CES: Yahoo's future is simple, Yang says

Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang Monday said Yahoo’s goal for being users’ Internet home page is to keep it simple, and his pared-down first-time CES keynote appearance as the company’s top executive reflected that.

Yang’s keynote on the first day of the annual consumer electronics techfest was a far cry from a splashy keynote Yang’s predecessor Terry Semel gave at the show two years ago, in which Hollywood heavyweights such as Tom Cruise and Ellen DeGeneres helped him get his message across.

Using only a few company cohorts to help him, Yang described the Yahoo portal as the starting point for people’s Internet experience, the place that would connect them to a variety of services and devices.

“We continue to strive for the goal to keep the Web even simpler,” he said. “We want to drive home that you can come to Yahoo as your starting point and get everything you need done.”

Yang demonstrated a prototype for what a future Yahoo Mail inbox might look like, complete with links to third-party applications such as Evite and eBay built into a navigation bar on the interface.

The inbox can be customized in a way that looks similar to what social-networking site Facebook does for its users. The demo also showed how Yang might invite some of his contacts to dinner and map out the location of restaurants they might like.

Keeping its message simple might not be a bad idea for Yahoo. The company faces a challenging time as it continues to struggle in online advertising against Google, remaining second to the search giant despite its first-mover advantage. Yahoo also is still in danger of being gobbled by a bigger fish, as rumors that Microsoft or another heavyweight may buy the Internet company continue to swirl.

In an interview Monday, John Kremer, vice president of Yahoo Mail, said that much of the functionality that will go into the next-generation inbox will come from the company’s acquisition of Zimbra in September. Zimbra provides an open-source e-mail and collaboration suite that uses Ajax and mashups on the front-end to unify different applications in one interface.

Kremer acknowledged that Yahoo is taking a page out of the social-networking playbook to enhance its mail inbox in response to the demand from users for more relevant content that appeals primarily to their personal tastes and interests.

“We’re going to make Yahoo as a home more social as well as Yahoo Mail more social with better and more ways for users to connect with people they want to connect with,” he said. “Before it was e-mail only. Last year we added instant messaging an SMS, and now you can see the framework opening up in a social context and an open context.”

To help encourage more developers to build applications for its Yahoo Go mobile interface and its portal, Yang Monday introduced facelifts for both as well as plans to make both developer platforms more open.

The new Yahoo mobile home page, which hasn’t changed much in the past few years, is now customizable, with users able to choose “content modules” that will appear on their home page, said Yahoo Executive Vice President Marco Boerries.

On the mobile side, starting on Monday the Yahoo Go client will begin showing display advertisements to users, part of Yahoo’s strategy to bolster its ad revenues. In addition to the new look of the mobile Web page, Boerries also introduced documentation that will let third-party developers build mobile widgets for Go.

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