Yahoo, indeed

As a Microsoft shareholder, I’d be delighted if they are saved from buying Yahoo. As a Time Warner shareholder, I’d be delighted if they were saved from owning AOL. But I do think a Yahoo-AOL lashup is this is Dumb and Dumber, Incorporated. Who would run the thing? None of their current bosses, I’d hope. What would the strategy be? Nothing like what it is now: get out of portalthink and get into platformthink, please.

: LATER: A reporter asked for my take and predictions on the MyMicroYahOLSpace orgy. I said:

First, I think a Microsoft-Yahoo combination made little sense. It was Microsoft’s attempt to buy audience — as if you can own audience today, as if we can be bought and sold. That is the old-media way of looking at the world: they controlled content, marketed to get people to come to you, showed them ads, then waved good-bye.

The new way — the Google way — is to be distributed, to make your content, brand, and advertising exportable and embeddable (as with Google AdSense or YouTube videos or Google Maps). I believe that both Yahoo and AOL should follow that example, making everything they have exportable, and becoming a platform for individuals and companies to create and mash-up content and even start businesses.

The other opportunity is to become the ad network for this distributed world. Problem is, Google got there first. AOL and Yahoo have invested fortunes in ad platforms. Again, they did this in the old-media manner, trying to aggregate audience and networks under their roofs. Google, meanwhile, not only bought DoubleClick but also opened Ad Manager, which will serve anyone’s ads for free (and give Google the chance to serve its own ads when sites want). That will expand Google farther and faster than any acquisition like Yahoo or AOL could. If Google can also expand via Yahoo and Yahoo can get more revenue from that than from its own advertising — which says a lot about Yahoo’s strategy — then fine; but doing anything you can to avoid Microsoft is not itself a strategy; it’s a move of desperation.

Microsoft is trying to buy the online strategy is still has not managed to build on its own.

Yahoo and AOL are trying to regain an online strategy they lost. Will they be better together than they were apart? It depends on who manages them and who comes up with a strategy. Clearly, the incumbents at both companies have failed. This takes new leadership who understands the new architecture of the media world and I’m not sure where they’ll find that person. Trying to lash together these two failing strategies and cultures and come out with something new is a thankless task.

News Corp., meanwhile, is being very clever in trying to offload some of the risk of MySpace. People ridiculed the purchase when it was made. It turned out to be smart, as so often happens with the moves Murdoch takes that others ridicule. MySpace is worth more but its strategy is also somewhat unclear as Facebook — and even new platforms like Twitter — build deeper relationships with their members. So if Murdoch can get value out of MySpace now, at a high, and lessen his risk, then he’d be happy.

At the end, I think Microsoft could still win because it is the only one willing to pay much of a premium. Time Warner is a bit desperate to get rid of AOL but it won’t value it too low after having valued it way too high. News Corp. has already shown it is not willing to pay a premium and will only go along for the ride if someone else does.