Posts about yahoo

Microsoft-Yahoo: The deal of the dinos

(Crossposted from Comment is Free, where there are also comments.)

Yahoo, I’ve long argued, is the last old media company, for it operates on the old-media model: It owns or controls content, markets to bring audience in, then bombards us with ads until we leave. Contrast that with Google, which comes to us with its ads and content and tools, all of which I can distribute on my blog. Yahoo, like media before it, is centralized. Google is distributed.

It’s appropriate, then, that Yahoo is being bought by what one could say is the last old technology company, Microsoft. For Microsoft still operates on a model of control: closed in an open era. They will get along well together.

This is not a deal about content. At an entrepreneurial conference in New York this week, OnMedia, a venture capitalist said that the “perceived value of content is approaching zero.” That’s a kick in the kidneys to us content people.

No, this is a deal about audience and advertising. After the big guys consolidated all the ad networks they could — aQuantive to Microsoft, Tacoda to AOL, Doubleclick to Google (the EU willing) — next they’re buying up audience in bulk. That’s what Yahoo is, really. They call it a firehose: people in bulk, us as masses.

The reason this is happening is that advertisers and their agencies are still stupidly treating and buying us as masses — they want everything to operate like the one medium they understand: TV. (This is why, in the U.S., even as television’s audience shrinks, the rates paid for advertising continue to increase — because, oddly, the decrease in audience is creating a market scarcity in commercials’ reach).

This is just as well for Yahoo, which had no strategy, really. They’d gone as far as they could with the old-media model, as exploited by the last CEO, former movie-studio head Terry Semel. Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang started saying the right things about turning Yahoo into a platform, but it probably would have taken years to turn his culture around. They were too used to operating like a movie studio or publishing house.

Will this be big enough to beat Google? No, because big won’t win in the end. Open will.

Why I hate Yahoo, chapter 36

I have complained about Yahoo mail many times. About three years ago, I made the mistake of taking a Yahoo premium account — just to keep Yahoo from killing my account, which is its way of strongarming customers into paying. I canceled the account at least two years ago but just found it on my credit card bill. I spent 20 minutes on the phone with the Philippines trying to cancel the account and get a refund. They refuse to refund. The best part is that I asked for the guy’s name — Joe — and said I was going to blog about this, which I think is only fair. He told me to stop “recording” the call or he would terminate it. They can record. We can’t. Shades of AOL. Their attitude is every bit as bad as Comcast or AOL. Compare and contrast with Google. Yahoo is the last old-style company. It treats its customers like prisoners. They think they can make money telling us what we cannot do. Google has killed them for good reason. I never go to Yahoo. In a word: Yahoo sucks.

A new Yahoo?

Last night, I got to crash a snazzy dinner thrown by Yahoo to talk about social media with London geekmedia. I came away wondering whether we will start to see a new Yahoo.

Two of their executives engaged in what I argued was continuing portalspeak. “Yahoo’s where the activities are,” said one, who talked about “properties.” Another bragged about owning consumers because they do their email there and talked about Yahoo’s continuing “aspiration to be the starting point for consumers and advertisers.” That is the definition of a portal.

But then John Linwood, a vp of engineering, talked about opening up Yahoo as a platform. The other day, Yahoo boss Jerry Yang talked about this, too, but I was concerned that he was still looking at this as a media and portal model, trying still to get people to come to Yahoo rather than following Google’s open and distributed model. But Linwood said that, indeed, they plan to provide tools and content that developers can use to build new businesses away from Yahoo. Then he also talked about putting controls on that.

BBC tech correspondent Rory Celland-Jones asked pointedly whether Yahoo knows it has missed out and it is just slapping the social label on its rhetoric to try to catch up. One of the Yahoo execs tried to insist that the internet is still “at a very early stage” (read: Google has not won yet, he wishes).

I think what we witnessed last night was the debate the company is having within: portal or platform? Even if platform has won at the top, we need to hear stronger confirmation of that and see strong action and the question remains whether it’s possible to change Yahoo’s culture to make the shift. It’s already big and old. But it’s not too late to change and I think I finally saw the seeds of that change.

