Posts about yahoo

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 . . .

“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.


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,, 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 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’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.