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Carol Bartz Ousted As Yahoo! CEO [Internal Memos]

The mass exodus of Yahoo! executives has reached its peak – CEO Carol Bartz has been fired by Chairman of the Board, Roy Bostock. Timothy Morse has been named interim CEO, according to a Yahoo! press release titled “Yahoo! Announces Leadership Reorganization.” Though many saw this move coming, the timing was certainly a surprise. Late Tuesday evening, Bartz sent a short note to Yahoo! employees worldwide confirming her firing:

Carol Bartz Fired - Memo

Roy Bostock, Chairman of the Yahoo! Board, said, “The Board sees enormous growth opportunities on which Yahoo! can capitalize, and our primary objective is to leverage the Company’s leadership and current business assets and platforms to execute against these opportunities. We have talented teams and tremendous resources behind them and intend to return the Company to a path of robust growth and industry-leading innovation. We are committed to exploring and evaluating possibilities and opportunities that will put Yahoo! on a trajectory for growth and innovation and deliver value to shareholders.”

Bostock continued, “On behalf of the entire Board, I want to thank Carol for her service to Yahoo! during a critical time of transition in the Company’s history, and against a very challenging macro-economic backdrop. I would also like to express the Board’s appreciation to Tim and thank him for accepting this important role. We have great confidence in his abilities and in those of the other executives who have been named to the Executive Leadership Council.”

(The internal memo sent from Jerry Yang and the Board to Yahoo! employees moments after the announcement can be read in its entirety here.)

The troubles at Yahoo! have been well-documented over the last five years, and the tune did not change under the tenure of Bartz. The revelation by Bartz that her firing was executed over the phone is symbolic of the disastrous corporate messaging and human resource mismanagement that has characterized the company of late. The company has endured one of the greatest brain drains in history, which has only accelerated its downward slide in recent years. The psychological impact of Bartz’s departure – both on investors and employees – will be intriguing to note in the coming days and weeks. Early reactions from the market are favorable – Yahoo! shares are up 5.7 percent in after-hours trading on the news.

It has been speculated that Yahoo! has been actively searching for a replacement for months. Will Yahoo! bring in another outsider or will it promote from within? There is a powerful argument to be made that the high-profile executive exodus over the last two years has left Yahoo! with no alternative but to bring in another outsider to attempt another turnaround.

Read more from the always insightful Kara Swisher at AllThingsD here.

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ComScore + AdXpose is the Most Important Deal in Online Advertising in Years

The online advertising industry has reached an inflection point. No better is this critical moment in digital advertising portrayed than in the acquisition of AdXpose by comScore for $22 million.

CMOs are feeling increasingly comfortable diverting or devoting larger percentages of their budgets online, convinced that the benefits of online advertising are as revolutionary as promised. Brands spend tens of billions of dollars online, and they expect results.

How campaign performance is measured varies by brand or agency; some seek simple impressions, others seek clicks and conversions. One of the key selling points of online advertising is the ability to measure campaign performance against objectives in real-time. Tracking technologies record every visit and every impression, but the validity of these measurements have recently come into question. A major concern is falsely inflated impression counts, artificially inflating CPM prices for media buyers. Impressions are traditionally counted in tandem with page visits, which has proven to be a deeply flawed system of measurement.

AdXpose is changing everything.

Led by CEO Kirby Winfield, AdXpose verifies impressions by telling advertisers where their ad was placed on the page and, if below the fold, whether or not a visitor scrolled down to see the ad.

“If you’re counting every impression as viewable when only 50% are viewable, then every metric that you’re using to value your media is inefficient and inaccurate,” Winfield said. “You’re pulling in a bunch of impressions that have no chance to be viewed.”

Adxpose Logo

The company also identifies the content the ad was placed next to, an important tool for CMOs demanding their ads be served beside “brand safe” content. Winfield argues the consolidation of advertising measurement data is vital if digital wants to slice into the holy grail of ad dollars, television.

“You have to go to one vendor to get viewabililty data. Another for survey data. A vendor to get audience verification. Another to get conversation data,” Winfield said. “You’re taking a buying process that is already 4-5x more difficult than buying TV and making it 4-5x more difficult to get metrics.”

comScore CEO Magid Abraham believes a pricing revolution is underway.

