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.