Yahoo to Launch New, Customizable Home Page

Yahoo will debut a new home page on Tuesday that it’s pitching as the most sweeping change in its main site since the company began. The site, which will be available in beta test form to people in the U.S. at first, then later this week in parts of Europe and India and in Asia next year, lets people customize the page so that they can see right on the home page the news, social networks, and other services they use the most.

Although the home page is out months earlier than expected, the announcement doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz had said it’s coming, and the home page was spotted in the wild recently. Bartz delayed an earlier planned launch after she arrived to make sure the home page worked best for users and advertisers.

It’s important to Yahoo’s future because it’s the Web icon’s most highly populated real estate, for which it can charge advertisers more than most of its pages. Yahoo has been losing ground as a gateway to the Web as individual services ranging from Google to Facebook to Twitter. So a home page that can connect them in one fell swoop to those services is its only hope to maintain its status as a key starting point on the Internet—and one of the few places online where advertisers can reach a TV-sized audience.

The biggest change involves a pane on the left side of the page, called My Favorites, where people can customize links to Yahoo’s and other services, from news to social networks. These applications, as Yahoo calls them, number 65 at first, but people will be able to add their own by typing in Web page addresses. Later, other software developers will be able to design their own, more sophisticated apps that people can add.

Not least, the home page overall looks cleaner, with fewer stories and graphic elements. And besides the customary advertisements on the right, there is a new ad unit that will come up when people hover over one of the apps, bringing up a summary of that app plus an ad related to that particular context. My colleague Doug MacMillan wonders if that will raise hackles with outside services, but Tapan Bhat, Yahoo’s senior vice president of integrated consumer experiences, said in response to Doug’s question that it’s not an unusual thing to do.

If you already use Yahoo’s longstanding customized home page, MyYahoo, the new Yahoo home page might not do much for you. MyYahoo is much more customizable, with more applications or feeds than the new home page at least initially offers. But MyYahoo has never reached nearly as large an audience as the Yahoo home page because many people don’t want to mess around with personalization that much. So it’s probably a smart move, though for now I’ll likely stick with my carefully tended MyYahoo page.