Still Seeking a Site to Call Home

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By Leslie Walker
Thursday, March 23, 2006

I'm an Internet bag lady, with no place online to call home.

I'd love a single page I could use to unify my life on the Web. But I can't seem to find one that feels truly useful, the Internet equivalent of, say, a newspaper front page or TV evening newscast to serve as my home page every time I launch my browser.

I started thinking about this recently as Yahoo began testing a new look for its front page ( http://www.yahoo.com ) with a random group of users. As you might imagine, Yahoo is going slow in rolling out its redesign to make sure it's done right. After all, it's the most-used home page on the Internet, according to Web measurement firms.

In addition to making its lucrative search box more prominent, Yahoo is cleaning up the clutter on its new page, adding more fresh content and improving its navigation so people can find what they want inside Yahoo faster. "With the new design and new visuals, we are hoping it actually has a better emotional attachment," said Ash Patel, Yahoo's chief product officer.

I am not wild about Yahoo's new home page, though I like its look and have long thought that Yahoo showed the greatest programming flair among the portals. The Yahoo makeover I've seen shows a distressing bias toward fluffy celebrity and entertainment fare, as if Yahoo is taking a page out of the People magazine playbook used by America Online. Serious news headlines get dropped lower, below a new feature box showcasing mostly soft news.

So I doubt I'll be making Yahoo my home base again, though it was my very first home page a decade ago. The reality is, I've been a serial home-page hopper for years, trying out one site after another.

Part of the problem is that the Web evolves so fast it's hard to find a place that doesn't morph in distressing ways every few months. But the bigger issue may be that no one has really nailed the art of programming for the hyperactive online audience.

That's why I closely watch the programming experiments going on at Yahoo, Google and Microsoft. Each takes a distinctive approach. If I were writing taglines for style, here's what I'd say about their forays:

Yahoo: Hollywood Goes to the Web

Google: Attack of the Robots

Microsoft: Lost in Cyberspace

The reason for Yahoo's is obvious -- it has been steadily adding entertainment fare throughout its network (beefing up music and video, for example) so it should surprise no one that the front-page redesign leans that way. Still, Yahoo has other programming changes in the works that have yet to be revealed, such as tying together all the social networking and social-media services it's been building and buying. I expect these will bubble up to the home page in clever ways soon.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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