“Prices are going to adjust. All of the junk inventory is going to be significantly slashed,” Abraham said. “If you’re charging $.25/CPM but only 20% are visible, then the unit price is actually $1.25. We will move from a medium from where there is no scarcity to an industry where there is scarcity.”

comScore and AdXpose serve as a powerful duo at a critical juncture. As TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld astutely notes, “it’s not about clicks and conversions, it’s about attention.” Innovation in online advertising is at an all-time high; it’s no longer simply text and banner ads. Rich media, branded content and social solutions are transforming the industry with the aid of real-time exchanges.

Ferociously accurate data is the catalyst that can launch online advertising to the forefront of brand spending in the digital era. CMOs are demanding stronger performance, media buyers are getting smarter, auditors are more closely scrutinizing campaign performance, and this industry evolution is good for everyone. Brands get accurate, verified audience data, and publishers are able to charge premium CPMs through guaranteed, validated ad presentation.

The revolution has begun, and AdXpose is poised to create a shakeup with financial implications that will dwarf its $22 million price tag.

Connected Television and IntoNow Are Poised to Disrupt Integrated Brand Advertising

Earlier this year, Yahoo! made a splash with its acquisition of 12-week old media check-in app IntoNow for approximately $27 million. The tech media circles, often critical of Yahoo! in recent years, praised the move in spite of the multi-million dollar price tag and the fact that IntoNow was just 12-weeks old.

IntoNow utilizes wavelength recognition to listen to and identify television programs with the tap of a button, and has become an important tool in Yahoo!’s previously-maligned foray into social. IntoNow combines the addictive check-in elements of Foursquare and the clever utility of Shazaam with the seemingly unstoppable power of Facebook and Twitter. While this conflagration of new media stars yields hordes of adoring users and Silicon Valley praise, IntoNow is poised to tap into the well-established mega-billions of the traditional media television industry.

IntoNow - From Yahoo!

The Internet is transforming television, and the first-glance value of IntoNow is obvious. Anything that gets users in front of television screens, especially if paired with live event coverage a la CoverItLive, holds immense value to television networks seeing more and more eyeballs transition to the smaller screens of laptops, tablets and smartphones.

However, the multi-billion dollar potential of IntoNow and Internet-connected televisions (including Yahoo!’s ConnectedTV) lies in the value these tools can deliver to brand advertisers and CMOs desperately seeking ways to integrate campaigns across the increasing number of platforms used by consumers. The possibilities are endless:

  1. A consumer “checks in” to the live airing of the latest White Collar episode and receives a reward from USA Network (a badge, points, a sneak preview video, a behind-the-scenes look, etc.)
  2. IntoNow utilizes a Pandora-esque algorithm to provide recommendations and offers brand advertisers the ability to provide highly relevant Sponsored Recommendations based on a user’s viewing habits
  3. Yahoo! pairs ConnectedTV and IntoNow with its own real-time ad bidding and exchange technology to deliver contextually matched, highly targeted ads based on what a user is watching right now
  4. A signed-in Yahoo! user receives time-sensitive television and movie recommendations from networks, Fandango, movie studios and the many advertisers Yahoo! already has relationships with based on their explicit IntoNow viewing habits and the inferred interests derived from them
  5. A viewer “checks in” to American Idol and is given the option to “Like” the show’s Facebook page, read the Idols’ tweets or purchase and download a song from the night’s episode directly from iTunes

The power of IntoNow in the right hands makes Yahoo!’s purchasing price of $27 million seem like chump change, and paired with ConnectedTV and real-time ad delivery, may be the spark that ignites Yahoo!’s rebound. Matching advertisers and brands with consumers is a ceaseless quest, and IntoNow gives Yahoo! a plethora of options to deliver value to a vast range of customers while capturing the always-critical adoration of its users. Execution matters above all else, and we’ve seen dozens of hot, nimble startups fall victim to the oppressive tides within a large and entrenched public organization.

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Twitter and Facebook Seek Big Ad Dollars with Opposing Strategies

Defying the overall economic trends witnessed across the United States and the rest of the world, Silicon Valley is once again a thriving, dominant ecosystem that some are calling “the last great American frontier.” Spurned by widespread popularity of social pillars including Facebook and Twitter, the seemingly insatiable appetite for tech IPOs and innovations in content and brand integration, the prospects for online advertising are brighter than ever before.

