great sponsorship opportunity," said Bhat. He indicated that advertising Yahoo runs against third-party content would be a "win-win" for everyone.
Yahoo also said that soon users would be able to sync Yahoo's PC-based and mobile sites so apps added to a computer would also show up on a mobile device.
In its new home page launched last fall, AOL introduced a similarly open strategy by letting users add links from any site to the left navigation bar. The "My Networks" section on the AOL home page also more prominently features access to social networks including MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.
Among other key revisions, the new Yahoo home page also features a more customizable news section that lets users get "hyper-local" stories. Bhat said the company is also still testing a neat feature that would allow people to adjust their news preferences according to settings ranging from "fun" to "medium" to "serious."
People can now also share status updates with friends on social networks like Facebook and MySpace directly from the home page.
Gone from the new site, however, is the Marketplace section, which included text links on the home page and pushed users to Yahoo Shopping. A link to Yahoo Shopping has also been removed from the left rail, suggesting that the company may be pulling back on promoting its e-commerce-related efforts.
Over the last year, Yahoo has been testing several versions of the new home page with small "buckets" of its users as it worked assiduously to come up with the right mix of new and familiar elements. Bhat explained that the company was trying to find the right balance between old line portals that offered a broad window on the world and newer services that enable people to create a more personalized experience.
Rather than switching automatically to the new home page Tuesday, Yahoo will instead allow users to click on a link to choose the new version. This "opt-in" beta will therefore allow Yahoo to keep tweaking the redesigned page. Yahoo will also start bucket-testing a new search results page next month that will integrate the look and feel of the revamped home page.
The new home page would be launched first in the U.S. before being rolled out to the U.K, India and France and on mobile devices later in the week, with other countries to follow in August.