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Yahoo: The Ghosts of Christmas Past

January 2, 2015

I read “The Day Marissa Mayer’s Honeymoon at Yahoo Ended.” The write up did not mention Ms. Mayer’s penchant for arriving late. That’s a plus. The article states:

Why was Mayer throwing away all the goodwill she had earned with a series of policies that were, at best, poorly rolled out and badly explained to employees or, at worst, plain mistakes. They wondered, more seriously than at any time since she joined, if Mayer was actually up for the job of saving Yahoo.

What Ms. Mayer did, however, as many in attendance will recall, was read a children’s book. The article points out:

No one understood what Mayer was trying to say.

The article walks through a number of interesting managerial actions, including the variation on Neutron Jack’s winnowing of the troops in GE’s business units. Yep, he actually yelled in the meeting I had the thrill of attending. He also turned red. I know that fear was part of the method. Did not work for me, however.

The article provides a useful list of Googley actions that used to work at the GOOG. At Yahoo, the shadow of Semel created a different ethos. Resignation? Indifference? I am not sure.

If you want more about missteps, you will be interested in the book the article promotes. Why not advertise on Yahoo?

In my opinion, Yahoo is wending its way to the same fate that befell Lycos. Is there a Marley amongst the Yahooligans?

Stephen E Arnold, January 2, 2015

Will Two Xooglers Burnish Yahoo?

November 12, 2014

I read an exclusive story. Know how I know the story is “exclusive”? Here’s the title:

Exclusive: Some Unhappy Yahoo Investors Asking AOL for Rescue

Obviously you have to read the foundation’s exclusive. I want to focus on a different question: Can two former Google executives repair Yahoo’s revenues? I am less than optimistic. I used an illustration in one of the briefings I did during the era of Terry Semel. The picture featured a sinking ship with Mr. Semel’s face Photoshopped into a captain’s uniform.

As I pointed out years ago, once an Internet portal service loses its momentum, flat-lining is the upside. The downside is a slow, gentle drift into irrelevance. So the answer to the question, in my opinion, is, “Long shot.”

I like to recall Yahoo’s former chief technology officer railing me on a conference call about Yahoo’s super-advanced search technology. How is that working out?

Stephen E Arnold, November 12, 2014

Will Yahoo Oust Its Xoogler?

October 3, 2014

I read “Yahoo Turns to Ad Agencies Amid Calls for Change – Report.” On the surface, Yahoo wants to hire a pod of pros to brush up the Yahoo brand. What ever happened to the Yahooo! crafted by that fellow from Big Bear. I liked that yodel.

But tucked into the wordage was this passage:

Alternative Investment Management & Research, in a letter that said Mayer should consider selling at least a large chunk of Yahoo to Japan-based telecommunications company SoftBank — and allowing that firm’s CEO, Masayoshi Son, to run Yahoo.

That old Google magic does not seem have much of an impact on Alternative Investment Management & Research.

Would Masayoshi Son do a better job with Yahoo?

My hunch is that this type of thought plus others are zipping around the Yahooligan stakeholders. Why not hook up with Xoogler run America Online. That outfit still derives a chunk of its revenues from dial up modems. Do two Xooglers a Warren Buffet make?

Stephen E Arnold, October 4, 2014

Yahoo Kills Its Directory

September 28, 2014

Yahooooo. Remember that sound. Once it was a happy yodel. Soon it will be a howl of agony. The Directory created by the original Yahoos, Messrs. Filo and Yang is to be terminated with extreme prejudice. The top Xoogler has decided I learned in “Yahoo to Shut Down Another Batch of Products as Activist Investor Pushes for AOL Acquisition.” The Directory spawned Web search. Web search spawned online advertising. Online advertising created the environment that killed precision and recall. In 20 years, finding information related to what the user actually wanted arrived and will soon depart.

The article asserts:

Directory, meanwhile, is one of Yahoo’s oldest services. As the name suggests, Directory is basically a directory listing designed to help users find the types of websites they’re looking for. Years ago, services like this were a valuable resource but times have certainly changes and Directory will come to an end on December 31.

