Yahoo talks user experience, integration at Product Runway event

Summary:At a "Product Runway" event at the company's Silicon Valley campus today, Chief Product Officer Blake Irving offered a sneak peek at what Yahoo has in the works for its users, its properties, it advertisers and its infrastructure.

Yahoo is re-inventing itself - again - but not in the way you might think.

At a "Product Runway" event at the company's Silicon Valley campus today, Chief Product Officer Blake Irving offered a sneak peek at what Yahoo has in the works for its users, its properties, it advertisers and its infrastructure.

But it was more than just new "stuff" that the company was talking up. There seems to be a new way of thinking at Yahoo, a mindset that Yahoo doesn't need to do everything - such as trying to launch its own version of a Twitter or Facebook.

Instead, the company wants to give its users what they want, when they want and how they want. No longer is the company interested in operating its properties in vertical silos, an experience where search is search, mail is mail and news is news. Instead, the company is integrating this with that and that with this as a way of providing users with the experience they want.

In a simple sentence - the company is trying to "bring cool back to Yahoo," Irving said.

But I have to admit that I've heard a lot of this before. We have millions of users and they're engaged with us regularly, so let's give them what they really want. It's a smart concept - and Yahoo has been trying to execute on it for some time.

But can the company do that by tweaking the look and feel of existing properties?

Take Yahoo Mail, for example. A new look is on the verge of rolling out and the company is restructuring it to include the things that users find to be important - integration with social networks, instant communications and the latest headlines.

But IM in the mail window isn't new. And the look and feel of mail itself - quite frankly - looks and feels much like mail of the past. Where is the innovation that helps users to better manage the inbox? Love it or hate it, Google is at least trying to break out of the norm by teaching the inbox to better understand us with things like the new Priority Inbox.

It just feels like Yahoo - which was one of the earliest providers of Web-based e-mail - could be doing more with a property that has guaranteed visitors every day, visitors who log on several times.

Search is also getting an overhaul. The "under the hood" technology has been beefed up to serve results that are more relevant and timely. In the Lady Gaga search example (see image below), you'll notice the tabs on the right side of the results page.

At the event, execs elaborated on what this all means. With a search as broad as "Lady Gaga," you never really know what a user might be looking for. News? Music reviews? Events, such as concerts? Rather than serve up all of those possible scenarios and overwhelm the user with results, the company is "hiding" those results - but still finding a way to give users quick access to them.

It was interesting to hear Irving talk about social and Yahoo's view on it. Sure, Yahoo could try to jump into this game and provide users with a new social experience - but would they really come if they're already invested in the Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitters of the world. Instead, the company took a smarter approach by integrating Facebook and Twitter sharing into the mix.

Some might argue that Yahoo conceded to the existing social powerhouses, letting Facebook drive, if you will. But Irving was quick on the comeback with that. What Yahoo wants to do, he said, is to give users what they want and let them be where they want to be. Today, that's Facebook and Twitter.

It seemed like a solid response - the last thing I want is another social network. And I certainly don't want to have to launch a new browser tab and go to another web property just to tweet something that I read on Yahoo News.

Another big message from the event was that Yahoo will move faster and be more responsive to the changing forces - developing for mobile first when appropriate or developing specifically for tablets. For today's web properties, there's no longer a one-size-fits-all approach.

At the very least, Yahoo seems to get that.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Collaboration

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