I’ve kept an eye on Yahoo News since Neil Budde took over the operation late last year. Neil’s reputation from founding the WSJ.com — and stature as the first man to dare to put a national newspaper behind a cost-wall and then succeed at it — makes him a true pioneer in online news. Like many others in the first wave of online business news — Merrill Brown at MSNBC, Dave Kansas at TheStreet.com — he bailed out around 2000, resurfacing last fall at the helm of one of the biggest news portals in terms of potential to match the much-feared offerings of Google News.
Yahoo News has relaunched and I took a look last night. The first thing that struck me was how vertical the design is — the different news categories are stacked one-atop-the-next vs. Google’s two column horizontal format that leads with top news (as does Yahoo), but then does a side-by-side of each news category.
Second is that Yahoo is playing most-favored-nation status within each category — a tabbed menu for the Business category shows the following headline sources:
AP | Reuters | AFP | BusinessWeek Online | USA Today | NPR | FT.com | My Sources
Click on My Sources and this is displayed: "Sign in to add your favorite news sources from around the web here. For example, popular Business sources are MarketWatch.com, TheStreet.com, and Forbes.com."
Right off the bat I begin to wonder, okay, Yahoo News is giving tabs to those news organizations it did a deal with. That means this has, out of the gate, a high degree of editorial (or business development) pre-selection. Someone made the decision that BusinessWeek Online should lead over Forbes.com. Wonder what agreements were forged for positioning in this most-favored-nation tabs?
Sure, I can go into my sources and set up Xinhua if that is where I want to get my business news. But you know what? I like the machine-based democracy of Google News better. No selection bias. Okay, so AFP told Google News to knock off displaying its content and photos, but Yahoo News was able to come to terms with them, I guess that’s what AFP’s placement in Yahoo’s tabs means.
Sorry Neil. I’m going to stick with the blind impartiality of Google News for the time being. I’m sure this is an improvement over the old Yahoo News approach, but there’s no big kick in the butt in terms of layout, tools, personalization to make me drag the URL down to my nav bar, register, and customize an account. The killer is the pre-placement of the sources. I like the machine-based objectivity of Google, dredging up Michael Jackson stories from the Kerala Times in India, it’s weirdly random and democratic. The pre-populated placement of sources in Yahoo’s category makes this an exercise in strategic alliances and deals.