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.