My hunch is that Yahoo itself may experience the departure of a senior executive in about the same time frame. And the AOL clarion call? Two aged sparrows do not a peacock make.

Stephen E Arnold, September 28, 2014

Yahoo: Searching for Luck

September 23, 2014

I read “An Insider’s Account of the Yahoo-Alibaba Deal.” I found it interesting. The one factor not mentioned was luck. The write up explains some of the deal context. My hunch is that Yahoo was  in the right place at the right time with Jerry Yang, who hit it off with Alibaba’s founder. Why discount luck in a Harvard Business Review article? Easy. Few MBAs and their ilk want to admit that chance generated a positive payoff.

What about Yahoo in the post Alibaba IPO environment?

According to “Welcome to the Strange, Upside-Down World of Yahoo after the Alibaba IPO,”

According to another analysis, by Nicholas Carlson of Business Insider, the rest of Yahoo really is worth nothing at all, after subtracting its stake in Yahoo Japan (a separate company) and its cash reserves. What this means for Mayer is that she’s in the strange position of running a company whose core business the stock market values at less than zero. Yet she has a pile of cash and a site that is one of the most popular on the Internet, attracting over one billion visitors per month, and generating $4.62 billion in advertising revenue over the last year.

If accurate, Yahoo may need some more of that rarely mentioned key to business success—luck.

Stephen E Arnold, September 23, 2014

Yahoo Concentrates On Local Search

September 10, 2014

One search trend that is proving profitable is local search. Users want search results that correspond to their immediate areas, rather than generic, global results. To cash in this market, “Yahoo Acquires Startup Zofari To Bolster Local Search” says CNet. Zofari is a local search startup that recommends places to visit. Zofari pulls its data from Foursquare and user provider data about what they like, similar to Pandora and Netflix. Zofari even acknowledges these services inspired it.

“The purchase is just one of more than 40 that CEO Marissa Mayer has made since she took the reins at Yahoo more than two years ago, but it’s aligned specifically with the company’s desire to build out its mobile search offerings. The buy comes at a time when Yahoo’s display ad sales — an important financial metric, though becoming less en vogue as users move to mobile devices — fell 7 percent last quarter.”

Mayer has been testing new ways to save Yahoo. She has saved the company from drowning, but it is still flipping about to compete with Google. Yahoo’s problems go deeper than anyone suspected, but acquisitions like Zofari could possibly strengthen it.

Whitney Grace, September 10, 2014
Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Yahoo Flickr Images: Does Search Work?

August 31, 2014

I think you know the answer if you are a regular reader of Beyond Search.


Finding images is a tedious and time consuming business. I know what the marketing collateral and public relations noise suggests. One can search by photographer, color, yada, yada.

The reality is that finding an image requires looking at images. Some find this fun, particularly if the client is paying by the hour for graphic expertise. For me, image search underscores how primitive information retrieval tools are.

Feel free to disagree.

To test Yahoo Flickr search, navigate to “Welcome to the Internet Archive to the the Commons.” Check out the sample entry to the millions of public domain images.


Darned meaty.

To search the “Commons”, one has to navigate to the Commons page and scroll down to the search box highlighted in yellow in this screenshot:


Enter a query like this one “18th century elocution.”

Here’s what the system displayed:


I then tried this query “london omnibus 1870”.

Here’s what the system displayed:


No omnibuses.

Like many image retrieval systems, the user has to fiddle with queries until images are spotted by manual inspection.

The archive is useful. Finding images in Yahoo Flickr remains a problem for me. I thought Xooglers knew quite a bit about search. You know: Finding information when the user enters a key word or two.

Stephen E Arnold, August 31, 2014

The Perks and Pitfalls of a Yahoo/ AOL merger

August 1, 2014

An article on re/code titled Two Years and Still Stuck in a Revenue Rut, Will Yahoo’s Mayer Bite the AOL Bullet? attempts to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the possible merger. The sight of Mayer and AOL’s Armstrong chatting during the Allen & Co. conferences in Sun Valley proved too exciting for some reporters, who jumped to the conclusion that the two old friends were making a deal. While making it very clear that the merger is entirely hypothetical at this point, this article makes an argument for the perks of getting Yahoo and AOL together. The article states,

“AOL and Yahoo have very similar businesses and could easily combine them…Internally at both companies, this is not seen as a completely bad idea — both share numerous advertising overlaps, content overlaps, video overlaps and too many employees doing the same thing. In addition, Mayer could certainly use a decent exec she actually knows well like Armstrong at the top (presumably, him CEO, her chairman).”

However, the article also points out some hedging by Mayer who has made some comments about the possible merger being boring and “backward-looking.” On the other hand, if Mayer wants the Huffington Post, she may have to take AOL along with it. So the article is inconclusive. Will AOL and Yahoo finally get married? Can two Xooglers (former Googlers) make one scion named Revenue?

Chelsea Kerwin, August 01, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Yahoo Acquisitions: A Hunch about Why

May 8, 2014

I read “Yahoo Spent More Than Anyone on Acquisitions in 2013, but Why?” At dinner tonight several colleagues and I discussed Yahoo’s buying spree. The article surmises:

There has to be rhyme and reason for Yahoo to have picked up these companies, even if it was just to keep talent from the likes of Google or Facebook. In the continued push for Yahoo to be more mobile and contextual, we should look forward to a Yahoo stacked with both talent and money in 2014.

That’s a positive view. The thoughts of the ArnoldIT conversation drifted a different direction; for example:

  • Yahoo is taking advantage of the “bet on a bunch of horses.” The notion is that one or more will be winners
  • Yahoo is just doing stuff to demonstrate that it has direction, intent, and purpose. In short, the deals are Wall Street theatre, just way off Broadway
  • The Silicon bubble is a habitat that encourages gorging.

Financial results may shine a light on the actions.

Stephen E Arnold, May 8, 2014

Yahoo and Search

February 24, 2014

Yahoo may not be able to wriggle out of the Microsoft Bing search deal. Microsoft may not be m making much progress in catching Google, and Yahoo may want to swizzle a different spin on Web search. Microsoft’s voice enabled technology seems to be disappointing Ford. The US auto maker may be embracing BlackBerry’s QNX system. Yep, BlackBerry, a stellar outfit in my experience. Microsoft has some issues to resolve particularly if it loses a major account to the shareholder-pleasing Waterloo, Ontario company.

I read “Yahoo Launches $10 Million Research Effort to Invent a Smarter Siri.” I find the notion that a large company can invent voice search that is “better” than another voice search system interesting. Google has a voice search system, and there are a number of companies eager to make their voice search technology available to Yahoo. But Yahoo apparently has confidence in Carnegie Mellon University, the outfit that delivered Lycos, Vivisimo, and Claritech to information seekers in the past.

According to the Technology Review article:

Ron Brachman, head of Yahoo Labs, says that he expects the InMind project to experiment with apps that are capable of rudimentary conversation—for example, asking a person follow-up questions and making suggestions based on new information. “This is missing from Siri,” he says, adding that although Apple’s personal assistant is impressive, it doesn’t attempt to understand the context in which it is being asked a question: it doesn’t understand what the user is doing or might need at the moment.

With Web search shifting to mobile like iron filings following a magnet, users find typing less facile on a mobile device. Will Yahoo crack the code in five years with the help of the CMU professors and students?

Five years is a long time. Like Facebook and Google, Yahoo may find it more expedient to start buying voice recognition companies and licensing available technology. WhatsApp, a company that Facebook bought in February, promptly said, it would not change. I learned today that Facebook will be adding voice calls to WhatsApp. How long did that “will not change” statement endure? WhatsApp did not have five days.

Yahoo may not have five years.

Stephen E Arnold, February 24, 2014

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