Yahoo looks outside for Mojo

Yahoo’s Hack Day might have looked a job fair from afar, but the announcements at the show indicate that the company is looking to go outside its campus, and jumpstart its innovation engine.
The hack day comes at a time, when dark clouds are gathering over the Sunnyvale, California-based Company that is always playing catch up with Google. The Economist recently published a story that highlighted Yahoo’s bureaucratic ways.
“Days go by and deals go away,” says an outside adviser to Yahoo! who has sat in on executive meetings. The firm has a “relatively constipated process of reviewing anything,” he says. It is slow and cumbersome and “not an entrepreneurial culture” because Mr Semel is a “low-risk, non-confrontational guy”, says this adviser.
This is in sharp contrast to haphazard, often (and mostly confusing) approach adopted by Google. The long delayed upgrades to their core search/advertising platforms, and other issues are just some of the problems being faced by the company. “We’re past the days of radical innovation where somebody is really going to blow past a competitor,” Chris Sherman of SearchEngineWatch told The Economist. There is the nagging issue of talent flying the coop.
When juxtaposed against this backdrop, Yahoo Hack Day must have some kind of strategic importance. (We will hear from Yahoo some day about that, so for now we are going to speculate 🙂 )

One of the big announcements was BBAuth, or browser based authentication, that will allow developers to build third party apps that access Yahoo data. This is a single sign-on product, though unlike Microsoft Passport, it can work with other sign-on solutions. (This is something which eBay should have done this with its reputation rankings/data, but well, never did, forgetting that eBay’s value is in its authentication reputation system.)
Using this BBAuth, Yahoo can help create an ecosystem of third party apps. In addition, there is that 200 million Yahoo user base that can log into these applications. It could be a real developer magnet, and is getting kudos around the blogosphere. In addition, Flickr also released new APIs for Flickr and Upcoming alongside a Yahoo Mail API. The Mail API is significant in that it is the first of the web mail providers officially providing programmatic access to Mail.
These are good moves – Yahoo will get some more developers paying attention to the company, though I have not had a chance to think about how much of a business impact these moves will have. Mash-ups, and APIs are cool but, in the end they have to be translate into cold hard cash for any publicly translated company. Of course, there are other issues company has to deal with before making a comeback.
(The post includes inputs from Nitin Borwankar, who is following the Yahoo Hack Day this weekend.)