Posts about yahoo

Myhoo

I am fascinated by the speculation/rumor, which Staci Kramer so ably sums up, that News Corp would sell/merge MySpace into Yahoo for 25 percent of the company while Yahoo — now Myhoo — would outsource its search business to Google, probably making more in search than it could on its own. (More from this Times and that Times.)

This could be a brilliantly cagey move even for brilliantly cagey Murdoch, for it gives him an at-least 20x return on his MySpace investment in only two years ($580 million for MySpace now bringing in more than $10 billion in Yahoo equity) and gets him out of managing MySpace, which could be tough as Facebook gains speed. (Murdoch also becomes the rescuer — depending on your perspective — of old-media companies from Wall Street to Silicon Valley — Dow Jones and Yahoo both being old-media. But note that he was still too smart to buy newspaper empire Tribune Company; that’s just too old.)

For Yahoo, this would focus them, I believe, as a social media company. They’d be out of the search business. They’d still have services — email, Flickr, Del.icio.us, chat, personalization, rss — but those should become aps in a larger social world of MySpace and beyond. Their content could also become modules to be distributed socially. So suddenly what I said yesterday doesn’t sound so crazy:

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. . . .

I would argue that this would not work if you could do all this only at Myhoo. We should be able to use these widgets anywhere — on our blogs, on major news sites now needing to focus on what they do best, on our own local social networks, on advertisers’ sites, even: anywhere. This becomes Yahoo turned inside out, the exploded portal. It is CBS’ audience network, user-as-distributor strategy to its limit. It takes Google’s strategy of turning itself into aps and widgets (a la AdSense) that can be used anywhere and one-ups them. You see, all this is possible as soon as Yahoo widgetizes itself to be used on MySpace; then those widgets can — or should — be used anywhere. So this becomes Yahoo’s own answer to the question: WWGD? This also starts to show Google’s limits: It doesn’t own social as it owns search and advertising. Orkut didn’t work (outside India and Brazil). Facebook and MySpace are ahead and they fight it out to be the organizer of people and our connections.

The odds of this happening: about 0.1 percent. News Corp. could be nimble enough to pull it off. But Yahoo is, witness the peanut-butter manifesto, just too large and lumbering and, well, old, at 14 years of age, to move decisively. But that was fun to contemplate anyway.

How would you Yahoo?

Following up on the post below, I’m writing my Guardian column this week on Yahoo and so I wonder: What would you do with it if you were in charge?

: LATER: If I were a Yahoo stockholder or employee I’d be nervous about this gobbledygook from Jerry Yang:

“My immediate and overarching priorities are to realise Yahoo!’s strategic vision by accelerating execution, further strengthening our leadership team and fostering an even stronger culture of winning,” said Mr Yang, making it clear future changes are planned.

That sounds like the produce of a random buzz generator.

More claptrap in Yang’s letter to the staff:

What is that vision? A Yahoo! that executes with speed, clarity and discipline. A Yahoo! that increases its focus on differentiating its products and investing in creativity and innovation. A Yahoo! that better monetizes its audience. A Yahoo! whose great talent is galvanized to address its challenges. And a Yahoo! that is better focused on what’s important to its users, customers, and employees.

What the hell does that mean?

Yahoo’s big mistake

Yahoo made the mistake too many other media companies made: It thought that the internet was a medium. It’s not. The internet is a place. It’s a means, not a medium.

I’ve said it often before and I’ll say in once more: Yahoo is the last old-media company. It controlled content — made or licensed — and spent money to market to bring people in to see it and then forced ads down their eyeballs until they left. Meanwhile, Google distributed itself anywhere and everywhere. The ad on this page is the pioneering commercial widget of the internet; it makes this page part of Google without Google having to make, market, or pay for it. Google is a platform. Yahoo is a portal. Google is a network. Yahoo is a destination. Google is a tool. Yahoo is a thing.

Yahoo hired a media man in Terry Semel and he gave them just what they wanted, the two legs of his old business’ stool: content and distribution. Listen to him here, two years ago:

Yahoo ‘is all about content,” he says. . . . He says media companies should look to Yahoo as a distribution platform.

I’ve also said this, too, before and will say it once more: We debated for decades whether content or distribution was king but it turns out that neither is. The community is the kingdom. The question companies should be asking on the internet — the question Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg answered — is what they can do to help that community do what it wants to do. Zuckerberg thinks of Facebook not as a media or content company but as a software company. Software enables us.

