Yahoo!: 1996 to 2013

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Yahoo’s website changed dramatically from 1996 to 2013, as with almost all websites as the Internet grew from an age of text and images to interactive content and increased connectivity. Along with visual and formatting changes, there were also interesting content and structural changes made that highlight the changing audience and expectations of the site.

Yahoo began as a barebones directory of websites on the Internet for users to browse. This functionality was increased dramatically to a one-stop connection for all the information you could possibly need. This included news, stocks, sports happenings, general happenings, Flickr photos, and even your horoscope. The evolution of the site shows a move from catering to anyone on the Internet to specifically giving you the user what you want.

One of the interesting things to look at on the 1996 snapshot is the ad (with image missing, sadly) directly below the logo. You’ll see more ads on the 2013 site, appearing in-between the news stories. The ad from 1996 is for a Radio station promotion, and the ads on the 2013 site at the time were for relieving joint pain and looking up anyone’s driving record. Through these ads we can see the changes in technology in general and in the uses of the Internet. Being able to access sensitive information like driving records would not be possible during the early Internet with the low integration of databases and accessibility, but as more people and institutions adopted the use of the Internet people could find out all sorts of things just by going to certain websites.

The set of sections that is presented on the page changed almost completely, with the only constants being sports, business/finance, and news. The creators were trying to put things on their website that people were interested in, when it started as what they were interested in. With the focus on individual user’s experiences, they added things like games, groups, jobs, shopping, travel, and dating to provide topics that each person would want to look at. Once you log in and start shopping on the site for example, your profile will be remembered, and it will show you products that you might be interested in.

The inclusion of games shows a shift in audience to people who are more used to the online world and the types of content to be found in modern times. There is also a Featured Videos section added to the right panel along with a sign-in to Facebook to display your friends’ birthdays and a Flickr images section. Without a populated environment full of pictures, videos, and games, the only thing that people went onto the internet for were probably news and textual information. However, with a much heavier media content focus, people then wanted to discover cool movies and videos to watch, and fun games to play.

This Featured Videos section also appears on many other websites with titles that tempt clickbait. Clickbait is the practice of making the most enticing title for a video to get people to click on it, even if the video itself disappoints. This type of attention-grabbing is necessary because the people going on Yahoo are expecting instantly gratifying links and content, quickly surfing through easy-to-see videos and images with short attention spans. The design of the 1996 website would have only been useful for people with a specific target in mind.

A person going to Yahoo in 1996 would have either been looking for a specific fact about architects in New York or going to topics that interest them generally while choosing all the while between visually congruent blue links. However, as media content dominates the newer website, all you need to do it look at the base page to find an interesting link to click, without having to dive into the subtopics of subtopics listed on the old site. The sports scores and stock quotes links also changed into interactive displays that directly show the data to users when they first visit the site, again because people expected an instant gratification of information.

Another huge shift in the website’s design was the emphasis on connecting with others and staying in contact. There is a dating tab added, along with mail, groups, and a Facebook feature. The only features of the old site that could be used to stay connected with others was a Yellow Pages link and a People Search. This moved the connection from the Internet to existing technologies like telephones and snail mail. With users being much more adjusted to Internet services, they then added email, social media, dating apps, and online chats to the website, so that people could connect over the Internet and stay on their website rather than simply stopping by to check a phone number.

This assumption that people were familiar with Internet services is also evident through the deletion of the computer and Internet section and the addition of a Yahoo app link on the bottom right of the page. With people having access to the Internet through their smartphones and tablets, they could then check up on their friend’s latest news and world news wherever they went, making the website more integrated with their daily life. The Internet was no longer a new, exciting thing that people could look into, but an everyday tool that people needed to stay connected.

People needed to know what the weather was going to be tomorrow or even later today, and they wanted to know it now. If they wanted to check the score of the Golden State Warriors versus Miami Heat game going on at that moment, they didn’t want to click through links to see, but look right on the homepage. All the information that users wanted is displayed to them immediately, and even things they don’t want to see but might catch their eye.

All the changes on the Yahoo website represent four major shifts in people’s attitudes and expectations towards the Internet and Yahoo itself. The first shift is from general information to specific, sometimes private information. The second shift is from a general user experience to a tailored one. The third shift is from a tool to connect with other technologies to a tool for connections over the web with new services and technologies. Finally, the fourth shift is from a slow, unintuitive way of getting information to instant gratification through exciting media content and readily available news. As people became used to the internet and the amount of content and information it had to offer, they wanted to be told what to see instead of being able to look for what they want. Yahoo began catering to what people wanted to see and what they expected, rather than what the original makers happened to be interested in.

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