Yahoo is giving itself a nip-and-tuck job. The surgery started with the debut of a new shopping section and a sneak preview of a redesigned home page.
The new home page -- Yahoo's first in years -- features more graphics, a dollop of personalization and a heavy dose of self-promotion. It's an attempt to tame the growing chaos of a site that started as a directory of content elsewhere on the Web but has since added so much of its own stuff that the home page now lists 36 internal Yahoo channels.
"Our goal is to better inform users and make it easier to find out about everything available on the Yahoo network," said Tim Brady, the company's chief product officer.
Sounds simple, but it's a tall order. Yahoo remains torn over its dual identity as Web directory and service provider. For years it clung to its directory roots with a plain-text look, long after other portals downplayed their Web guides and hyped their moneymaking services in visually interesting ways. Until recently, Yahoo resisted using the dynamic programming that other major portals have used on their home pages.
But Yahoo added photos and graphics a few months ago, running large ads smack in the middle of the page for its shopping, music and movie channels, usually accompanied by animated commercials for big advertisers such as Pepsi. Now it's making even more room to tout what's happening inside Yahoo, including an increasing number of paid services for which it hopes to lure subscribers. The Web guide that made Yahoo famous has been shoved down the page and had its type downsized.
There's much to like about Yahoo's new face: It uses larger, more readable type, gives extra space to breaking news headlines and adds splashes of background color. But it continues to feel a tad too drab and cluttered. Yahoo also still lacks a badly needed universal menu on all its pages that would make it easier to navigate the giant site.
On the plus side, Yahoo's new design adds a personalized box telling its e-mail users at a glance how many new messages they have, with links to their inboxes, calendars and address books. The company also has redone its Web-mail interface, giving it a softer look with optional colors and better tools for organizing messages.
The test version of the new home page is viewable at www.yahoo.com/beta.html, but it won't replace Yahoo's live one until the company thinks users are ready.
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