A few months ago Yahoo! released the beta version of Yahoo! Buzz, which is a user-rated news site that is already closing in on 10m unique users per month.

Here we talk to Tapan Bhat, Senior Vice President of Front Doors, Communities and Network Services at Yahoo!, who explains more about the company’s plans to encourage user participation while making friends with lots of publishers…

What’s Front Doors all about, and what bits of Yahoo does it cover?

The term “Front Doors” is Yahoo!’s way of referring to some of the primary places people start when visiting Yahoo!’s vast network of properties and services. Our group drives the strategy, product management and programming for:

  • Yahoo!’s home page, one of the world’s most heavily trafficked websites;
  • My Yahoo!, the most popular personalised page on the web; 
  • Yahoo! Toolbar, the web’s first downloadable toolbar which is currently available in nearly 30 markets; and 
  • Yahoo! Buzz, an extension to Yahoo.com that offers a new way for people to discover and share the most interesting and remarkable information from across the web. 

You recently launched Yahoo Buzz in beta mode and it seems to be doing really well. What’s the big idea?

The Yahoo! Buzz beta is an extension to Yahoo.com that unites people with the most remarkable content from websites across the Internet and brings the most “buzz-worthy” stories to the Yahoo! homepage.

It determines the most popular, must-read stories and videos from large news sources as well as niche blogs around the web, with an innovative and unique approach that combines votes from real people with search popularity to determine a story’s Buzz ranking. We feature top stories on the Yahoo! homepage, giving users an opportunity to influence what millions will see on Yahoo.com.

Yahoo! Buzz will form the basis for an open ecosystem of publishers, advertisers and consumers. We’ll develop this ecosystem by building out unique new syndication and monetisation tools that help publishers share relevant content, connect to more advertisers and reach a broader audience. Over time, we expect this to extend into a powerful content exchange that connects owners of content with distributors of traffic.

How have Yahoo users been interacting with Buzz?

We’re very excited about how well users have responded to Yahoo! Buzz. They are voting and engaged, and we have seen unprecedented growth of the site since it launched in beta a few months ago. After only three month in beta, Yahoo! Buzz receives around 8 million unique monthly visitors worldwide according to comScore.

We’ll continue to listen to the feedback from publishers and our users to make sure the site continues to find the most relevant and interesting content online.

The publishers taking part in the beta programme must be very pleased, based on some of the results I’ve seen. But what’s in it for Yahoo? What are the main benefits, from your perspective?

Most significantly, Yahoo! Buzz will continue to enhance our position as a leading starting point on the web. While the homepage has always featured engaging stories and content, our editors could only scratch the surface before. With Yahoo! Buzz, we can add more depth to the front page by bubbling up the best content from around the web, as indicated by users. As people find more of the interesting content they want on Yahoo!, they’ll continue to come back again and again.

In addition, Yahoo! Buzz creates a comprehensive, categorised database of content from across the web that can eventually make all of the Yahoo! Network better, and further our leadership position as the best starting point on the web.

When will you be opening it up to other publishers?

Since launching with around 100 large and small publishers, we have gradually been adding new publishers to the beta program and now have around 300 publishers participating.  In the coming months, we’ll continue adding more participants and once Yahoo! Buzz is generally available, any publisher will be able to participate. 

Some say that Buzz is an obvious Digg clone, though there are obvious differences, such as the subject focus (entertainment is prioritised over tech). I guess the average Yahoo user doesn’t care much for Ubuntu, or whatnot? Aside from the sheer scale of Yahoo’s traffic, how else is Buzz different to Digg?

With Yahoo! Buzz we are providing users with a broad range of content, beyond niche vertical categories such as technology or gaming news. One of unique features of Yahoo! Buzz is our combination of votes and search trends to determine a story’s popularity – user voting on and off the Yahoo! network, combined with search popularity rankings, help make our results as accurate as possible. 

You were widely quoted last summer as saying ‘search’ isn’t where it’s at, going forward, but that the future is all about personalisation. Has your view hardened?

My comments last summer were taken out of context. What I said was that web Search is a top priority for Yahoo! and we are committed to developing and investing in new technologies that will shape the future of search. We believe personalisation tools complement our efforts in search and will play an important role in determining our users’ intent and delivering the most relevant information as efficiently as possible.

Do you have some insight on how Yahoo users have adopted the various personalisation tools you’ve rolled out over the last couple of years?

While I can’t speak to all the tools throughout the network, I can tell you that My Yahoo! is the leading personalised start page with nearly 44 million unique monthly visitors worldwide (comScore). 

In addition, we’re seeing great traction for our personalised mobile services, as well as for new personalisation features we’ve launched across various sites on the Yahoo! Network.

What kind of developments can we expect from Yahoo in the coming months?

We’re intensely focused on ensuring we have the leading set of offerings for consumers to begin their experience on the web, each and every day.  In the future we’ll be testing more ways to open up Yahoo! to the entire Internet via ad network and monetisation programs, as well as our new technology APIs and Web services that are part of the recently announced Yahoo! Open Strategy.