I read last week Yahoo’s announcement about its new home page. In case you didn’t get to see it, here’s an overview: the ability to put favorites on the front page (Yahoo refers to them as “apps,” basically ways to get content and interact with other sites from the Yahoo homepage.) A “trend setter” that’ll show you the most popular Yahoo searches, etc. Hyper-local news. (No offense to Yahoo, but I hate the term hyper-local. It sounds to me like my neighbors down the street are doing their own newspaper.) Social updates (integration with Facebook, MySpace, etc.) And it’s not available now, but PC to Mobile Sync will be “coming soon.”
(To get a sense of history about how the Yahoo home page has changed, check out this set on Flickr. Some of these look really familiar. Gad, I’m old.)
I’m thrilled that Yahoo is still in the game. The new homepage looks miles better (the left-side-of-the-page icons are a notable huge improvement), the home page is cleaner and the apps make it fairly extensible for its content, and it’s good to see that Yahoo didn’t go for the bullpucky “portal” features that were out of date years ago (Customized weather! Customized sports scores! Gag!)
But I can’t help but wonder whether this homepage makeover is just whistling in the dark.
Think about it. We have social networks with their own applications. We have browsers with built in search engines. We access the Internet by mobile phone. Why do we need a search engine based portal like the one Yahoo is putting together? How often do you go to the home page of a search engine? For me it’s almost never; I search via my browser. (I’ll go to a specialty search engine on occasion but the major search engines I’ll search from my browser.) I’ll go to a search engine’s non-search properties, which is what I do with Yahoo; I never go to the Yahoo home page but I’m at Yahoo Daily News constantly. (Actually I’ve been going to it for so long that I still call it Yahoo Daily News even though I know it’s really supposed to be Yahoo News.)
What if Yahoo had taken a refinement of its new search pad product, some of the apps its promoting, and maybe nonprogrammer friendly Yahoo Pipes tools, and built them into a Yahoo Home Page? The search property could have been defined by its home page, and it could end up being as much of a destination as something like Yahoo News. By doing this you’d run the risk of positioning Yahoo Search – the core of Yahoo, the whole reason it got started – as “just” another of Yahoo’s properties. But on the other hand, at least Yahoo Search would have its own identity, its own starting point, its own attraction for visitors to Yahoo. (Yahoo does have an opening search page at http://search.yahoo.com/ but it’s really bare.)
I realize at this point the whole thing may be academic. There are a number of discussions going on about a possible Yahoo/Microsoft deal. (Binghoo?) But I hope if Yahoo and Microsoft DO get together I hope they use a combined home page as a spotlight for the many available search tools, and not just a jumping-off point to other properties.