Kara Swisher

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The First Look at the New Yahoo Homepage Redesign: Apps Rule!

Yahoo will begin testing out versions of its new main homepage to a minuscule number of users starting tomorrow, employing a design that more significantly allows users to customize the starting page in a way that essentially amounts to a kind of My Yahoo-lite for everyone.

The redesign is a huge and complex endeavor. According to comScore’s July stats, Yahoo (YHOO) has about 82 million daily U.S. visitors to its homepages.

Most of those visitors use the Yahoo main homepage, which is fully programmed by the company.

Making such a shift will also be a big perceptual deal for Yahoo, which needs to prove it has remained current and open, especially compared to faster-growing rivals like Facebook.

Yahoo has been trying to reinvigorate itself of late, after a disastrous takeover battle with Microsoft (MSFT) and a weakening of its business and its stock price.

Because of all this, the Yahoo brand has also doubtlessly been tarnished.

Thus, making a success of its new design is critical, and Yahoo’s CEO Jerry Yang has been touting the idea that Yahoo must be the “starting point” to the Web for users.

To respond to users who want to access information and services more quickly, the new streamlined homepage will be much shorter, be made up of more “snippets” and have links to outside email providers (initially, Google and AOL).

Most importantly, the new homepage will prominently feature a left-hand vertical bar, which has applications from both Yahoo properties and third-party services like eBay.

These apps can be added and subtracted easily. Eventually, there will be thousands of apps, from Yahoo and, after vetting, from outside developers.

(See screenshots below comparing the old Yahoo with three of the new ones.)

The changes will initially impact less than one percent of worldwide users in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and India. But they will be rolled out to a wider and wider circle over the next six months.

“People want broadcast and narrowcast at the same time,” said Tapan Bhat (pictured here), Yahoo’s SVP of Front Doors, Communities and Network Services, in an interview with BoomTown. “They want choices, but they also don’t want to do the work involved [in programming their own homepage].”

Thus, Yahoo apparently is going to give users both in its first major redesign since 2006, which it has been working on for two years.

The major components of the page will still remain close to the old one, but jazzed up and shifted around.

For example. the apps will be moved into the position where Yahoo services links used to be, and vice versa.

As before, there will be a main information module at the center of the homepage, “pulse” and news area on the bottom-right and -left, and search and navigation at the very top.

Bhat said the changes were made after a lot of research of user behavior and also after paying attention to key trends such as the widgetization of applications and the trend toward openness.

The new look is not aimed at the hardcore user, who might want to endlessly tweak the Yahoo homepage, although those options will remain for those who prefer them.

But, Bhat said, more people wanted quick access to things like email without having to launch apps. Instead, users will be able to see it all on the main page.

“It is not a dashboard approach of My Yahoo or iGoogle,” he said. “People are time-starved … so it is important to the user to get to their relevant daily information as quickly as possible without having to click around.”

Bhat said the rollout tomorrow will not be final and that Yahoo will keep making changes, depending on reaction.

“We don’t want 300 million people opposed to change,” said Bhat, who wrote a blog post on the changes here. “So, we are going to be listening hard.”

Here are screenshots (click on images to make them larger):

This is the home page that will be rolled out tomorrow

This is a home page that includes more outside apps

This is the home page that shows how email from Yahoo and Google and AOL would look

This is Yahoo’s current home page, as of tonight

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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo