News Corp.’s Jon Miller took a potshot at Yahoo this morning at IGNITION, saying that the company is caught between being a media company and a technology company, and that it has to “get religion” about something.But recently, Yahoo’s been fairly clear about what it is: a content company.
On stage at Web 2.0 last month, CEO Carol Bartz said Yahoo is focused on content. Bijan Marashi, who sold his company Xoopit to Yahoo in 2009 and worked closely with Bartz and other executives like Chief Product Officer Blake Irving before leaving the company recently, put it even more plainly in an interview: “Yahoo isn’t trying to be Google. Yahoo’s a content company, and great at it.”
Technology is important to personalise that content to users, but editors are important as well–for instance, no algorithm could have predicted that users would be interested in the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year, since a similar event hadn’t happened in a long time.
Marashi, who is now working on a new startup, pointed to sites like omg!, Shine, and Citizen Sports as examples of the kind of specialised niche content that Yahoo is good at creating (or acquiring). He also said that the Yahoo’s home page products–like My Yahoo–are the best and most widely used in the industry, with hundreds of millions of visitors per month.
So what about communications, like Yahoo Mail, which got a major revamp in October. Marashi acknowledged that Mail is still a big area of focus, and will be getting updated more frequently moving forward. And why not? Yahoo Mail has had the largest userbase of any email service for 14 years running. It would be crazy for the company to give it up.
So what’s Yahoo NOT doing? Marashi pointed out two things:
- Search technology. The deal with Microsoft allowed Yahoo to offload the very expensive work of indexing the Web and maintaining search algorithms while still giving Yahoo most of the financial benefits–at least 88% of search revenues on all searches conducted through Yahoo’s sites. He hinted that most people were coming to Yahoo Search through its content sites, not the other way around–it’s not like people were using Yahoo as their one-stop search page like they do with Google.
- Social networking. Yahoo’s main focus is helping people improve their personal, private bonds–the kinds of individual interactions that happen in email, SMS, and instant messaging.
Yahoo isn’t ignoring social entirely–the company did acquire Indonesian location-based social network Koprol in May, but that was more to expand its footprint into a relatively new market. But Yahoo isn’t about to layer social features onto a product that people expect to be more about private one-to-one interactions.
Marashi agreed that Yahoo has a perception problem in the media, and that’s making recruiting harder than it should be given all the interesting stuff going on behind the scenes. But that’s because Yahoo is being compared against companies like Facebook and Google. Sure, they’re But they aren’t in the content business.
Of course, Yahoo still competes with Google and Facebook for advertising dollars and talent, and those companies are growing faster. But at least Yahoo now knows how it’s trying to compete: by delivering great, relevant content to a huge audience. You can argue that it’s the wrong strategy, but don’t argue that they’re unfocused.
Marashi also expressed a personal opinion that taking the company private (as has been suggested) might be helpful, as it would let Yahoo plan more for the long-term instead of having to show immediate quarterly growth for every new product and acquisition. He has no idea if Bartz and the board are actually considering it, though.
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