The IAB reported 2010 online ad revenues of $26 billion, a 15 percent increase from 2009 and a new record. While search remains a dominant revenue generator – accounting for 46 percent of total spending with 12 percent YoY growth – relatively newer formats including sponsorships, mobile formats and site takeovers are experiencing massive growth. Many entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, with big valuation dollar signs in their eyes, are literally betting their fortunes on this growth trajectory continuing, hoping advertisers follow the paths of the hundreds of millions of users interacting on Facebook and Twitter every day.

IAB - Online Ad Spend Classification

Facing looming pressure to generate new revenues off their massive engaged user bases and hoping to disprove critics who argue social media advertising is ineffective, Facebook and Twitter have accelerated their monetization programs. However, the two social icons are tackling the same issue with two very different strategies.

Facebook, which enjoys healthy, highly profitable partnerships with gaming companies like Zynga, has exploded past Yahoo! to become the largest seller of online display advertising (in the United States, excluding Yahoo! media network partner sites.) While Facebook is home to the online “Pages” of virtually all of the world’s largest brands, the company’s automated ad-buying system is targeted toward smaller advertisers, allowing them to custom-target based on a wide range of demographic and geographic variables.

Adam Bain - Twitter President of Global Revenue

Twitter, still several years behind Facebook in monetization development, is just beginning to build out its sales force and will not possess an automated ad-buying system until late 2011. Under the direction of Adam Bain, Twitter’s President of Global Revenue, the company has slowly rolled out advertising platforms including Promoted Tweets, Trends and Accounts that have been targeted exclusively toward the largest brand advertisers on the Web. As Twitter’s ad auction infrastructures develop further and the sales team grows in size, and if usage continues to skyrocket with the help of  key platform integrations like Apple’s iOS 5, the company’s $150 million in projected 2010 revenues will likely swell dramatically, helping to justify the reported $8-10 billion valuation.

The two distinct strategies employed by Facebook and Twitter are likely to merge and overlap as each company builds its sales and ad-serving infrastructure, but it appears each company understands how businesses of all kinds use their services and has structured their early monetization platforms accordingly.

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AllThingsD Redesign Delivers Context, Cohesion for the Influential Brand

Led by the sharp, snarky commentary of Kara Swisher and the perennial influence of Walt Mossberg, AllThingsD has risen to the forefront of Silicon Valley technology, Internet and media journalism. With decades of collective experience, Swisher and Mossberg have transformed a bare-bones, underfunded blog into an influential establishment and a trusted voice in a highly competitive industry. After years of strong growth and several recent talent additions, AllThingsD has gone live with an entirely redesigned website aimed at delivering better context and a more cohesive brand identity for the multi-columned site.

Kara Swisher has long been a source of unrivaled inside information at Silicon Valley icons like Yahoo! and Microsoft, and Walt Mossberg is widely considered one of the most credible gadget and technology analysts on the Web, so AllThingsD has greatly benefited from the respective personal brands of this powerful duo. However, with nine full-time columnists, each with their own column title, the AllThingsD brand name was often lost in the fragmentation of the site.

AllThingsD Redesign

The site is now unified under the AllThingsD.com domain, and is vertically categorized (i.e. News, Social, Mobile, Media, etc.) in an effort to provide better context for its users. More than any other element, context is the most vital component of the AllThingsD redesign. The site had consistently increased the quantity of content it produced daily, and the new design utilizes verticals that combine content from all nine columnists, providing users an all-encompassing resource from multiple perspectives. To appease the die-hard fans of any particular columnist, the new design still allows users to search by writer, acknowledging the continuing importance of each writer’s personal brand even in the new era of AllThingsD brand unity.

Beyond the functional and strategic elements of the redesign, the new AllThingsD is simply better looking. The much-wider layout helps cater to the higher-resolution videos and images the site has been sharing more frequently, and allows for much more aesthetically pleasing featured posts on the homepage.

Congratulations to Kara, Walt and the rest of the AllThingsD team on the beautiful redesign and your continued success as a leading voice on All Things Digital!

