Yahoo! completes its transformation

Yahoo! recently released a new home page design, practically eliminating the feature that got them started. Yahoo! started as a human-built web directory. You could submit your site a category, and someone might review it and add it to the collection. Yahoo! Picks was a cool offshoot of this feature, marking one cool new site per day. (You can now subscribe to Picks via RSS!) InfoSeek challenged Yahoo!’s model by writing algorithms to crawl the web and build a searchable index based on key words in web pages. For a while, the two methods remained on equal footing, until Google came along and based search relevance on the number of links to a site. At the same time, Yahoo! vastly broadened their services by acquiring or developing dozens of sometimes unrelated features, for example mail, weather, games, videos, music, home pages, and groups.

You can track the descent into obscurity of the Yahoo! Directory with each revision of the Yahoo! home page. I have circled the directory portion in each version.

1996
1996

1999
1999

2002
2002

2004
2004

2006
2006

Current
current

How do you like the new design?

I’m not a big fan of the new Yahoo! design. It is challenging to create a portal home page that caters to such a wide audience and yet remains simple and easy to use. Yahoo! duplicates information in different places (Sports, for example, appears in the left-hand menu and the “Featured” block. In the previous version, Sports was a subcategory of News. Now it’s a subcategory of Featured. Why? Mail appears both in a button on the left and in the nifty AJAX popup on the right. Overall, the page is crazy busy in order to fit all of the commercial and service functions in one page. AJAX layers are cool, but hiding content within the page just adds to its complexity and ability to confuse. I also preferred the darker borders of the previous versions. The light blue border color disappears, making the blocks all run together.

On the other hand, one rule of portal design is that people will get used to the locations of items and return to them repeatedly as long as their position doesn’t change too often. What is confusing at first glance may become familiar if you revisit it often enough. A quick scan of the Yahoo! home page history suggests that they change their design about every two years. This is the most significant rearrangement of the items ever. Previous changes were more about adding new blocks than moving or eliminating them.

What do you think?

One comment

  1. Ben Casnocha says:

    What’s awesome is how sites like Yahoo and Amazon can test a new placement of something for 20 minutes and, hundreds of thousands of page views later, determine whether it was a good move. Like it or hate it, I’m sure the new Yahoo look is based on tons and tons and tons of data and experiments on how often people click through to stuff depending on position.