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Web Watch by Leslie Walker

Yahoo's Home Page Gets Functional Facelift

By Leslie Walker
The Washington Post
Sunday, October 3, 2004; Page F07

Yahoo's Spartan home page will look even less flashy soon, thanks to an upcoming makeover. The Web media giant offered a preview of its redesigned front page Tuesday (www.yahoo.com/upgrade) and said the simpler look will replace the old one in a few weeks.

What appear to be mostly cosmetic changes reflect an effort to get people to visit more often -- partly by updating the content more frequently, said Julie Herendeen, Yahoo's vice president of network products. New items include a weather report users can customize by Zip code and a "Buzz Log" that analyzes Web search logs to highlight newly popular search queries worldwide. The redesign also moves Yahoo's news headlines higher on the page and refreshes its entertainment summary more frequently.

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Yahoo is giving users the option of changing three menu buttons at the top to link to their favorite Yahoo services. And it's further widening the Yahoo search box to accommodate wordy queries, while adding a few new options to confine searches to such specific categories as phone directories. But Yahoo's own, human-edited directory of Web sites -- what used to dominate the site -- now gets much less room.

Serious Web surfers may be more interested in the redesign of the "My Yahoo" area (my.yahoo.com), which lets users customize their personal pages with more material from other sites. Yahoo is trying to simplify the process of adding Web content that's been published as free RSS (Really Simple Syndication) news feeds; typing in "brain research," for instance, yields a list of sites offering free RSS feeds on that topic. Click on any site, and fresh stories from there should start appearing regularly on your "My Yahoo" page.

Dialing for Fewer Dollars

Calling online costs a bit less -- last week, two Internet broadband phone providers cut their prices for unlimited nationwide calling by $5 a month.

AT&T Corp. lowered fees for its CallVantage Internet phone service from $35 a month to $30 on Friday, the same day rival Vonage Inc. dropped rates for a comparable plan from $30 to $25. Both plans include unlimited calling throughout the United States and Canada to customers with the high-speed Internet access needed to transmit voice data without interruption.

It was the second price reduction for AT&T's fledgling CallVantage and the third for Vonage. Vonage said Friday's price cut had been planned for weeks and was not a response to AT&T. For its part, AT&T has been pushing its service hard since announcing in July that it would retreat from the traditional residential phone market.

Vonage, based in Edison, N.J., originally charged $40 a month for unlimited nationwide calling when it launched online calling in April 2002. As part of its latest price rollback, the company eliminated a $25 local-only unlimited calling plan; a basic plan, with 500 minutes of nationwide calling, now costs $15 a month.

www.callvantage.com

www.vonage.com

Clusty Categorizes Web Searches

A new Web search service called Clusty went live Thursday with the promise of more focused searches. Clusty aims to save time by presenting search results in categories: Enter "nuclear weapons" into Clusty's search box, for example, and it will group its results under such subtopics as "Korea" and "terrorist." Clusty, created by Pittsburgh-based Vivisimo Inc., is still in beta-test form; it's free for consumers, although the firm also sells business versions of its service to corporations.

www.clusty.com

E-mail Leslie Walker at walkerl@washpost.com.


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