Is Personalized Content Enough to Save Yahoo?

After trying just about everything to draw consumers and catch up with competitors like Apple and Google, Yahoo! is preparing to launch yet another venture in the world of social media. Are its plans for a "personalized content initiative" old news in 2011, or enough to woo Web users back?

After trying just about everything to draw consumers and catch up with competitors like Apple and Google, Yahoo! is preparing to launch yet another venture in the world of social media. Are its plans for a “personalized content initiative” old news in 2011, or enough to woo Web users back?

Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz is expected to unveil the initiative at the Mobile World Conference held next week in Barcelona, Spain, sources “familiar with the matter” confirmed to the New York Times.

The initiative, focused on the Apple and Android markets, is said to be a publishing platform for applications that would draw on users’ preferences and search and social media activities to deliver the most relevant, personalized content to their phone and other mobile devices.

The new apps will pull information from Yahoo! users and then custom build a version of Yahoo.com for them when they access it on their smartphone or tablet.

The features appear similar to services already offered by Yahoo!, and make the company, perhaps, a bit late to the game against the wave of products already announced or on-the-market from competitors that aim to personalize news and the online content for users, from Twitter to traditional news sites and blogs.

As the Times points out, other such efforts already include the iPad app Flipboard, and AOL’s recently announced Editions, its own personalized iPad magazine app and the decade-old “Recommendations” tool at the Amazon.com online store.

Yahoo! says it has more than 600 million unique visitors per month, and the number of unique monthly visitors to Yahoo sites rose 13% last year, according to figures compiled by ComScore, Inc.

But the amount of time people spent in total last year on Yahoo’s Web properties, including its home page, email service and sports, entertainment and news sites, fell by 10% while the minutes spent on Facebook increased by 79%, comScore also reported.

For Yahoo!, then, the initiative marks a chance to convince non-Yahoo! users to switch from competing services.

And raises the question whether the additional offerings and move towards personalization will be enough of a change to push the aging company ahead of the game, or just keep it in the game.

For better or worse, Yahoo! has been here before.

In 2009, the site launched a revamped home page that let users more easily connect to outside apps and sites like Facebook and Gmail, and as featured more customized news and status updates from other social networks. Earlier that year, the company also launched Yahoo Mobile at the Mobile World Congress with the promise of putting users’ favorite apps and content easily at hand on phones. Back even further was “My Yahoo,” one of the site’s pioneering efforts to offer personalization for users.