Tripping the Yahoo Fantastic

Its like being standing on the corner of downtown San Francisco. Limos dropping off potential partners, busy valets, and people just milling around with rollon suitcases. A man standing patiently, waiting with a 2Wire set-top box, hoping to get out of the crowds. Even the gift shop, just beyond the ugly purple bull is doing brisk business. The polite receptionist is doing her best to get everyone with a tired smile, normally associated with the end of a working day. Sun, is not even half-way through its daily journey. Welcome to the fast growing world of Yahoo! At the end of the third quarter they had 8000 employees, and the actual number might be up to 10,000. Who knows! The buildings are packed. Things are changing so fast, that new employees are being tagged, NEW HIRE.

Mojo is still at work, six months later.

Check out some of the internal posters they have, and you realize that the aircraft carrier has turned. It might not be as obvious, but the biggest change has been under the hood. Six months later, things have become complicated as well.

I think the company will, sooner or later, will have to answer a question it has not asked itself thus far: What is Yahoo?

  • Is it a search company?
  • Is it a VoIP company?
  • Is it a digital music company?
  • Is it a content company?
  • Is it a digital photo company?
  • Is it a mobile application company?
  • Is it a broadband portal?
  • Is it an email provider?
  • Is it my daily page?

The answer is that it is a bit of everything. And when you are a bit of everything, it is hard to say who you really are.

Yahoo sometimes reminds me of General Electric. Sometimes I think of it as a consumer giant, just like P&G. Instead of selling soaps, shampoos and creams, it sells email services, digital radio and other online experiences. A very senior executive told me that if you counted the number of people who use many different services of Yahoo, then Yahoo could be the fourth most populous country on the planet.

Even a hardcore cynic like me has to say …. wow!

It is easy to overlook nearly a decade of life folks, many not living in the hot house of Silicon Valley, have invested in MyYahoo. Google, Microsoft and all the upstart pretenders will have a tough time replacing that investment, Ajax or no Ajax. (Perhaps that’s why Yahoo should not look over its shoulder ever five seconds!) The very ordinariness is what is Yahoo’s strength. Wharton School of Business perhaps is right that Yahoo might just fly under the radar as Google and Microsoft duke it out.

No, that is not good enough. What Yahoo needs is an ability to form an emotional connection with its users. Instead of being just MyYahoo users, they should have a religious fervor with Yahoo’s services. Like Apple has with its community, despite its flaws and foibles. Or the way TiVo inspires the TiVoted! Why even Microsoft, Bell Companies and Google elicit a range of emotion.

The opening up of the company, as beautifully chronicled by Erick in The Flickrization of Yahoo, is a start. Attempting a unified look and experience could be next. Mojo turned to love for Austin Powers, and it must for Yahoo. At the end of the day, as I waited for my cab, the crowds still bustled around me. Around somewhere in my tired brain, a though rattled, just like me, Yahoo was waiting. I just can’t say for what or for whom….

Graphics via Business 2.0