First impressions: Yahoo's fresh new look

For almost as long as there's been a Web, there's been a Yahoo. Its look, feel, and functionality have changed a lot over the years, mostly through subtle evolution. But today, Yahoo has launched a preview of its new front page, and an awful lot is changing all at once--in ways that are slick, functional, and even entertaining.

So what's new? Well, at first glance, the most noticable tweaks may be that the Yahoo logo has been shoved over on the left-hand side of the page and the search box has been moved up, along with a link to Yahoo Answers. But what's really significant are the new navigational features all over the page, all of which give you quicker access to a wider range of stuff.

The Personal Assistant is a tabbed area on the right-hand side of the screen lets you dip into Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Messenger, weather, movies, local information, and radio without leaving the front page. Just hover your mouse over a tab, and the panel expands wth a preview of relevant information. Here's a peek at my inbox (when you click on a message, you go through to the full-blown Yahoo Mail):

Over in the middle of the page are a couple of tabbed panels that take you to less personal information. One's for "featured" content, entertainment, sports, and finance. And the other is for news--general, international, and in video form.

Over on the left-hand side are links to a bunch of Yahoo sites, such as those for cars, kids, photos, and personals:

And if you hover over "All Yahoo! Services," you get a full menu with dozens of choices.

Finally, there's a panel called Yahoo Pulse that summarizes a topic in terms of what Yahoo users as a group are clicking on. You never know what Yahoo Pulse factoid/link item you'll get when you show up at the front page.

So what's the bottom line on the new Yahoo front page? It cleverly puts a lot more information within a single click, and the Personal Assistant, in particular, is slick and interactive. It's not just useful, it's fun to use...which, of course, has always been true of Yahoo's best efforts. My first instinct was to compare it with Google's personalized home page feature, but in fact they're quite different. The Google page lets you create a much more customized selection of information panels, but you've got to put some effort into building a page. And it doesn't have the space-efficient tabbed approach that squeezes more tools into the same amount of space. In some ways, it's less like Yahoo's new front page and more like My Yahoo, which is still around and far more customizable than the front page.

However, the final version of the new Yahoo front page should be at least a little more user-configurable than the preview--for one thing, Yahoo told me that you'll have the ability to move panels around on the page. One other customization feature I'd like to see: the ability to put one or more RSS feeds on the the page. (Given how many inventive things Yahoo is doing with RSS, I'd say there's a strong chance it'll get around to offering something along these lines.)

Already, the new Yahoo front page is certainly worth a look, whether you already spend a lot of time at Yahoo or are more likely to head for Google. (Or, like me, you manage to find yourself at both sites many times over the course of a typical week.)

Those are my first impressions--if you check out the preview, c'mon back when you're done and share yours...

Web: http://www.yahoo.com/preview

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Harry McCracken

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