Makeovers are always fun to watch. Someone swoops in on an unsuspecting fashion “don’t,” improves him or her with a new hairstyle, makeup and wardrobe, and presents the finished product to overjoyed friends and family.
Last week, Yahoo (YHOO) unveiled the results of its latest makeover: the revamped home page. Carol Bartz, the company’s relatively new CEO, has said that Yahoo’s home page needed just such a makeover. After not changing significantly since 2006, the home page fits the role of a fashion don’t. And consumers, like family and friend observing the aftermath of a makeover, will either be overjoyed or nonplussed by the finished product.
I’ve been using this new home page for over a week now and I can report that Yahoo followed one of the most important makeover rules by doing more with less. Gone is the busy screen saturated with advertisements and clutter. The new home page is clean and easier to absorb.
Yahoo’s home-page makeover goes beyond surface improvements. Its most useful feature is a list called My Favorites, which contains a variety of Web sites from within and outside of Yahoo. When your cursor hovers over one of these entries, which Yahoo calls “apps,” a pane opens with a preview of content from that site. This turns your Yahoo home page into an aggregator of information, bringing glimpses of information to you in one place so you don’t have to waste time navigating to other sites.
But if a greater number of these apps were more robust, you would be able to do more right within the hover pane, like watch videos or play a game. Currently, the hover preview pane only lets you see content, update social-network statuses and enter search terms, the results of which are shown on a new Web page.
This makeover comes at an interesting time in the world of online news aggregation. Competitors like Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) incorporate data from all over the Web into iGoogle.com and MSN.com, respectively. And the concept of the home page as a starting point isn’t as popular as it once was: Many people now start browsing the Web by first clicking on a link in an email or in one of many social-networking sites, like Twitter.
Of course, Yahoo plans to use this redesigned home page to drive traffic to the company’s own sites like Shine, Answers, Health and OMG (a celebrity gossip site). These Yahoo sites make up half of the 65 apps designed especially for My Favorites. Yahoo says that its apps for other sites, including WSJ.com, were made by Yahoo and the outside company running the Web site. An ad runs on the hover preview page of each app and the revenue for this ad goes to Yahoo, not the content provider.
Yahoo will use your list of My Favorites apps to learn about what sites you use so as to target ads at users. This proved true for most of the ads I saw on my home page, but strangely, the AllThingsD.com app displayed ads for Mars chocolate and Del Monte fruit snacks rather than technology products.
My Favorites is fixed on the far left of the Yahoo home page and a large search box sits prominently at the top of the home screen.
The top middle section of the screen shows a carousel of images and current news that Yahoo calls the Today Module; below this is the News Module, which houses tabs labeled News, World, Local, and Finance. The Local and Finance tabs can be customized by entering a ZIP Code and stock tickers, respectively. The Today and News Modules can switch positions if you click on a small arrow.
The revamped home page will serve as a starting point for the Yahoo Application Platform, or YAP. Sometime around late September, Yahoo will open its YAP (no pun intended) to software developers so they can make all kinds of apps with a variety of functions for the home page, not just apps that are tied to Web sites.
You can customize the home page for style or content changes if you sign on using a user ID and password. Changes should appear the next time you log in. But this didn’t work as well as it should. I set my page to display in a tangerine color, one of six colors offered for customizing the page, but the home page wasn’t tangerine-colored the next time I logged in.
I had trouble logging into my Gmail account using a special Gmail app, but this and the color problem were fixed by the time this column went to press.
Some apps didn’t work at all, like the Facebook app, which couldn’t connect to my Facebook account. Yahoo said the problem should be fixed this week.
The home page seemed to have a longer memory when it came to the list of My Favorites. I edited my list, adding more pre-made apps and creating some of my own using a built-in tool that lets you enter a Web site. Yahoo has preloaded icons for some popular Web sites such as cnn.com; otherwise, it will use a generic star.
Two apps are permanent fixtures at the top of the My Favorites list: One shows a list of all Yahoo sites and the other shows Yahoo Mail. Everything else can be deleted, added and moved around in the list. One of my favorite apps was for Epicurious.com, the food and recipe site. When I hovered over the Epicurious app, images of food with recipe names appeared in the hover preview pane. One click on an image sent me to the Web site for the full version of the recipe.
After adding many of my own apps to My Favorites, I wished Yahoo had a one-click tool for converting my browser bookmarks into apps. Yahoo says this is something it hopes to introduce in the future.
This week, Yahoo started rolling out a mobile Web site made to run on the iPhone’s Safari browser that coordinates with the more robust version of the home page. I used this Yahoo home page on the iPhone and liked that it immediately pulled up the My Favorites list I had carefully constructed on my computer. Similar offerings will soon be available for other mobile devices.
The new Yahoo home page is a refreshing way of bringing content to you rather than you chasing around the Web looking for it. The My Favorites apps need a little more power to be truly useful and to encourage people to use the Yahoo home page every day, but Yahoo hopes to solve some of that problem in a couple of months when it opens the site to developers.
Write to Katherine Boehret at firstname.lastname@example.org edited by Walter S. Mossberg