Yahoo as a platform

We’re finally starting to hear sensible strategic talk out of Yahoo. The Times Bits Blog reported this week that Jerry Yang is talking platform:

Mr. Yang didn’t reveal too much in terms of specific details. But the biggest new thing about Yahoo’s strategy is its plan to open up to others, and Mr. Yang spoke in general terms about his hopes for turning Yahoo into a “platform” where developers, content creators and advertisers could offer services to Yahoo’s audience.

“The ‘platform’ word has been the most overplayed and used,” in the tech industry recently, Mr. Yang said, no doubt referring to the success of Facebook in opening up its social network to third party developers. But clearly, Yahoo wouldn’t mind having similar success.

So what does platform mean to Mr. Yang?

“A business that has a set of standards that allows a set of companies to participate and find benefit from it,” he said. Mr. Yang said achieving platform status for any company is no easy task. But he said it is worth trying, because by empowering other businesses, Yahoo itself would become a more powerful business. Yahoo, he said, has been a great collection of Web sites. “I think we need to think beyond that,” he said.

Here’s what I said Yahoo should do last June:

OK, here’s what I’d do with Yahoo: I’d pull a reverse Facebook, a Zuckerberg with a twist. Facebook opened itself up as a platform for people to come in and do things there. I’d open up Yahoo as a platform for people to export instead. I would turn absolutely every — every — piece of Yahoo into a widget any of us could export and use on our own sites. I’d take all the functionality there and enable people to enrich their own sites, to build on top of it. . . .

There’s still a critical difference there. The Times says Yang wants to open up Yahoo to developers to serve its audience. That’s a platform in the Facebook model. That’s still mediathink: gathering an audience to an address and giving them stuff there. I’m talking about a platform in the Google model: let people use you to build what they want where they want. So I think Yahoo’s thinking is halfway there. But that’s better than nowhere.

: SEE ALSO: Marc Canter.

Poor Yahoo

Yahoo’s a mess. Well, we already knew that (and I do tend to beat them up rather often). But looking at the Huffpo/Slate/Yahoo debate episode, it hit me anew what a mess they are. Consider:

* Their spokesman tells Wired.com that users will be able to mash-up the videos (it was, after all, called the Mash-up Debate), then tells them that users can’t, then Arianna Huffington says they can, and now they can. Sort of. (I ranted based on the Wired report and the spokesman’s words and then corrected that when I got email from Arianna. I emailed back to her that I do think Huffpo could have done a better job of this debate on their own.)

* From the main debate page, I can find no link to, reference about, explanation of the separate mash-up site and what you may do there, can you?

* From the mash-up site at JumpCut, I cannot figure out how to start mashing. Steve Garfield’s a smarter guy than I, so he did manage to mash: “It takes some work though since the online interface isn’t as direct as that of a desktop editor. . . ” It’s supposed to be easier than a desktop editor; it’s that the idea? I can’t tell whether you can add your own commentary, which would make it a true mashup. Can you? There is, however, a nice “remix” link on Steve’s mashup, taking me to the editor (ah, there is is) and allowing me to redo what he redid. I like that.

* From the main debate page, I can find no way to get the embed code to put the clip on my blog and spread promotional goodness to Yahoo and its partners. Can you?

* As near as I can tell, one has to go to the Yahoo video page and search for the debate video and then get the embed code.

* But once embedded, the next user who wants to embed it can’t get the code from the player and has to go through the same search (or at least I can’t find it).

It’s as if Yahoo put a condom on their video to prevent viral spread.

* The debate fell off the Yahoo home page quickly. So much for Yahoo’s promotional firehose (their frequent phrase). So I try to find it again. It should be in Yahoo News. But, shockingly, I don’t find “news” in their navigation (can you?); God knows how it got so popular. I have to click on a “more news” link in the box in the center of the page to get to the Yahoo News home page. From there, I find a small promo.

* From the Yahoo Video home page, I find no mention of the debate.

* From the Jumpcut home page, I find no mention of the debate.

Perhaps I’m just blind and these pages do carry some of the elements I can’t find. Still, it’s not a good sign that I can’t find them.

So imagine you heard there was this cool debate mash-up thing on Yahoo. I dare you to go to Yahoo and find it and embed a video in your blog and then mash-up some video. When will you give up?

Mind you, Yahoo’s power is supposed to be that it is a portal — a path to finding and doing things. But it makes it damned difficult to get to either. That’s both a failure of Yahoo as a portal and, I think, of portals as a whole.