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Online Advertising Has Plenty of Room to Grow – Mobile, Social and Branded Content

In the wake of the explosive LinkedIn IPO, which saw a 109% first day gain that valued the nine-year old company with over 100 million users at $8.9 billion, an intense spotlight has been focused on the new wave of Web-based companies that have taken venture capitalists and private and secondary markets by storm. The highly anticipated and inevitable IPOs of Web titans Facebook and Groupon have – rightly or wrongly – brought up fears of a “bubble” reminiscent of the dot-com bust that wiped away the fortunes of millions and oversaw the collapse of hundreds of “companies” that rushed to go public without revenues, not to mention profits.

(My take? We’re not in a bubble. Not yet. The lessons from a decade ago are fresh enough in the minds of VCs and investors, and the simple fact that we are being cautious and asking questions proves we are eons away from the insanity of 2000.)

The promise of the new media era is dependent on a new era of advertising, one that is integrated across many platforms, channels and formats. The booming success of Google and others dependent on online advertising may lead some to think that the market is saturated, leaving little opportunity for new entrants or growth for existing players. However, the data paints a dramatically different picture. The IAB projects double-digit growth in global online advertising spending for each of the next four years, reaching nearly $100 billion by 2014, or 17.4% of combined global ad spending.

Online Ad Spend Totals

There is a significant trend that one doesn’t need to dive through troves of data to recognize: people across the world are spending more time online. The time spent online on computers, tablets and smartphones is dramatically increasing year over year, but even these markets are relatively under-served. Just 82 million of more than 330 million Americans access the Internet on their mobile phones, and just 31% of wireless subscribers own a smartphone. Even with the billions of dollars in profits enjoyed by Apple, Google, Nokia and Microsoft in the mobile sector, the market is just getting started. More users with more Web-enabled smartphones means more ad dollars flowing to Web companies from the world’s biggest spenders.

So does this mean the tens of billions of dollars spent on television advertising will magically flow online? No. New value is created by reaching consumers online, and that means new dollars will be spent. Television advertising offers benefits that the hottest social media and branded content companies could never provide, and vice versa. It is the value of connecting and conversing with consumers in the new media era that will entice advertisers to direct new dollars from their ad budgets toward online campaigns.

eHow Style Site Takeover

The power to connect brands and consumers where the conversations are happening (social) and at the point of intent (branded content, action-oriented content) provides the opportunity for companies that offer these services to capitalize on the significant upside potential in the online advertising market. Online advertising isn’t just text links and banner ads. The new formats enabled by tablet and mobile technology and revolutionary business models ensure Silicon Valley’s best executors will reap the rewards of a booming online advertising market in the coming years.

Hat Tip: AdWeek – The Changing Scope of Online Advertising 

IAB Report: 2010 Internet Advertising Reveneus Increase 15% to $26 Billion, A New Record

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Is Google Offers Too Late to Compete? [Update]

[UPDATE: 4/21/11] In the four months since Google’s failed $6 billion Groupon acquisition bid, the company has faced increasingly vocal criticism on everything from lack of innovation to weak leadership. Today Google launched sign-up pages for its very own Groupon clone, Google Offers.

Following the company’s release of Google +1, this release will do little to calm the fears that Google is resorting to a “copy-cat” strategy as it falls further behind in social and perhaps is even losing its dominance in search. Further hampering Google’s progress is Groupon’s poaching of Google VP of Sales Operations Margo Georgiadis to fill the role of COO. With virtually zero differentiation in the company’s plunge into local deals, what makes Google believe it can compete with established heavyweights like Groupon and LivingSocial?

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More than a month after Groupon spurned a $6 billion acquisition offer from Google, the worldwide search engine leader is preparing to announce its own local deals service, Google Offers. According to Mashable, “Google will pay out 80% of a business’ revenue share three days after its deal runs. Google will hold the remaining 20% for 60 days to cover refunds before sending the rest.”

Groupon holds a dominant share of the local deals market, with LivingSocial trailing in a distant second and dozens of clones controlling minuscule shares. Reports of a similar service from Facebook have surfaced recently, and with Groupon supposedly preparing for a $15 billion IPO, questions are arising whether the market is saturated and if it can sustain another large competitor this late in the cycle.

