Yahoo revamps e-mail, shows new products

By Dow Jones Newswires-Wall Street Journal
Posted Sep. 17, 2010 at 7:50 a.m.

Yahoo Inc., aiming to reverse the slide in time that people spend on its Web sites, previewed updates to several advertising and consumer products on Thursday, including a revamp of its e-mail service and additional features in its search engine.

At an event at Yahoo’s Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters, Chief Product Officer Blake Irving laid out a three-year vision for Yahoo as an “innovative technology company with the largest digital media content and communications business in the world.”

However, few new products were unveiled. Yahoo executives showed a revamped Yahoo Mail site that they said was faster than before and does a better job of limiting spam. They also showed changes to the appearance of Yahoo’s Web search, saying that users will be able to get more expansive information on the first results page of a search. That would allow someone searching for a movie to also get show times and buy tickets without leaving the Yahoo site, for instance. The updates are expected to roll out this fall.

In addition, executives discussed how they would continue investing in applications tailored to mobile devices such as Apple Inc.’s iPad and said Yahoo is also working to better integrate social-networking site Facebook Inc. and microblogging service Twitter Inc. into offerings.

The efforts come as the Internet pioneer continues to try to turn itself around under Chief Executive Carol Bartz.

Yahoo has been grappling with a slide in how much time people spend on its Web sites. Yahoo also has lost high-level ad and product executives in recent months, including a senior executive of advertising products, David Ku, whose departure the company confirmed on Thursday.

Yahoo is “on a flat trajectory” and “needs to bring the brand back through product innovation, not marketing,” said Greg Sterling, an analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. “They need to show up with sexy, exciting stuff to regain some of their old credibility.”

In an interview Wednesday, Bartz said it would be nice to have a “shiny new thing” like the consumer electronics products introduced by Apple in recent years that have grabbed media attention. But just as Apple CEO Steve Jobs needed years to boost Apple’s share price after taking over in the late 1990s, Bartz, who began her tenure as CEO 20 months ago, said she also needed time at Yahoo.

At its Thursday “product runway” event, Yahoo said it has improved the appearance of its Web search, such as adding more expansive results. Yahoo Search has 17 percent market share in the U.S., the second-biggest share behind Google Inc., according to comScore Inc. Yahoo Search is powered by the technology Microsoft Corp. uses for its Bing search engine, and the companies share ad revenue.

Yahoo executives added that they would keep investing in applications for mobile devices like the iPad and forthcoming Android tablets. The tablet Yahoo! App will include news and other content, Yahoo Mail, and alarm clock and weather forecast features that are part of a “waking up with Yahoo” experience.

Irv Henderson, Yahoo’s vice president of product management for mobile, said Yahoo has agreements with 100 carriers and handset makers globally to install Yahoo applications on mobile devices.

Yahoo also said it is continuing its integration with Facebook and Twitter so that people can more easily share information they find on Yahoo sites with their social networks.

Executives also showed how Yahoo expects to drive more site traffic by partnering with companies such as Starbucks Corp. This fall, Web users who log on to free Wi-Fi networks in Starbucks stores in the U.S. will be directed to Yahoo content tailored to their local market.

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