LIVE at Yahoo’s Product Runway

Yahoo’s set to announce a new product strategy shortly at what it’s calling Yahoo Product Runway. I’ll blog the highlights as they come from Blake Irving, EVP and chief products officer ad Raymie Stata, VP and chief technology officer.

And we’re underway, with some observations on Yahoo on Irving’s hundredth day here. Things are great, he says, and what else would he say? Essentially, he elaborates, Yahoo is a killer technology company. Deep connection between labs at Yahoo and the product organization. You’ll see things in the next year or three or five that look different from before–more iterative products, but more unified under Yahoo as a whole.

Yahoo will be something you take with you rather than someplace you go–content, friends, etc. We’re going to be finding a lot of harmony between advertisers and consumers (code for behavioral targeting, I think, which isn’t new, but clearly Yahoo could lead in making targeting more palatable).

Now on to Yahoo’s product vision, a graphic of which looks like part of a periodic table of elements:

* Me, for bringing personal meaning to the Web.

* Ec, for building an ecosystem.

*Si, for creating personal relevance through science and data. 300 million log into Yahoo a month, providing a wealth of data about what those people are doing. Yahoo will start honoring Facebook, Twitter and other IDs.

* Cu, for being where the customer goes. Will see a lot more mobile versions of products, sometimes before Web products. More folks will be typing on glass vs. keyboards before long.

* So, for owning real social relationships on the Web. Social networking is just starting, despite Facebook’s apparent dominance. People still want more control to socialize with lots of small groups of friends.

* En, for “engage and delight.” Best-in-classes news, sports, entertainment, mail, etc.

Now on to products that are being demonstrated here today:

* Mail: Has been re-architected from the ground up, from infrastructure to user interface.

* What’s New page: Twitter integration and other things.

* Search: More visually appealing and with more of an ability to act on the search result. People don’t want to just search, they want answers.

* Lots of Twitter integration, such as the ability to tweet from particular stories on Yahoo.

So we’re going to be moving fast, with more incremental changes to products.

So far, my socks are still on.

Now Stata comes on to tell about the technology underpinnings of all this. Lots of generalities to my ears, but some specifics:

* Relevant, personalized content for consumers. Much deeper than it has been–content optimization on every page, including those of partners such as AT&T. This will produce higher engagement, he says, which is what advertisers want as well.

Yahoo’s services are supported by a cloud infrastructure, a network of data centers of various sizes all over the world, to make the services faster for users anywhere they are.

I think of Yahoo as a big ship, need to maintain powerful engines while swapping some out. But the new engines are now in place.

Now it’s time for questions:

Q: Can you expand on the new search experience? Shashi Seth, who runs this, steps up to explain: We’re going to provide the best guess we can but provide an “accordion” to let people expand on what they really want.

We’re going to need to see the demos outside the conference room, clearly, to judge what Yahoo’s doing on all these products.

Q: On mail, what sort of innovation will we see that goes beyond regular email, which can be inefficient? Irving: Raise the things most important to you on the top (sort of like Google’s Priority Inbox? Sorry…). At its core, Yahoo’s new email service is faster, will incorporate instant messaging as needed.

Q: How are you distinguishing Yahoo search from Bing? And in three years, what will Yahoo be? Seth: On search, Yahoo no longer has to do the backend stuff like crawling and determining relevance. In three years, search won’t look or act anything like what search is today. We’re trying to take the science and tech we used to apply to backend and bring it to the forefront to reimagine what search can be. Nothing specific yet, though–that’s on the come.

Irving: In three years, Yahoo will be a global series of experiences… that are very personalized and targeted. (Uh-oh–sounds a little amorphous again, which is Yahoo’s perennial problem.) I would hope that when you look at us, you’ll say we delivered on that.

Q: Skeptical question asking for specifics, but we don’t get much.

Q: Several of these products now elevate Facebook and Twitter–are you allowing them to drive Yahoo products? Irving: It’s just providing users with what they want to do. But there are holes in what people want to do in social networking. The social networking game isn’t over because we’re doing integration with Facebook and Twitter.

Q: How are you integrating on various platforms like Android, iPhone, Windows, etc.? Irving: We’re a friendly company to do business with, helping companies provide a good Yahoo experience on all the platforms.

Q: What were your misconceptions about Yahoo before you came? Irving: One, I wasn’t sure about the technology company thing (as opposed to a media company that Yahoo kept saying it was). Found that Yahoo at its core is a tech company that finances itself through media/advertising. For another, found that there was in fact a horizontal platform that allows acquired services (such as Flickr and many others) to get off their own platform stack and use Yahoo’s underlying technical resources.

Q: Could you sum that up in a tagline? Irving: I’m in the product team, so no.

And that’s about it.

Update: I think Yahoo might have better off leading with the demos, which were pretty interesting. Yahoo Mail, in beta inside Yahoo but slated to be rolled out to all users this fall, looked fast and clean, and might keep me from my longtime threat to abandon it.

On the advertising front, Yahoo is testing out several new kinds of ads. One, called a Content Mashup, has tabs inside the ad for videos, Twitter, and other custom categories the advertiser can set up and populate with content. Another, called a Digitorial, can run games, videos, polls, and other services inside the ad, all trackable so advertisers know what’s most engaging people. And there’s also an interactive video-in-a-banner ad; when you mouse over the ad, there are links overlaid to other experiences such as games.

And there’s a new search interface coming as well, one that has vertical tabs that let you reach Yahoo content relevant to a particular search result.

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