Yahoo! News: a pleasant surprise

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For those of you who miss image-rich layouts and heavy columns of news on your homepage: you’re not alone. The web is often like a giant telephone directory: it must be searched – but the catch is, you have to know what you’re looking for. Search engines do that. Some, like Google, do nothing else but flip the pages and show you that list of numbers.

But sometimes, it’s nice not to search: to go to a website and be served information you never even knew existed. It’s like flipping open an encyclopedia and coming across a random fact – and learning something you never might have found out about otherwise.

But most of us don’t get that experience, and that’s a fact. These are post-Google days, after all. Go to site, type, hit enter and start opening the first ten results in new tabs: that’s pretty much our entire information-gathering process nowadays. Very rarely do we find something spontaneously. We filter everything out there, taking only what we’re looking for and passing over everything else in complete unawareness.

Which is why I’m writing about Yahoo! News, a brilliant service / site that a lot of Sri Lankan citizens aren’t aware of. It scours the web for news from recognized international news services like CNN, BBC and Reuters and neatly categorizes them. What makes it stand out is how it arranges them under each topic, featuring hot news so that they grab your attention the moment the page loads. You don’t have to sift through news sites: Yahoo News does that for you. Like a good encyclopedia, there’s a ton of information here every day that you’d probably never imagine otherwise. Today’s Technology news, for example, popped up Aaron Swartz, amateur astronomers who’d discovered 42 alien planets, a critique on Microsoft, the US govt’s warning against Java, several exhibitions – it took me five minutes to learn what usually takes me an hour of Google searches and site-crawling to find out. It’s frankly brilliant.

It’s quite surprising to see something of this caliber by Yahoo. Over the years, the dwindling Internet search giant Yahoo dropped quite a lot of services: their 360 social network, MyBlogLog, Yahoo Buzz, GeoCities (home to some 7 million web pages) – only their Mail and News services seem to have made the cut. Their News service certainly has gone from a Hollywood-gossip service to a top-of-the-line news aggregator. First they overhauled it in 2011, turning it from a boring RSS-like set of lists to the presentation format it’s using right now. Even the Yahoo homepage doesn’t do justice to the News service: all that ever seems to show is this immensely stupid “Let’s-build-a-Death-Star” petition that has the rest of the world laughing at America.

If you’re ever feeling in the mood for learning something, head over to news.yahoo.com. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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