Simplicity or Just Simple: Pundits Give Advice to Yahooliganette

July 19, 2012

I use Yahoo mail. Not much else now. The reason has to do with the interface, the annoying weird stuff which appears when I check my aging My Yahoo page, and the awkward 1995, Excite-style of portal clutter.

Yahoo has zoomed through CEOs, search strategies, open source plays, and acquisitions. I finally ignored the company. It was just an AOL with a different color scheme. Now like AOL, it has a Xoogler at the helm. I wish the new boss well in her job, her new life adventure, and her juggling mom stuff with Yahoo stuff.

A clueless adult provides inputs to a child. Poobahs and pundits embrace this approach to help Yahoo become a powerhouse again. How is that working out, I wonder? A happy quack to

I read two articles from hugely popular “real” journalistic wizards in big company management. I want to comment on each of the poobah’s insights and then wrap up with a few observations from Harrod’s Creek. If you are a fan of mavens and mystics, you should stop reading now. Why not license a predictive analytics system and get on with your life. That software stuff is going to take over the world anyway.

“How Can Yahoo Be Saved?”

The write up is by Doug Gross of that business centric CNN. I saw the title and automatically converted it to “How Can CNN Be Saved?”, but I digress.

The main point of the CNN analysis struck me as the nugget in this passage:

By selecting Mayer over interim CEO Ross Levinsohn, Yahoo could be tipping its hand as to what users can expect. Levinsohn’s background is in content, such as Yahoo News and related offerings such as Yahoo Voices (formerly Associated Content, a publishing platform that’s been criticized as a low-quality “content farm.”) Mayer, meanwhile, comes from a product-development background. In her 13 years at Google she helped create the look of a number of services, from Gmail to Google Maps.

Now there are some amazing quotes in the write up. Let me highlight one which shows the laser like thinking that one brings to saving Yahoo:

“Yahoo!’s fundamental problem is that it has too many disparate products with no clear unifying thread that ties them all together,”analyst Shar VanBoskirk of Forrester Research wrote on the company’s blog this week. VanBoskirk, who has followed Yahoo closely, said Mayer must be open to killing the company’s lesser products as she seeks to move things in the right direction.

Yep, an azure chip consultant suggesting that Yahoo kill products. I had to sit down and catch my breath due to the intellectual stimulation.

Now to write up number two.

As The Yahoo-Microsoft Search Alliance Falls Short, Could A Yahoo-Google Deal Emerge?

The expert, Danny Sullivan, sees a solution in search. Well, maybe. I thought that there were some structural changes in “findability” with the advent of mobile gizmos, but search is where success lies. Here’s the nugget passage I noted:

I hate math, but let’s do some. We have a mystery gap in April that got reduced by 20% after a quarter, then a further 10% after a second quarter of work. Now after a third quarter of work, it’s been closed from what sounds like 5 to 9 percent. It’s like one of those approaching infinity exercises. Each quarter that passes, the gap is only closed by half as much as the quarter before. You’ll never get there!

The argument seems to be that the Yahoo Microsoft deal is not a money spinner. Wow. I thought that when Yahoo’s search traffic declined, the company would just mint solid gold coins. Again I had to take a breath and sit down to calm my heart. Imagine. Yahoo losing revenue from search.

My Observations

I think it was reasonably wise of Yahoo’s top show dogs to not choose either the CNN or the Search Engine Land analyst. Finally, a wise choice by the Yahoo board of directors. My observations are:

  1. Yahoo is following the trajectory of AOL and other sunset online companies. There is not much that be done to restore these gems to the days of CD carpet bombing glory or the Yahoo yodel. The challenges are related to existing software infrastructure and to market needs.
  2. Xooglers are not automatically wonderful managers. Google is spawning Xooglers who do start ups. Some will succeed and some will fail. There is no magic wand that makes every Xoogler a success. Assuming that the Xoogler running Yahoo will deliver a knock out blow is okay, but we have zero data at this time. Hope is good. Hope does not generate revenue.
  3. Search is a little bit yesterday. Search really means online advertising, not precision and recall in results. So let’s just make sure we know that “search” really means finding a way to generate eyeballs so that online advertising actually works with its miserable click through rates. I am not sure sticking in Google search will do the job. Did I mention that search was “yesterday.” Oh, sorry.
  4. Firing people sure is easy when you are in a blue chip management consulting firm and you are paid to “hit the numbers.” Firing people when you are the boss is risky in the Twitter and Facebook world. In fact, it is tough to kill off full timers in some countries. The notion of getting rid of people is not necessarily the jet pack to success. The idea is to create products and services which people want. Forcing a product or service down users’ throats sort of works. I am thinking about Google+, a whether-you-want-it-or-not service in my opinion.

To wrap up, the articles are not the products of seasoned management thought. The outputs are the work of “real” journalists. I admit that I am an addled goose, not a journalist, and pretty much unfazed by the craziness in the mall called the Internet.

What troubles me is that hoo-hah becomes received wisdom. Scary. Even more frightening that Yahoo’s new president not returning to work after her life changing event. Unlikely? Sure. Is this a wild card factor? For some investors it may well be. Yahoo is now up $ 0.03. (July 19, 2012). Oh, the Dow Jones finished up 34 points. I thought a rising tide lifted all Yahoos. No that’s too simple, which is exactly the type of analysis which gives predictive analytics, sentiment analysis, and next-generation search its silliness.

Stephen E Arnold, July 20, 2012

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One Response to “Simplicity or Just Simple: Pundits Give Advice to Yahooliganette”

  1. Yahoo! has some PLM problems… Really? on July 24th, 2012 12:07 am

    […] PLM. However, the follow writeup made by Steve Arnold, one of favorite Google researchers – Simplicity or Just Simple: Pundits Give Advice to Yahooliganette. The article itself worth reading. Mark it for your next weekend. The following two passages caught […]

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