So now Semel is out as CEO. He took Yahoo from its first life as a directory and did, indeed, turn it into a media company with considerable traffic and real ad sales — that was his job and he did it well. But that wasn’t sufficient. Being a media company isn’t sufficient. Semel couldn’t get Yahoo into the next life. Oh, yes, he bought Flickr and Del.icio.us and OddPost, in the hopes that you could buy some Web 2.0 and it would average out the 1.0 in you. But all that does is get you to 1.1. It takes more than that.

So now Jerry Yang is in charge. I met him years ago, in the early days of Yahoo, in a business meeting, and he said then that Yahoo’s job was to get you in and out of the service — and onto what you really wanted — as soon as possible. Well, that sure changed. In the Semel era, and even before, the job became to get you in and keep you in as long as possible.

But the job should have nothing to do with getting us to Yahoo. It should be about Yahoo getting itself to us. Can Yahoo — can Yang — blow itself up and splatter across the web, a la Google? I don’t know. I fear that Yahoo is just the next AOL: the next has-been. Now you may say to me, well, Jeff, you talk about the web being about tools, functionality, and community, and doesn’t that describe AOL at its height? Yes, except that AOL didn’t see that as its business; that was just the cherry on the sundae and the ice cream to them was distribution: a closed network. Again, AOL, thought like a media company, only the other half of media: more distribution than content. AOL never knew where its real value lay. It was in the people. The community. I said long ago that if AOL cut itself up and let us all use and even pay for any part of it, it could have exploded. Instead, it demanded that we come into its closed world. And it failed. I stopped using AOL a decade ago because I had so many other, better, more open alternatives.

I haven’t used Yahoo either in ages, maybe years. I complained that they shut off my email and killed my identity — my identity — because I didn’t follow their rules and use it enough. I can’t remember the last time I went to Yahoo. And it didn’t come to me. When I last tried to use Flickr they yelled at me for not having a Yahoo identity (well, I would have one if you hadn’t killed it). I don’t need Yahoo. It needs me.

What would I do with Yahoo? I’d probably sell it. Just as newspaper companies are now huddling with their former enemies, Monster and Hot Jobs, so may media companies want to take over Yahoo and grow old together. Microsoft never could figure out its media strategy — when it never should have wanted one; it should have been the company to figure out the web of tools first — and so they could stumble off together, blind leading blind. AOL and Yahoo might as well merge. Cable companies might forestall their fate as closed networks while playing with Yahoo; spurned by TV networks now distributing themselves freely online, the MSOs need a younger wife. But all that only forestalls the inevitable shrinkage of Yahoo as a media entity.

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. . . .

On second thought . . . naw, nevermind . . .

Not so Current

Pardon me for being unimpressed with Current.tv’s new outpost on Yahoo. They’re still not getting the internet. Worse, they’re dissing the internet. And that’s troubling from a content, interactivity, or business perspective. But it’s also puzzling from a political perspective.

The network still does not share its best stuff — or what it thinks is best — with the internet because they’re still afraid of pissing off cable companies, which still aren’t picking up Current in volume. Note that other networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox — are no longer scared of pissing off their channels of distribution. But Current’s business model is predicated on getting cable carriage. I still say they should have built the first big, funded, citizen-created internet TV network. But they didn’t. They could have used Yahoo to get attention for what they put on the “air.” But they didn’t.

The network also remains quite controlling. They create videos that try hard to look and sound just like bad 7 p.m. syndicated unnews shows. They have uninformative but still costly travel pieces sucking up to Dubai … and then teasing a story next week on the sad lives of prostitutes there; they haven’t found their place on the flullometer. Oh, yes, they show videos created by the people. But they put those videos through a process of selection, a gauntlet the citizens have to run — still — before they are heard. Since Current started, YouTube obsoleted that model; the people no longer need to guys with the cables and antennas to be heard. But Current doesn’t see that. Current could have made Yahoo an opportunity to create an open network of the videos of the people. But they didn’t.

What they did do is create a small and uncompelling collection of videos — a few made by them, a few made by others — about things like driving and flying. Why? Because there are ad dollars there (well, in the case of automotive, there aren’t as many ad dollars from automotive as they may have thought). Making money is fine. But when I saw a button called “action” on Yahoo’s Current, I thought it might be about taking action in the country and the goverment. No, it’s about going fast. Odd, considering how going fast on the ground or above does have an impact on global warming.

Al Gore, inventor of Current and the internet, has been dissing the latter lately. He respects broadcast to the masses more than conversation with the niches. That’s the old way to look at the world in both media and political terms. I’m surprised he hasn’t updated that view and started living it. He also has created venues that are closed, controlled at the center, not generous at the edges. That, too, is the old way of media and politics. So what does this say about Gore the politician these days? I’d say it makes him look out-of-date, not so current.