The local deals market is by no means mature, and traditional marketing laws call for a strong number one versus number two competition over the long run, but the rules of Silicon Valley reward the first market entrants above all else. So with an established leader in Groupon controlling a heavy share and runner-up LivingSocial fresh off their blowout Amazon deal (which garnered over one million downloads), is Google Offers too late?

With little room for differentiation in the basic deals platform, Google’s opportunity to steal share from Groupon lies in its ability to integrate search, social, maps and location, and capitalize on the power of its online reach under the rejiggered executive management team led by some familiar faces. Pre-loaded mobile applications on its Android platforms and packaged search and local deals are likely components of Google’s strategic plan. It will take time to build these features out, but perhaps more than any time in the company’s history since its IPO, this is a critical inflection point for Google.

Google Offers

Google’s official response to a Mashable inquiry reveals the early development efforts of Offers:

“Google is communicating with small businesses to enlist their support and participation in a test of a pre-paid offers/vouchers program. This initiative is part of an ongoing effort at Google to make new products, such as the recent Offer Ads beta, that connect businesses with customers in new ways. We do not have more details to share at this time, but will keep you posted.”

The potential viability of Offers is a snapshot into the current environment at the still highly regarded online behemoth. It is widely known that more than 90% of Google’s revenues come from search engine advertising, and a recent string of disappointing product failures has some industry insiders questioning the company’s ability to create new and sustainable innovations.

After announcing a record-breaking quarter, with profits jumping to $2.5 billion, Google is hardly faltering. Google’s efforts in display advertising and mobile are paying off, and search is as powerful as ever. But with news that Eric Schmidt will step down on April 4th and co-founder Larry Page will take over as CEO, investors and insiders will be keeping a close eye on Google over the next year. As one blogger questioned, will Page’s return to the helm be similar to Steve Jobs’ triumphant reclamation of the Apple throne in 1997, or more like Jerry Yang’s short-lived return to Yahoo! in 2007?

Image Credit: Mashable

As Bing Sees Big Gains, Is Microsoft Cool Again?

Under the tutelage of Bill Gates, Microsoft exploded into one of the world’s largest and most valuable companies, generating billions of dollars in profits annually for shareholders. The dot-com boom made many employees and investors millionaires, and the company appeared unstoppable.

As the company matured, growth stabilized and new tech darlings like Google stole the spotlight. Delayed product launches of centerpiece operating systems, failed products and advertising campaigns, broken acquisition deals and an apparent lack of internal innovation gave Microsoft a reputation as a “has been” that had passed its prime, and current CEO Steve Ballmer lost the confidence of many investors.

Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld Microsoft Ad

However, new data is showing that Microsoft may be experiencing a reversal of fortunes, as the company’s investments in search are beginning to pay off. The brutally competitive search engine market has had one dominant player for the last decade – Google – which has held as much as 80 percent of the United States search market.

In October 2010, the U.S. search marketshare breakdown was as follows: Google (72.15%); Yahoo + Bing (23.64%). The most recent Hitwise data shows Bing has made substantial gains at the expense of Google and Yahoo. Bing-powered search now controls 30.01% of the U.S. search market, while Google’s share has fallen to 64.42%. (See below: Image courtesy of Mashable.)

Bing vs. Google

These gains may be the result of a major multi-platform ad push by Microsoft for Bing, but the trend is a positive sign for investors and spectators that have remained loyal to the company.

Strong performance in search, high expectations for tablet and PC versions of the upcoming Windows 8 platform, new developer confidence in the Windows Phone platform following the recent Nokia partnership announcement, the smashing success of Kinect and Xbox 360 and widespread adoption of Microsoft’s iPhone and iPad apps are powerful indicators of a possible Microsoft mindshare and marketshare resurgence.

Bing iPad App

Less than a decade after Wall Street and Silicon Valley critics alike pronounced the death of Apple as a legitimate player in the lucrative personal computer market, the world has witnessed the resurgence of the Cupertino-based company as the dominant force in the rapidly-growing world of consumer electronics. Could we be seeing the beginning of an Apple-esque Microsoft turnaround? Critics will call it wishful thinking, but with Google in the process of a massive leadership change, Yahoo! undergoing a drawn-out transition phase and the tenure of Apple CEO Steve Jobs uncertain, the competitive landscape is changing and Microsoft has substantial opportunities in search, PCs and mobile.

