Yahoo Goes on an ‘Open’ Offensive

Yahoo
Source: Yahoo

SUNNYVALE, Calif. – Like the guy in The Graduate who whispers the
secret to success to the Dustin Hoffman character — “Plastics” — Yahoo execs held a media briefing here Thursday to lay out the key a growth strategy that could be described in a word: “Open.”

Speaker after speaker detailed plans to open up various Yahoo (NASDAQ:
YHOO) services, from music and search to mobile and advertising. Most of
these initiatives had already been announced earlier at separate events,
including the ambitious mobile development platform called Blueprint, announced yesterday at the CTIA conference in San Francisco.

Yahoo did reveal the first details of a plan to open up the Yahoo Music
site to include information from other popular services like Apple’s iTunes
and Amazon.com’s music site.

“Everything on Yahoo now is published by Yahoo,” said Scott Moore, who
heads Yahoo’s media business. “It will completely open up in the next few
weeks with a cleaner design.”

That cleaner design includes a right-hand column filled with new content and services from Yahoo and its partners, such as Pandora Internet radio, Amazon and iTunes, along with Yahoo’s own Flickr photo service and others.

“Part of this is us being the center of the ecosystem,” Moore said. He
also said the right column of services won’t benefit Yahoo financially
directly, but is part of the company’s plan to be “the center of the
ecosystem” and provide users with a better online experience.

With its executive team under fire to produce better results, the press
briefing is one of many attempts, including its high profile appearance at
CTIA, to show the company has a growth strategy it’s ready to execute.

Yahoo’s stock has been battered since Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) finally abandoned its hostile attempt to
buy the company a few months ago.

Along with openness, improving the user experience was another theme
repeated by various Yahoo product managers and executives. Aristotle Balogh, Yahoo’s
CTO, said Yahoo employs economics professors and psychologists, and leverages esoteric fields like rational game theory to help better understand how humans interact.

Aristotle Balogh
Aristotle Balogh
Source: Yahoo

“There’s a tremendous amount of data mining and information we pull together to gain a better understanding of user intent and motivation,” he said. “Even on the advertising side, we look at how best to present our content to users.”

Balogh said that “very shortly,” Yahoo would be able to provide its users a
customized Web experience based on their interests. He gave a specific
example of a more personalized home page focused on a user’s interest in
sports, with stories from different content sources including Yahoo and its partners. Balogh added that Yahoo already has the biggest, most engaged audience on
the Internet, numbering over 500 million.

Yahoo’s head of research, Prabhakar Raghavan, elaborated on the concept
of more anticipatory Web services earlier
this week at an industry event.

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You’ve got mail — and more

Mark Risher, group product manager for Yahoo Mail, showed how the service
is opening up to allow users to bring in and receive more content from other
applications. For example, if you were to receive an e-mail asking what you
did over the weekend, you’ll be able to drop the message into Flickr, pull
up the relevant pictures and reply — without leaving the e-mail program.

“Mail is a place where people store their lives, and that scrapbook of
your life becomes more valuable as it grows,” said Ash Patel, executive vice president of Yahoo’s Audience Product division.

For news junkies, Moore said Yahoo is developing a new look for its news page, which has already begun appearing randomly to some users as part of the testing process.

“News is the largest destination on the network,” Moore said. “The new design goal is to bring users farther into the network.”

The “right rail” (as Yahoo calls its right-hand column of content) will include the most logged stories from around the Web. “There aren’t many publishers that will go so aggressively to bring in links from the outside, but we’ve had success with this.”

He noted Yahoo’s acquisition of Buzztracker has helped it track things
like the most popular blogs.

Additional abbreviated story leads will also be shown, with users having the
option to click to expand the stories right on the page, without a refresh.
“Part of the goal is to address the short attention span” that seems
to be growing among Web surfers, Moore said.

There is also a plan to open up parts of the right rail to third-party
content providers, but Yahoo didn’t reveal many details as to how this would
work, such as whether third parties would have to pay for that placement.

The mobile blueprint includes the iPhone

Finally, Marco Boerries, executive vice president of Yahoo’s Connected
Life division, recapped Yahoo’s Blueprint announcement and the importance of
mobile.

Marco Boerries

Marco Boerries
Source: Yahoo

“It’s not only a strategy, it’s a necessity,” Boerries said. “If you
look at the mobile opportunity, it’s extremely massive and much more
complex. You have all the different hardware to deal with, different
carriers and providers. If you’re not open, I don’t think in the long term
you’ll be successful.”

He said Yahoo’s aim is enable a mobile ecosystem for billions of users
with a mobile monetization engine that’s open to all comers and
“indispensable services for everyday people.” He said Blueprint would make
it easy for developers to create applications that run on a wide range of
mobile devices, regardless of screen size, automatically.

Looking up from his presentation on a MacBook, Boerries said he thinks
the iPhone provides the best mobile experience of any device on the market
today.

He then showed a prototype Blueprint application on the iPhone, a fan
site for the NBC television show “Heroes,” with cast photos, episode synopsis and guides to the series. It was easy to navigate and scroll through smoothly with the
iPhone’s touch interface. Boerries said it took less than a day to develop.

In a later interview with InternetNews.com, Boerries said Yahoo
was testing Google’s Android mobile software in case it
decides to extend Blueprint to new Android-based devices, which are slated to debut later this year.

“If it gains traction, we’ll have a software library for it,” he said.

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