Have you fired up a web browser with the intention of finding some important piece of information quickly, but Yahoo (newssite) opens as your home page and, before you know it, you’ve spent 15 minutes reading articles from the Today box at the top of the page? Apparently you are not alone.

The Technology Behind the Simple Today Box

Four years ago, Yahoo began working on a new algorithm with the goal of being able to predict what news you would like to read. The algorithm produces 45,000 unique versions of the Today box every five minutes. Yahoo determines the version that will be popular to users based on demographic information such as location, age, sex, browsing habits and other criteria provided by registered users. In addition, Yahoo tests combinations of headlines, images, text and links by selecting a random sample group and measuring popularity.

It isn’t all about technology. Yahoo isn’t just relying on the fancy, super-secret algorithm to determine what news it should show to users. Editors can override the recommendations and display articles they feel are important, without regard to expected performance. The human editors are still benefiting from the technology. Editors can use the analytics provided by CORE to help them better understand the articles that are likely to resonate with audience.

The result? A web-based siren that few can resist.

According to Yahoo, investment in CORE has paid off – big time. Since this time last year, the Today box clicks have increased by around 167 million; US users have increased 270% and the Today box averages1 billion clicks per month. Not too shabby.

The Benefit to Yahoo

The information that Yahoo is collecting isn’t just interesting. Although it is. Who knew that teens read parenting stories or that men read lots of fashion stories? Yahoo does now. The real goal of Yahoo’s investment is likely to position itself a market leader and spur advertising revenue. Yahoo has already branded itself as a leader in online media, but it hasn’t exactly lived up to the moniker in recent years.

Yahoo plans to apply the algorithm to other areas in Yahoo network; Yahoo News is next. The company is optimistic that there will be similar increases in audience to the Today box on its homepage. Also, the company isn’t just relaxing. The company’s computer scientists are actively using the information collected to date to make the algorithm even more sophisticated.

Maybe one day they will be able to read minds and we can give up typing.