Create Custom Text Clouds with Wordle

Free utility software is one of the great perks of the Web, with generous tinkerers sharing their creations with the world at no cost. One of my favorite tools, Wordle, comes from Johnathan Feinberg and partial source code owner IBM.

Wordle is a clever tag cloud tool that automatically creates a custom text cloud from a slate of creative templates. Users can enter text manually, copy/paste text blocks, or allow the program to crawl any website and Wordle will create a custom word cloud with the given text. Users can then edit word orientation, edit text colors, alter color variation and access a host of other customizations.

Demand Media Infographic - Wordle

(Click to enlarge.)

To create your own custom text cloud for free, visit www.Wordle.net.

What are your favorite free tools from around the Web? Share with a comment below.

Yahoo! Search Direct Provides Richer, Faster Results

Today Yahoo! announced a new search product, Search Direct, that integrates richer content and instant results to the search experience.

Could this be the product & morale boost Yahoo! needs? It just may be. After months of public hits and high-profile executive departures, Yahoo! has taken a significant step forward in reversing the company’s downward trend. Competition from Google, Facebook, Twitter and others have put pressure on Yahoo! to release an innovative, revolutionary product to capitalize on the company’s massive Web audience.

Yahoo! Direct Search

Search Direct is clearly an effort to make Yahoo! Search more of a destination and less a sea of links. Search is about content and information discovery, and reducing the number of steps it takes to get a user from query to information is vital.

View and test Search Direct here.

Google Instant was a start – it brought links to users faster. Yahoo! Direct Search takes it one step further, providing a richer experience and faster, more comprehensive access to answers, not just links to answers. It’s early and the product is still being refined, but it has big potential.

Yahoo! Direct Search

Here is the press release from Yahoo! announcing Search Direct:

Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO), the premier digital media company, today announced Search Direct, which delivers answers and direct access to websites before you complete a query, hit the search button, or go to a search results page. This search innovation supports Yahoo!’s strategy to fundamentally shift the way people experience the Web – by providing the richest, most integrated content faster and more efficiently.This new feature, currently in beta, taps into Yahoo!’s unique opportunity to combine content and structured data and to provide a rich search experience. Search Direct predicts search results as fast as a person types, character by character, and presents those results dynamically, generating a fast, simple search experience that goes beyond a list of blue links.  Search Direct rolls out in a public beta to Yahoo! users across the U.S. today, and will be available in other Yahoo! products and markets later this year.

“With today’s launch, direct answers – not the search results page – is the primary focus. We are redefining the search process and prominently displaying direct answers where search decisions are being made,” said Shashi Seth, senior vice president, Yahoo! Search and Marketplaces. “Search Direct is evidence of Yahoo! continuing to lead innovation in search, enabling people to take action faster, find what is most important, and sample what is possible with the next stage of search technology.”

With Search Direct, Yahoo! content is combined with information from the Web to provide rich answers, not just links, and to give people the option to immediately engage or continue to a traditional search results page. In this beta release, coverage includes top trending searches, movies, TV, sports teams and players, weather, local, travel, stocks, and shopping categories now available at search.yahoo.com.

·         Trending Searches – The moment the cursor hits the search box, top search trends appear and are updated every 10 minutes to display the latest and greatest search trends.

·         Search Previews – Search Direct predicts the search term as you type, providing the 10 most likely searches. You can then easily scan each option to see the related top results and find the best match for your needs.

·         Direct Answers – For many common searches, Search Direct provides instant answers before you click the Search button. Find an address or phone number, a three-day weather forecast, financial stock performance, the top trending stories at Yahoo! News, or when and where a movie is playing – all without going to a results page.

·         Direct Results – When you scan the search options and find the site you need, Search Direct provides exactly that – direct access to the site. No more overwhelming pages of links.

·         Rich Content – For all top searches about sports, top news stories, and finance, Search Direct displays rich content that only the world’s largest digital media company can provide. For example, type “n” to get the Yahoo! News display, which always shows the top two trending stories.

Yahoo! will continue to enhance and update Search Direct with new content, such as popular music and local listings.  For more information and a demo video of Search Direct from Yahoo!, visit search.yahoo.com and our company blog, Yodel Anecdotal.

Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz

For more insight, check out the live blogs and analyses from Business Insider and All Things D.