Yahoo! Mindset: Ah-Ha's for media site's futures?

Thanks to our blogging friend Rex Hammock at RexBlog for pointing us to the launch of Yahoo! Mindset. To us, the launch of this "Intent-Driven Search" tool brings up all manner of questions and opportunities for the future of media sites. First, a big handshake to Yahoo! for this needed step in cleaning up the mess of search, where too often those who pay muscle aside what the searcher really wants. For instance, search almost any magazine title at Google now and often the magazine’s Web site does not appear on the first results page, shoved down by the subscribe-now sites. With Mindset, results pages include a slider bar allowing you to indicate your intent along a sliding scale. Do you just want the sites with stuff to sell? Slide the pointer to the far left. Do you just want sites with answers and other editorial content? Slide the pointer far right. The default results page sets the pointer in the middle.

Look at our results from searching "Minneapolis Star Tribune".

Results page with pointer in the middle:

1. First result is paid circulation ad for the paper
2. StarTribune.com, the paper’s Web site
3. The paper’s Vikings section
4. The paper’s profile at Wikipedia
5. The paper’s Nation section
6. All the paper’s movie reviews at RottenTomatoes

Results page with pointer all the way left to "shopping"

1. First result is paid circ ad for the paper
2. Log-in page for a Twin Cities library
3. DiscountNewspapers.com selling subscriptions to the paper
4. E-Commerce site reprinting a story from the Strib
5. Someone named Vello Villberg’s site
6. the paper’s comics syndicator’s site.

Results page with pointer all the way to the right to "researching"

1. Paid circ ad
2. The paper's profile at Wikipedia
3. A reprint of a 2000 story from the paper at a defunct radio station site
4. Another reprint at an odd site
5. Wikipedia again
6. Story reprint at a non-profit’s site.

Our view of these results? Clearly, the best set is the default, with the pointer in the middle. These results all point you directly to the paper or are one click away. However, with RottenTomatoes aggregating all of the paper’s reviews, why go to the paper and its studio advertisers?

The results with the pointer all the way to "shopping" are alarming. The only result that might be relevant to how the paper attracts audiences/makes money is the Discount Subs site, but we believe most of these sites pay newspapers very little.

The results with the pointer all the way to "researching" are troubling too. None of these results lead you to the paper or its archives. Obviously, searching only the name of the paper is pretty vague for what a searcher’s researching intent might be. We added "Kirby Puckett" to the search, assuming the results would point us to the paper’s coverage of Kirby. We looked at the first 30 results and none were from the Strib.

Admittedly, we have not read anything at the site about how it works and how best to use it. But who does? So, are we completely turned off to Mindset? Not at all. We’ve started to imagine this functionality at a newspaper’s Web site.

Imagine a searcher is dreaming of a new deck for his house and searches "deck planning" at the Strib site. The default results would have the few most recent stories from the lifestyle section of the paper about decks, plus a news story about the EPA warning of risks with treated deck lumber. Sliding the pointing to "shopping" would reveal all of the paper’s advertisers selling deck materials and furniture and contractors who build decks. Sliding the pointer all the way to "researching" would reveal the paper’s full archive of deck-related editorial content, including additional deck content from partners of the Strib such as the local TV station whose weatherman writes for the paper, writing here about protecting your deck from the elements.

Would this scenario help the Star Tribune to be more relevant for Twin Citians versus today's site with buckets of content interrupted by ads? We think so.