Yahoof!

Yahoo announced disappointing ad revenue growth for automotive and financial services today, kicking its stock in the groin.

This comes as Yahoo also announces a big and expensive marketing push: Dunkin’ Donuts for all.

I’ll say it again: Yahoo is the last old-media company. It is dependent on the same dynamics — good and bad — as other media companies: the high value but difficulties of direct sales to agencies; the cost of acquiring users; the vulnerability to larger market trends; the high cost of owning content.

Google, on the other hand, just rides atop the waves, wherever they go. So far, at least, it does not tie itself to the old models of owning (or licensing) content or getting value only out of bringing people to its site.

The successful media companies of the new age will be the ones that enable media wherever it wants to be.

On China

Nick Kristof has a terrific column in The New York Times today on the power of blogs and the internet to challenge Chinese dictatorship. Yes, it’s behind the Great Wall of New York. But I’ll quote some good bits.

Kristof starts his own blogs in China and posts all kinds of things that censors should consider inflammatory — about imprisoned journalists, corruption, Falun Gong, and Tiananmen Square. The censors put asterisks on a few words but the posts stay up. And Kristof says:

All this underscores, I think, that China is not the police state that its leaders sometimes would like it to be; the Communist Party’s monopoly on information is crumbling, and its monopoly on power will follow. The Internet is chipping away relentlessly at the Party, for even 30,000 censors can’t keep up with 120 million Chinese Netizens. With the Internet, China is developing for the first time in 4,000 years of history a powerful independent institution that offers checks and balances on the emperors.

It’s not that President Hu Jintao grants these freedoms, for he has arrested dozens of cyberdissidents as well as journalists. But the Internet is just too big and complex for State Security to control, and so the Web is beginning to assume the watchdog role filled by the news media in freer countries. . . .

He tells the story of blogger Li Xinde, whom he has covered before, going around China “reporting on corruption and human-rights abuses.” In a great game of political wack-a-mole, Mr. Li keeps popping up. He told Kristof:
“They can keep closing sites, but they never catch up. You can’t stop the Yellow River from flowing, and you can’t block the bloggers.”

Put that on a T-shirt and wear it in the Forbidden City.

Kristof concludes:

China’s leaders decided years ago to accept technologies even if they are capable of subversive uses: photocopiers and fax machines at first, and now laptops and text messaging. The upshot is that China is much freer than its rulers would like.

To me, this trend looks unstoppable. I don’t see how the Communist Party dictatorship can long survive the Internet, at a time when a single blog can start a prairie fire.

: These movements and technologies need our support. That’s why I’ve been lambasting or lampooning Yahoo and Google executives over their China policies.

But at last week’s Hyperlinked Society conference, I spent a little time with people who know one helluva lot more about this issue than I do, including Xiao Qiang of the UC-Berkeley China Internet Project and Ethan Zuckerman of Global Voices. I won’t attempt to say what they say for fear of misquoting them. I’ll just give you my own thoughts. First, I’ll try to capture the back-and-forth we see on China and the internet:

The company lines we keep hearing from those who do business in China are (1) that the Chinese people are better off with a crippled internet than no internet at all, and (2) that these companies need to follow local laws. The other line we sometimes hear is that the Chinese people don’t care about politics and don’t want or need these freedoms, but I won’t dignify that with a response.

The problem with hiding behind these company lines is simply that if you never say no to the Chinese government, they will keep doing what they do. Not saying no to them is saying yes.

Many of us wish these companies would take the risk of saying no when China’s dictators demand information that might send people to jail or cripple their services. But the companies and their defenders reply they these are businesses that have an obligation to their shareholders to make money; they can’t pull out of China or even risk having to. Some of us say in return that these companies need to have an ethical compass or else they are damaging not only their ability to look at themselves in the mirror in the morning but also their brands and reputations around the globe — and that is, indeed, a business issue.

But I think it is also up to us to put countervailing pressure, to give these companies cover. The problem in our own First Amendment fight against the so-called Parents Television Council and its lapdogs at the FCC and in Congress is that no one wants to vote in favor of the First Amendment when they can be accused of voting for smut. We need to give them cover; we need to demand our freedom of speech. At a much more urgent level, the same is true for internet companies doing business in China.

