The new home page features a dashboard on the left edge that reports activity with a variety of applications. For example, it can be set so users see e-mail from Yahoo Mail, AOL, and Gmail, and other applications notify users of comment on photos posted at Flickr, events on the calendar, and bids active on eBay.
The new page will be revamped later with more dramatic changes, such as the ability to house user-selected Web applications, but the company is starting with a relatively modest redesign to get baseline testing data for later comparisons.
The new page is being tested with a small subset of users in the United States, United Kingdom, India, and France. About 314 million people used the site in July, according to ComScore's estimates.
Yahoo already offers a customized home page, My Yahoo. It won't be phased out, the company said, but the regular Yahoo home page will look more like it.
"These two starting points are definitely converging," the company said in a statement. "To help people make sense of what's happening in their world, we're redefining the concept of a 'start page' away from either a broadcast view (Yahoo.com) or a personal view only (My Yahoo), and creating a homepage that blends the best of both approaches to deliver relevance for a mass market."
Although the Yahoo home page remains a major force on the Internet, much new activity has shifted to social networks, search engines, and other sites. Yahoo's ultimate hope is that Yahoo.com will become a more active part of people's online lives, not users will use Yahoo.com not just to check the latest headlines but also to check up on others in their social orbits.
People can't sign up for the test page, because Yahoo wants a random selection of users, the company said. The timing for broad release of the final version depends on how the tests go.
One major upcoming phase will be hand-picking the online applications at the site. "People will be able to customize the applications area in the coming months during future rounds of our ongoing testing process," Yahoo said. With its Yahoo Open Strategy, the company is trying to attract programmers to build applications on Yahoo properties, offering the promise of a large audience.
By Stephen Shankland