Yahoo opens up
Today, for the first time since it fought off an unsolicited takeover bid from Microsoft, Yahoo threw open its doors to give the media a glimpse of what it has planned to improve its waning fortunes.
The event at its Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters was all about Yahoo's new mantra: be open. It featured a lineup of executives who showed off how they plan to redesign popular parts of Yahoo to include more content from elsewhere on the Web.
Executives say the changes are designed to enhance the Yahoo experience for its more than 500 million users worldwide and for its advertisers. It's a bid to help Yahoo attract and engage more users while recapturing momentum it has lost to Internet search giant Google and up-and-comers such as Facebook. Yahoo's Web traffic in August fell 10% from the previous year, according to research firm ComScore.The company's stock price reflects its struggles, recently falling to its lowest level in nearly five years, well below Microsoft's offer of $33 a share (the stock had a good day today, rising nearly 5% to $18.55).
Users want different things from the Yahoo home page, said Ash Patel (pictured at right), executive vice president of Yahoo's audience product division. One or two extra features might make the home page perfect for someone, he said. "But what those one or two things are is different for me, different for you, different for everybody."
So Yahoo is trying a lot. Among the highlights:
Yahoo will redesign its home page for the first time since 2006. Patel said users would be able to tailor the home page and the Yahoo Mail inbox to their personal interests. They'll be able to add applications or widgets so they can see, for example, how their friends rate movies on Netflix, without having to leave the home page or the inbox. The redesign will roll out over the next few months.
Yahoo plans to open up its music site to rival services such as Apple's iTunes and Amazon.com, said Scott Moore (pictured at left), who heads Yahoo's media operations. Yahoo will also revamp its news section to include more user-friendly features and to feature more local content. And Moore said Yahoo was getting traction with users and sponsors for its original content such as Primetime in No Time and Tech Ticker.
On mobile devices, Yahoo is trying to attract software developers to use its Blueprint platform to create new applications. On television, Yahoo is working with Intel and others to bring widgets such as Flickr, Yahoo's photo-sharing service, to television. The widgets would display Web content along the bottom or side of the TV screen.
Time Warner's AOL made some similar moves this week, launching a redesigned home page and welcoming content from rivals. The idea for big Internet portals is to appeal to more people by bringing the best of the Web to users on and off their sites.
Hilary Schneider (pictured at right), who runs Yahoo's U.S. operations, said Yahoo remained committed to an advertising partnership with Google that's set to debut next month despite intensifying scrutiny from the Justice Department. Regulators have hired veteran antitrust lawyer Sanford Litvack to review the matter. Microsoft and some advertisers oppose the partnership, saying it would reduce competition and lead to higher prices. The Assn. of National Advertisers has asked the DOJ to block the deal.
Combined, Yahoo and Google control more than 80% of the U.S. search advertising market. Yahoo says the partnership, which would involve using some of Google's technology to sell ads on Yahoo, could boost its annual revenue by $800 million.
Schneider said the two companies voluntarily waited until October to give regulators a chance to assess the situation. She said that she was "confident" regulators would be comfortable with the partnership and that Yahoo planned to move forward next month even if the review wasn't finished. She would not say how crucial the partnership is to Yahoo, which has been buffeted by takeover battles, management turmoil and other problems.
"Our users are in control," Moore said. "We're not doing this open thing because it is the flavor of the month."
Then he offered the line of the day. In a twist on the famous line by country singer Barbara Mandrell, Moore said:"We were open before open was cool."
-- Jessica Guynn
Photos: From top, Yahoo executives Ash Patel, Scott Moore and Hilary Schneider. Credit: Yahoo