Maybe Jerry Yang should have given himself more than 100 days to figure out how to fix this thing.

: LATER: See this Adweek story (via PaidContent) about the wisdom of spreading out past the portal, as Google has — WWGD? — yet Yahoo is still sticking to its portal model:

In late 2004, Yahoo CEO Terry Semel, speaking at the Association of National Advertisers, used a familiar metaphor for the company’s strategy: a digital theme park that tempts visitors with endless attractions to get them to stay inside the gates. Analysts credited the strategy for reviving the company’s fortunes following the dot-com bust.

The problem is, we don’t like gates.

“It’s a reflection of consumer behavior,” said Bryan Wiener, CEO of digital agency 360i. “They’ve been disaggregating themselves. They’re spending less time on portals and spreading themselves to blogs and elsewhere.”

Google recognized that early on by stitching together a far-flung network of sites that now accounts for over half its revenue. That’s led Yahoo and fellow Internet 1.0 portals AOL and MSN to expand in a similar way. . . .

The shift from portal-centric strategies comes hand in hand with the rise of user-generated content and social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook redirecting consumer Web behavior away from marquee sites, according to analysts. . . .

Yet the portal is not going anywhere soon, said Todd Teresi, svp of display marketplaces at Yahoo. Instead, it will continue to serve a key role in collecting a trove of behavioral data about consumers that can then be used to target advertising to them when they leave Yahoo’s gates for other sites.

The Yahoo Presidential Mush-up

The much vaunted Yahoo/Huffington Post/Slate presidential debate “mash-up” is a pathetic insult to the voters that is years behind in internet culture.

According to Wired.com’s Sarah Lai Stirland, it was Yahoo who wussied out and decided not to put up the footage up on its mash-up video site for voters and viewers to remix.

No mashing here. Just more mush from the wimps.

So we end up with watching Charlie Rose and Bill Maher asking the candidates questions on the usual topics — do we have a shortage of this on TV debates? Where’s the interactivity? Well, we get to pick which videos to watch. Oooh, the freedom. It’s like a bad children’s museum: ‘Here, children, push this button. You won’t do any harm.’

We should be the ones asking the questions. We should be the ones selecting the questions. We should be the ones editing the questions.

Instead, they give us buttons to push. What an insult.

I am shocked that Huffington Post and Slate did not pull out of this venture when Yahoo ruined it. They should have. It’s yet more proof how behind Yahoo has left itself. The last old-media company, that’s what I call them. But they’re even older in mind and spirit than NBC, CNN, and ABC, which at least opened up their debate footage for us to reuse. Yahoo doesn’t put such an open license on this content. Yahoo doesn’t even make it easy for us to embed the videos. You can’t do it on their alleged “mash-up” page, only if you find the video on their video site, which isn’t easy with their bad search. Here’s one:

Huffington Post, Slate, and the candidates should insist that Yahoo make good on its word and make this video available for us to remix. It will still be pathetic — since we did not get the chance to ask and select the questions — but it would be just a little less pathetic.

LATER: I just posted this to Huffingtonpost, ending with this suggestion:

But I do wish that you would force them to enable the mash-up. For you see, it’s not just about us watching. It’s about us producing and broadcasting. We should be able to make our mash-ups and show them to the world. Indeed, why not go one step farther and take all the video from all the debates — since they are open to our unrestricted reuse — and put them together so we can produce and publish the ultimate mashups from the election so far? And then we can also see what questions have note been asked and answered. Then we can ask them the next time.

UPDATE: I just got email from Arianna Huffington saying that users will be able to take their playlists to Yahoo’s Jumpcut and then embed the results in their blogs. This is supposed to happen this afternoon. More later.

UPDATE: Here is the mashup page.

The next portal – or the last portal?

Michael Arrington reports that Bear Stearns says Yahoo should get itself a social network because social networks are the next portal. Here is their entire PowerPoint.

It made me want to scream:

Portals are dead, damnit. They are the last vestige of old-media bigthink, of the misguided belief that media can corral us into masses and that we want to be treated like herds. The essential moral to the story of Yahoo’s decline is that it is a portal and portals don’t work. But here’s Bear Sterns looking for the next portal. Arrrggghhh.

