Kara Swisher

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How Is Yahoo's Massive "Metro" Homepage Redesign Going? It Depends on Who You Ask.

Late last night, Yahoo’s Tapan Bhat (pictured here) posted an update on the ongoing redesign of the Internet giant’s homepage, a massive undertaking given that 300 million people visit it each month.

Bhat, who is SVP of Yahoo’s Front Doors, Communities and Network Services, said the company was completing the first phase of its “bucket testing” and collecting feedback, but that, “Bottom line is we’re getting closer to the final design, but we’re not quite there yet.”

Indeed not, according to several sources at Yahoo (YHOO), who said that the massive underhaul of the homepage has been a much more complex, much dicier effort and was taking a lot longer than expected to launch.

(You can see examples of the redesign and also Bhat’s post last night on Yahoo’s corporate blog, Yodel Anecdotal, below.)

When the redesign–which is called “Metro” internally–was announced last September, Bhat said the changes would initially impact less than one percent of worldwide users in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and India.

But he also said they would then be rolled out to a wider and wider circle over the next six months. That has not happened, obviously.

Why? One key reason: Some results in limited testing showing actual declines in traffic, both from pointing outward more and also having people stay on the homepage with beefed-up “one-click” features.

The biggest issue is openness, which is aggressive in the new design, especially for Yahoo.

But it is a move pushed strongly by former CEO Jerry Yang. The idea is that Yahoo was a “starting point” for consumers was one of his key strategies.

That includes adding in lots of widget-like applications, or apps, onto the homepage from outside partners, and many more links to sites all over the Web.

“We’re pointing people off Yahoo and they are going,” said one exec about Yahoo’s first massive redesign since 2006. “While being open is a good thing, it also means less traffic inside Yahoo.”

Said another: “A lot of us want it to point more to great Yahoo services we offer instead of giving everyone else the benefit of our size.”

And the results so far, several sources said, have definitely caught the attention of new Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz, who some say might be considering slowing the wider rollout of the new homepage that insiders said was expected to be well on its way by spring.

Delay is, of course, common in massive projects like this, especially in this case, since the Yahoo homepage is a powerful “firehose” all over Yahoo and the Web.

When I contacted Bhat earlier this week to ask about the status of the homepage redesign, he would not comment about when it would roll out widely or about results of the testing, or give me access to the redesigned pages.

But he did kindly offer to walk me through the progress so far, next week at Yahoo HQ in Sunnyvale.

Then an update from Bhat suddenly appeared last night, in which he outlined that positive and negative feedback from that small number of Yahoo customers who have been using the new homepage.

Apparently, testers love the streamlined look and feel and the apps, and prefer the new page over the current one.

They also want even more apps, though, and think Yahoo should nix the darker color, as well as give easier access to mail and other services.

One assumes that is just a tiny bit of the feedback, especially given how dramatic the changes are.

In a post last fall when the redesign was announced by Bhat, I wrote that Yahoo was “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.”

That meant the ability to get to information and services more quickly, with links to outside email providers, initially from Google (GOOG) and Time Warner (TWX) online unit AOL.

The test design also includes a prominent left-hand vertical bar, with applications from both Yahoo properties and third-party services like eBay (EBAY), which are easy to add and remove.

Eventually, Bhat said at the time, there would be thousands of apps, from Yahoo and also from outside developers.

“People want broadcast and narrowcast at the same time,” said Bhat then. “They want choices, but they also don’t want to do the work involved [in programming their own homepage].”

Noting that it was not the dashboard approach of My Yahoo or iGoogle, Bhat added at the time: “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.”

But, said several sources at Yahoo who have seen the Metro results so far, by giving them more options, especially outside ones, clicking around is precisely what users do.

More next week when I visit with Bhat…

Until then, here is a screenshot Bhat posted of the latest look for Metro last night, and below it are several screenshots of the initial Yahoo redesign, as well as Yahoo’s current homepage (click on the images to make them larger).

In addition, Bhat’s whole post last night about Metro’s progress is at the very bottom.

This is the latest iteration of the homepage redesign:

This is the homepage that was rolled out in September 2007:

This is a homepage rolled out in September 2007 that includes more outside apps:

This is the homepage rolled out in September 2007 that shows how email from Yahoo and Google and AOL would look:

This is a screenshot of Yahoo’s current home page:

And here is the full text of the Bhat post from last night, below.

Update on our new homepage testing

Posted February 13th, 2009 at 8:08 pm by Tapan Bhat, Front Doors

As many of you know, we started testing new concepts for the Yahoo! homepage last fall, with the goal of helping to simplify the Web for the more than 300 million people around the world who visit the site each month.

We are wrapping up the first phase of our “bucket testing” and have gleaned some great insights from people in the US, UK, France and India who have tried out the new page. We’ve done a number of things to collect input–from reading your comments here on Yodel to reviewing online feedback forms and customer care inquires to meeting with many of you in person and online. Bottom line is we’re getting closer to the final design, but we’re not quite there yet.

Before I share details around what we’ve learned, I wanted to give a quick recap of some of the functionality we’ve added over the past few months since just a fraction of you have experienced it firsthand.

Back in September, we introduced a new section called “My Apps.” The great part about having apps on your homepage is that you can easily check in and get more done–from reading and responding to multiple email accounts to browsing local movie listings–all without leaving the page.

Today, we’ve enhanced that experience and we’re testing more than 25 apps that will keep you updated with whatever you want to know. New additions include apps from eBay, Forbes.com, Wired.com and more top brands. We’ve also beefed up the Sports and Finance apps, for example, providing schedules, team standings, blogs links and more, plus one-click access to your stock portfolios and stock quotes. The best part is that the “My Apps” section is now customizable so you can add and remove apps (check out this screenshot) so your homepage reflects what matters most to you.

Heres what we’ve heard from our testers:

Positive Feedback

* People are happy with the streamlined look and feel
* There’s lots of love for the applications
* Most testers said they prefer the new homepage over the current homepage

One comment that sums it up nicely:

“Well–I was surprised at first at how little change was introduced, and liked that. Now I’m surprised by how much change actually is packed in, but is more interaction based…Basically it’s deceptively different–looks and feels the same, but much more functionality built in at a new layer.” –Thomas

What We’re Working On

Now that we’ve got a critical mass of input, we’re translating it into updated versions of the page for ongoing testing. Here are some highlights.

* The #1 thing we’re hearing you want is more apps and we’ll be adding many apps in the coming weeks
* Most didn’t like the dark color that we tested initially–see the screenshot below of the new visual treatments we’re testing
* Easier ways to access and preview email and instant messaging accounts are in the works
* It should be easier to get to other Yahoo! services that you’ve come to rely upon

Metro test

We don’t take changes to your homepage lightly and your input is critical. To help our designers and engineers, tell us what else you think we should consider. Is there a killer app that you’d love to see?

Know that we’re working hard to create a new homepage that you’ll love and we’ll keep you posted as we get closer to launching. Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Tapan Bhat
Senior Vice President, Yahoo! Front Doors, Communities and Network Services


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