Yahoo Unleashes Major Changes to Search, Mail, Messenger Applications

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-08-24

Yahoo Unleashes Major Changes to Search, Mail, Messenger Applications

Yahoo demonstrated changes to its new search engine and new versions of Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Messenger, then endured skepticism from journalists and bloggers confounded about how the search plans will be realized should Microsoft's Bing begin to power Yahoo Search in 2010.

During an event at the company's Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters Aug. 24, Yahoo product executives ran through demos of enhancements to Yahoo's Search, Mail and Messenger products, all of which are being geared to bring the hundreds of millions of users of Yahoo's Web services a more personalized experience on the Internet.

The changes are part of Yahoo's turnaround plan to better compete with Internet incumbents Google, Microsoft and new challengers such as Facebook and Twitter. All of the companies are aggressively competing for online advertising dollars centered around search, social software and other Web applications.  

As reported by eWEEK earlier today, Larry Cornett, vice president of search products and design, showed how the new search results page has been integrated with and matches the redesign of the Yahoo home page, including a three-column presentation that puts Yahoo Search more on par with Microsoft Bing.

A new universal header will extend Yahoo's Search Assist feature to the search box on every Yahoo page in the United States. The header will include links to the Yahoo home page and My Yahoo customized home page, as well as Yahoo Finance, News, Sports and Yahoo Mail. See screenshots of the new Yahoo Search app on Google Watch here.

Search applications, such as the Yahoo Search Pad annotation tool, SafeSearch and SecureSearch, will live on the left. Search results will appear in the middle, with ads in the right-hand rail. Yahoo Search also will include filters for refining search results, including the ability to search related concepts on Wikipedia, display only results from popular Yahoo and third-party sites, and narrow results by people, videos and discussion forums.

"With one click, you will be able to see all the results from Wikipedia by interacting with the site in that module," Cornett said.

People search will be a big part of the new Yahoo Search experience, Cornett said. That is why Yahoo Search will now help users find people on Facebook and Twitter.

Not all Yahoo users will see the new search design today; the test is available in a randomized bucket test to millions of users worldwide.

Uncertainty Over the Future of Yahoo Search

The promising changes to Yahoo Search were a tad overshadowed by skepticism about the product in a Q&A session after the demo. Several members of the press grilled Yahoo managers about whether these changes will be executed or even possible if Bing begins powering the back end of Yahoo's search engine in 2010. Danny Sullivan also has his doubts in this post on Search Engine Land.

Yahoo executives such as Prabhakar Raghavan, senior vice president of labs and search strategy at Yahoo, said Bing's presence shouldn't affect the Yahoo Search experience.

John Kremer, vice president of Yahoo Mail, said the revamped Yahoo Mail, which was opened to third-party development last year, includes a new application box that combines Calendar, Notepad and third-party apps. Twitter-like status updates are a big part of the new Yahoo Mail.

Yahoo, which acquired photo-sharing partner Xoopit in July to bolster its Mail app, also now lets users drag and drop and multiselect photos right into e-mails. Underscoring just how much more data Yahoo users (and Internet consumers overall) are creating and sharing, Yahoo Mail has extended the attachment limit for photos and files from 10 megabytes to 25 megabytes.

Yahoo Mail is let users view the most recent e-mails from contacts and receive birthday reminders. In September, Yahoo will launch a new Evite app to let people create and send invitations, check on the event status and add events to their Yahoo Calendar from their inbox.

Finally, Dave Merriwether, senior director for Yahoo Messenger, drilled down into Yahoo Messenger, which now includes video calls (similar to Google's video chat from its Gmail app), an updates tab to bring status updates, recent Flickr uploads, Yahoo Buzz stories, Twitter updates and other content to Messenger users.

The new Yahoo Insider window is customizable by zip code, providing users access to localized news and weather, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Buzz and Yahoo Search. Finally, the language selector lets people choose from more than 16 languages without having to download a different version.

Read more about the Yahoo features on TechMeme here and in this Yahoo blog post for the company's perspective.

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