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Yahoo Is Said to Move Toward Personalized Content

For Yahoo, it is getting personal.

Confronted by declining revenue and a steady stream of prominent departures, Yahoo plans to announce that it is developing a publishing platform for applications that would let users get personalized content on their phones and other mobile devices.

Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz
Getty Images
Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz

Carol A. Bartz, Yahoo’s chief executive, is expected to unveil the plans for the project in an address this month at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, according to two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak about it.

A spokeswoman for Yahoo declined to comment.

The move is part of a larger trend toward custom content. As news streams and Twitter feeds multiply on the Web, there is a flurry of new programs trying to help users cut through the noise. For instance, the iPad app Flipboard finds content from a user’s social networking feeds and displays it in a magazine-like layout of photos and text blocks that can be flipped through. AOL recently announced that it would release Editions, its own personalized iPad magazine application. The tagline is “The magazine that reads you.”

The Yahoo platform aims to draw from a user’s declared preferences, search items, social media and other sources to find and highlight the most relevant content, according to the people familiar with the matter. It will be available on Yahoo’s Web site, but is optimized to work as an app on tablets and smartphones, and especially on Google Android and Apple devices, they said. The project, initially named “Deadeye,” has been the focus of a team of more than 50 engineers for the last several months. The company is also planning to work with outside publishers, like Hearst, to create third-party apps powered by the same software engine, they said.

Yahoo is no a stranger to personalized content. In recent years, its home page has showcased many of its best efforts, said Ben Schachter, an analyst with Macquarie Capital. The home page lets users add favorite links and apps and change the layout, and it delivers some content based on a user’s activity.

Meanwhile, mobile is increasingly important to Yahoo’s portfolio, as it is for other companies, since users are logging more hours on tablet devices and smartphones. Tablet sales alone are expected to more than double this year, to 24.1 million units, according to a recent report by Forrester Research.

In Yahoo’s last earnings call, in late January, Ms. Bartz told investors to brace for a new wave of mobile apps. The company is focusing, she said, on reaching users “no matter what device or operating system they’re on.”

“If Yahoo wants to be a key, global player, it needs to have a compelling mobile strategy,” said Aggarwal Sandeep, a Caris & Company analyst. “In our view, in the next three to five years, mobile activity will grow three to four times faster than PC-based internet activity.”

Yahoo is struggling to change the perception that it is an empire in decline. Yahoo’s online properties still attract 600 million to 650 million unique visitors a month, Mr. Sandeep said, “but their metrics are deteriorating.”

In the last quarter, Yahoo’s revenue slipped 12 percent. The company is also shedding employees through layoffs and prominent departures.

In December, Yahoo cut 600 employees, or 4 percent of its work force. Then, in January, the company cut an additional 1 percent, or 135 people. Meanwhile, several crucial members of the mobile team have left in the last six months, including one of the company’s top mobile executives, David Ko (who went on to lead mobile efforts at Zynga) and the former vice president of mobile, North America, David Katz.

The hope is that the tide will change with this latest offering, but skeptics persist.

“We’re glad to see that Yahoo views mobile as a priority,” Mr. Sandeep said, “but Yahoo is still losing its audience, it’s unclear how they will reignite interest.”

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