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Mar 17, 2009

CLIP At SXSWi, Twitter is the new Twitter is the new Twitter

Ed: Compare Yahoo's homepage to Twitter. Yahoo serves too many purposes and can't satisfy anyone. Twitter does one thing well.

from Webware.com by 

AUSTIN, Texas--A couple of days ago I wrote a story suggesting that the Twitter saturation level here at the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) festival was so high that the service's value was being affected.

Now, after four full days here, I think that conclusion is worth a reality check: Twitter is out-and-out dominatingSXSWi.

To be sure, the massive numbers of tweets that are being posted using the "#sxsw" tag is making it more difficult for those using Twitter to find specific information than was the case at SXSWi 2007 or SXSWi 2008. But the reality is, if you're part of the conference this year, it feels very much like you simply cannot do anything, go anywhere, talk to anyone, see any panel or have a meal without Twitter having played a role.

From the 32bit party Monday night to people's reactions to science-fiction author Bruce Sterling's annual SXSWi rant to alerts of free ice cream being handed out on the streets of Austin, the collective agenda is being directed in 140-character bursts, even if it takes a little more work to find out what you want to find out.

Add that to the fact that the iPhone has proven a magical and nearly ubiquitous device on which to conduct that 140-character orchestra, and you've got a seriously hard-to-topple-off-the-throne combination.

Of course, there are many other communications media at play here. Besides the introduction of FourSquare, the launch of iPhone interactivity for Facebook Connect and other social networking services like Britekite, Whrrl and Meebo, there's certainly been no shortage of e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging and, believe it or not, phone calls.

But through it all, Twitter is the backbone. It is the organizing principle of SXSWi. And while the SXSWi crowd would seem to be the vanguard of this level of all-encompassing Twitter devotion, it is clear that this is just the proving ground for what will be coming for many other parts of connected society.

After all, just a year ago, nearly all of the most-followed Twitter users were members of the digerati. Now, it'snearly all mainstream celebrities or personalities. Can Twitter handle this? I don't think anyone knows.

But what I'm seeing here at SXSWi is that the service, even without a developed revenue stream and even with a recent history of functional instability and even with so much traffic that it can simply be overwhelming, has become indispensable. Take Twitter away from the crowd here suddenly, and I think the conference would grind to a halt.

It would recover, and pretty quickly. This is an resourceful group of people. There are other options. No one should believe for a minute that the advent of Twitter or other social media neuters the digerati's ability to communicate with traditional analog tools. But if Twitter were suddenly gone, there would be one heck of a hiccup.

Last year, I wrote that despite many companies' desire to repeat the incredible debut Twitter had at SXSWi 2007, there was no denying that Twitter circa 2008 was the new Twitter.

And despite my misgivings about what is clearly a saturation problem, I have to conclude that here in Austin, in 2009, Twitter is once again the new Twitter.

Yahoo to streamline redesigned home page

from Webware.com by 

Yahoo's Burke Calligan

Yahoo's Burke Calligan

(Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

SUNNYVALE, Calif.--After getting an earful from disgruntled testers of its revamped home page, Yahoo is working on a new incarnation that will dramatically speed up access to e-mail.

The new home page, code-named Metro and due to launch later this year, will let users customize what they see and install a range of applications. But upon beginning "bucket testing" last September, in which different subsets of Yahoo users are involuntarily presented with variations of the new home page, Yahoo found out it was making it too difficult for people to continue with their accustomed practice of dropping by the page to scan for changes, said Burke Calligan, senior director product management for Yahoo front doors, in an interview at Yahoo headquarters here.

In particular, people were incensed that it took too many mouse clicks to glance at their e-mail inbox. But changes are coming to fix that, Calligan said.

"We have moderately addressed it in this round and we're going to radically address it in upcoming testing," Calligan said. "We've rethought the flow and design based on feedback we've gotten from users. I think users will...feel much better about it."

The change is part of a bigger discovery, that many Yahoo front page users want to keep abreast of events with updates a few times a day. "The biggest thing we've learned is that these are quick-hit check-ins--tell me what I want to know and let me see it quickly," Calligan said. "We developed a philosophy we call quick in, quick out."

Yahoo faces an enormous challenge with its Yahoo.com site, which despite the company's strategic troubles still is used by hundreds of millions of people monthly. Changing too fast or too deeply risks alienating users, but changing too slowly risks losing those members to challengers such as Facebook or iGoogle.

My Yahoo for power users
Another complication: Yahoo already has a customizable home page, My Yahoo. The company has a plan for keeping the two properties relevant, though: as Yahoo.com becomes more flexible, the Internet company will reposition My Yahoo for sophisticated users who demand even more customization such as themes and movable modules, Calligan said.

"We'll move the mass market to the Yahoo front page," he said. My Yahoo will be "the powerful high-end product for the users who really want to go to the nth degree."

For the main home page, Yahoo has opted to proceed cautiously to avoid shedding loyal users.

Yahoo redesign, home page

Yahoo is testing a new home page. The new site is more personalized and customizable. This version is a 'baseline' for user testing; Yahoo will add more features later. (Click to enlarge.)

(Credit: Yahoo)

"You want to bring them along with you. You have to find the right things that are familiar but innovative. We walk that line," Calligan said. "We want to make sure we don't miss on something major that's going to cause retention issues."

So far, Yahoo hasn't seen overall problems retaining that loyalty among those in testing, he said. And the company has seen improvements in both page views and time spent on the site.

"Overall the story is positive and heading in the right direction. With our refinements we hope to push it further," he said.

Easier reconfiguration
That doesn't mean the company isn't learning from its missteps, though. Another change: Yahoo has made configuring the applications easier. A cautious start required people to fill out forms for the customizable list of services on the left edge of Metro. Now, though, Yahoo has moved to more of a design in which changes can be made on the fly.

Calligan is particularly proud of a new horoscope application that lets people add a different sign of the Zodiac to their pages. The only drawback of the faster approach: settings are stored locally on the computer, so logging in elsewhere won't show the same horoscope. A similar change was made with the weather report module.

"When we originally launched, we were thinking users would want to sign in and store locations as part of a Yahoo profile. But a lot of people wanted to just add cities without signing in," he said.

One internal advantage for Yahoo is that Metro's customizable interface will be simpler to manage internationally. Today, "We have 30-plus front pages. This puts us all on the same platform but allows for local customization," Calligan said.

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