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Noise to Signal: Yahoo Ties Its Future to Mobile Apps, Personalized TV Viewing

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Yahoo is trying to put the focus back on the e-mail, content, advertising and other Web-based services it offers following the company’s unceremonious dumping of former CEO Carol Bartz in September and a growing din of speculation that the company may soon be bought. At a press event Wednesday hosted at its Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters, Yahoo touted several recently announced services, most of them relying on a higher degree of personalization to keep visitors within the company’s network of about 100 Web sites.

Whether Yahoo’s approach to intensify personalization will stand out amidst similar efforts by other large providers of Web content and services—Google, Facebook and Apple, to name just a few—remains to be seen. With 700 million monthly visitors to its sites, Yahoo has no problem generating traffic. The key is getting those users to stick with Yahoo products to do things such as buy digital magazine subscriptions through its Livestand iPad app, network with friends via its Social Sentiment Slider and Facebar features and even watch TV accompanied by the IntoNow iPad app.

Of particular note, IntoNow is part of a trend that reconciles Web companies to the fact that TV is still incredibly popular. As Adam Cahan, founder of IntoNow (which Yahoo bought in April), pointed out, people now watch 22 more minutes of TV per month than they did a year ago. Yahoo wants those people—iPad in hand—surfing the Web and chatting with friends online as they kick back with their favorite episodes of Jersey Shore and Glee. Other efforts to integrate TV and the Web are also underway, including one from M.I.T. Media Lab spinoff Bluefin Labs that maps social media commentary to mass media stimuli on TV, specifically TV shows and commercials.

IntoNow is designed with something the company calls SoundPrint software that is designed to identify a TV program just by listening to ambient sound in a room through the iPad’s microphone. Essentially, SoundPrint checks three-second sound bytes it hears against a Yahoo database of TV sound bytes (140 million minutes worth, the company claims).

Once the show is identified, Yahoo can notify your friends as to what you’re watching, deliver news related to the show and its topic, and enable real-time banter via Facebook and Twitter. Of course all of this information flowing through Yahoo helps the company immensely—nearly 90 percent of its revenue comes from marketing services. Tablets, which are expected to outsell notebooks in 2012, are a gateway for commercial consumption, Cahan said, adding, “They go hand in hand with TV.” IntoNow already had a version for the iPhone and for devices running Google’s Android operating system.

Image courtesy of IntoNow/Yahoo

About the Author: Larry is the associate editor of technology for Scientific American, covering a variety of tech-related topics, including biotech, computers, military tech, nanotech and robots. Follow on Twitter @lggreenemeier.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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