You know what I’m going to say: The real question they should be asking is WWGD — what would Google do? I argued when Terry Semel was bounced that Yahoo should blow itself up and become the unportal, enabling anyone anywhere to take anything from Yahoo and put it on their own sites, feeding content — which Google doesn’t have — and advertising all around the web, becoming the great enabler of social interaction via content rather than buying Facebook. I hope Yahoo doesn’t buy Facebook — even though Bear Stearns now says the value is $5-6 billion (versus the $1 billion Mark Zuckerberg quite wisely turned down) — for I fear that like other things Yahoo buys, it would freezedry it in time, stifling innovation by bringing it into that corral.

The next portal? No, Yahoo is the last portal.

What he says

Read this post by Saul Hansell about Yahoo on the NY Times’ new tech blog. It is opinionated, filled with opinion, and that’s what makes it so good. I doubt that this would appear in the paper but I certainly don’t know why. Hansell rips into Yahoo and its new/old CEO, Jerry Yang, for his buzzwordy performance in his first earnings call.

If any Yahoo users — and there are half a billion of them — listened to Jerry Yang’s debut earnings conference call as chief executive, they would have heard not a single reason to get excited about going back to Yahoo.com. . . .

“So many people want Yahoo to win,” he said. “I’m committed to making that happen.” . . .

The top buzzword today at Yahoo was “ecosystem.” Mr. Yang and Ms. Decker said they wanted to make Yahoo a “marketplace” where advertisers sell their products, publishers distribute their content and developers run their programs.

Why would an advertiser, publisher or developer choose Yahoo rather than, say, Google, Facebook or even Microsoft?

Mr. Yang’s answer had more buzzwords: “Insight,” “openness,” and “partnership.”

: LATER: Hansell responds in the comments:

Thanks for noticing what we’re doing over at Bits, Jeff.

I think that blogs in fact do give us lots of great tools to do our traditional job better: We can be quick, say as much or as little as we need to, and of course connect to the broader conversation through outbound links and comments.

But I don’t think that blogs are as much of a revolution in the way that opinion and analysis is expressed as you and others may say. My watchword, as the editor ofBbits, is to work in the same voice long used by columnists in news pages, such as Floyd Norris, David Leonhardt, Joe Nocera and David Carr (not that I am putting my blogging on a par with any of them).

I can do that because in my new role I am no longer the beat reporter covering any companies. So I can step back and be a second voice on some technology topics.

Bits is a bit of a combination because it also includes posts from the rest of the reporters, who sometimes need to use a slightly different tone. The blog is less formal than the paper, and allows for first person writing. But for a beat reporter, it is a way to marshal curiosity and conversation. And again these forms of writing -news analysis pieces and reporters notebook collections-have long existed in our pages and others.

I won’t say that’s false humility. I’d say it’s politics. I do think Saul is changing the voice of the paper, one peep at a time.
Openness and partnership are taken for granted in Silicon Valley these days. No one says they want to be an island, even if they do. Insight is a code word for one of Yahoo’s differentiations: its data about its users and willingness to use it in order to target ads. Microsoft is also building targeting capability, but has fewer and less engaged users. Google is building up a vast repository of data, but it has been conflicted about what to do with it.

But Mr. Yang didn’t even try to explain — in words of any number of syllables — why users would want to visit his ecosystem: Is it warm, beautiful, exciting, relaxing?

Until Mr. Yang is able to say what Yahoo stands for and why people should use its services, he is going to reviewing and reorganizing and buzzwording as the company he founded continues to wither.

I would go farther — but then, I’m just a blogger; I’m dripping with opinion. I think that Yang needs a strategy to take Yahoo into the distributed web and away from the old-media model or he will fail. It’s not about convincing people to come to Yahoo. It’s about finding the ways to take Yahoo to the people. In other words, the question isn’t whether I Yahoo. The question is whether Yahoo Jarvises.

But that’s not the point of this post. I find it fascinating that Hansell, a respected reporter who, I believe, helped invent this blog, took on a new voice. Now in one sense, that could be said to misinterpret blogs; just because a blog, doesn’t mean it has to be snarky (as I have to tell my students). But on the other hand, I will say that having a blog opened up a reporter to a new voice that got to the point directly and quickly and didn’t make me read between lines or guess what he thinks. I like hearing what Hansell thinks and I’m glad I now can.