It’s fair to say that perhaps these companies should not be expected to do this on their own — to stand up to the world’s biggest dictatorship and their shareholders at the same time, just because they want to be decent. So perhaps it is up to us to put that pressure on by asking that they stand up for principle to protect their trusted relationships with us — their brands and businesses, in short. I’m not talking boycotts and nasty campaigns. Think of this less as an attack on the companies and more as a favor to them. We need to help them out by giving the a reason to stand up and have guts. I’m simply saying that when they try to say no to the Chinese dictators, they need a reason why — because of the pressure around the world supporting freedom of speech for everyone.

That means the first step is to state those principles. I think Amnesty International made a good first step at its Irrepressible.info:

I believe the Internet should be a force for political freedom, not repression. People have the right to seek and receive information and to express their peaceful beliefs online without fear or interference. I call on governments to stop the unwarranted restriction of freedom of expression on the Internet – and on companies to stop helping them do it.

Google and China: On second thought….

Well, give a point to Google. Sergey Brin at least acknowledges that its actions in China conflict with the company’s — let alone this country’s — principles (my emphasis):

Google Inc. co-founder Sergey Brin acknowledged Tuesday the dominant Internet company has compromised its principles by accommodating Chinese censorship demands. He said Google is wrestling to make the deal work before deciding whether to reverse course.

Meeting with reporters near Capitol Hill, Brin said Google had agreed to the censorship demands only after Chinese authorities blocked its service in that country. Google’s rivals accommodated the same demands – which Brin described as “a set of rules that we weren’t comfortable with” – without international criticism, he said.

“We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and perhaps make more of a difference,” Brin said. …

Google’s China-approved Web service omits politically sensitive information that might be retrieved during Internet searches, such as details about the 1989 suppression of political unrest in Tiananmen Square. Its agreement with China has provoked considerable criticism from human rights groups.

“Perhaps now the principled approach makes more sense,” Brin said.

The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday that Google’s main Web site, http://www.google.com , was no longer accessible in most Chinese provinces due to censorship efforts, and that it was completely inaccessible throughout China on May 31.

Brin said Google is trying to improve its censored search service, Google.cn, before deciding whether to reverse course. He said virtually all the company’s customers in China use the non-censored service.

“It’s perfectly reasonable to do something different, to say, ‘Look, we’re going to stand by the principle against censorship and we won’t actually operate there.’ That’s an alternate path,” Brin said. “It’s not where we chose to go right now, but I can sort of see how people came to different conclusions about doing the right thing.”

Well, that beats saying you’re not sure what you’d do about Hitler. At least someone is talking about principles.

I noted the irony the other day that we’re whining about net neutrality here so we can download movies faster and the Chinese are worried about net neutrality so they can speak without ending up in prison. Why was Brin in Washington? To testify for net neutrality here.

Popping the Gubble

Glenn Reynolds wonders whether Google has peaked. Hard to say. It has the clear advantage of weight. But that’s not the point, really. It’s that not that it is big, it can disappoint many by its actions — in China, regarding news sources, and so on. Can a giant still be loved?

: And the related discussion about Yahoo in China continues. See more on Fred Wilson’s blog. And Michael Parekh objects to the tone of that discussion in the comments here. He says:

It’s when commenters like “Christian” on Jeff Jarvis’s post get personal as in this comment on Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel shows:

“Bottom line is Terry Semel is a plain fool.”

Utterly irresponsible and uncalled for comment, in my opinion.

If you’re going to have a debate, do so on the merits or de-merits of the issue. The moment the discourse slips into personal insults, the referee should call the player off the field.

For the record, I think it’s meaningless to rant about select internet companies’ behavior in places like China without thinking about the global context of these issues.

To complain about what Yahoo! and Google are doing there misses the larger point of what ALL multi-nationals from ALL countries doing business in China are doing to compete and succeed for their shareholders.

To pick one or two companies out for complaint seems grossly unfair and besides the point.

In my humble view companies like Yahoo! and Google have done noting wrong, and in fact are doing ALL the people of China a world of good by making better information and communications tools available.

They should be applauded.

I replied:

With all due respect, I think it is just as unproductive to dismiss the discussion as “meaningless” it is to dismiss Semel as a “plain fool.”

The important question here is about limits. Are there limits to what a company should do following the laws of the dictatorship in China? That is what we are trying to figure out. That is an important discussion to have.

So it’s legitimate, I think, to try to find that out via other examples. Would you say it’s OK for a company to have done business in apartheid South Africa, for example? Is it OK for a company to hand over users for exercising what all civilized nations recogize as the human right of free speech if that speech violates the propagandistic stranglehold of a dictatorship?

Just because other companies do it, that doesn’t make it OK, I’m sure you’d agree.

Let us, indeed, have this discussion on the merits.