Then and now: 5 years ago, Yahoo! was 'Web-office curious'

Then and now: 5 years ago, Yahoo! was 'Web-office curious'

Summary: While using Google this morning to hunt down a story that I once wrote about mysterious cybersquatting practices, I came across a news item circa 2001 with the headline Yahoo hints at Web-based office tools.  In that story, Stefanie Olsen wrote:Yahoo is testing demand for a new paid service that would feature Web-based word processing and other office applications, a move that could boost much-needed subscription revenue in the face of an anemic online ad market....

TOPICS: Browser

While using Google this morning to hunt down a story that I once wrote about mysterious cybersquatting practices, I came across a news item circa 2001 with the headline Yahoo hints at Web-based office tools.  In that story, Stefanie Olsen wrote:

Yahoo is testing demand for a new paid service that would feature Web-based word processing and other office applications, a move that could boost much-needed subscription revenue in the face of an anemic online ad market....The giant online portal is hosting a survey on its Web site that asks questions based on a hypothetical "full-featured suite of office productivity tools available online through a browser, handheld devices and Web-enabled cell phones."..."Combined with online file storage, this application allows you to access and edit all your files from anywhere at any time. You would also be able to grant access to your document to others," the survey page reads.... The addition of Web-based office tools would extend Yahoo's foray into small-business and office products.

The size of the market for Web-based office applications is unclear. Microsoft's Office dominates the PC market, facing only weak competition from rivals such as Sun Microsystems' StarOffice and Corel's WordPerfect....Yahoo's tool suite could include such applications as word processing and spreadsheets. It also could allow people to import and export Microsoft Office and Adobe PDF files. It may also include 15MB of storage, with "the ability to purchase additional storage as you go," according to the survey....Consumers could also store images on Yahoo and give friends the keys to access the files. It would also let consumers create directories of files, letting them control access to some documents and keep others private.

Yahoo has been hammered by the dot-com wipeout, which has sharply cut its revenues and earnings. In January, the company trimmed revenue expectations from $1.42 billion to between $700 million and $775 million. Its stock price has plummeted from a 52-week high of about $106 to less than $10 a share....Yahoo's efforts to augment advertising with other revenue sources have shown few results so far. In its second-quarter earnings call, the company said it expects advertising to account for 80 percent of its revenue this year, down slightly from about 85 percent in 2000.

You have to read the whole story to get a full appreciation for how far ahead of its time Yahoo really was in 2001.  And to think it didn't act on some of these great instincts until just recently.  Today, it has no Web office offering to speak of.  While Yahoo still has a service for online storage (Yahoo! Briefcase), it almost never gets mentioned amidst the bumper crop of independently launched services or Google's GDrive.  And then "granting access to your documents to others?".... can anybody say "BitTorrent" or "Napster?" 

Today, the market conditions for Microsoft Office are a wee bit different.  It may still have the same dominating presence. But the pressure to break loose that dominating grip on both the file format front (where its competitors have finally figured out how to gang up on the Redmond-based software front with OpenDocument) and the Web-based Office front with its growing number of solutions from individuals like Dan Bricklin (wikiCalc) to big outfits like Google (as the Web becomes a more viable platform for Office-like productivity) has never been more intense.  Imagine where it would be today if Yahoo! had already been in the market for five years with its own offering. 

And then, the idea of image sharing and giving friends access to them.  Actually, Yahoo! Photos has been around since at least 2001 (I found an old press release dating back to December 2001).  But, I can't help but think how things might have been different for Yahoo had it really invested in some of these services that it was already running or contemplating in 2001.

On the Wall St. front, Yahoo still appears to be having it's share of advertising woes.  Yahoo apparently gets more page views than any other site in the world but is having difficulty monetizing them.  Meanwhile, Google with its fewer page views has blown right by Yahoo over the last few years.  Yesterday, Yahoo! met earnings expections but its stock plunged nearly 14 percent in after-hours trading after it announced that it's new advertising platform wouldn't be ready until later this year.  In a story that pictures former ZDNet CEO (now Yahoo! COO) Dan Rosensweig, Michael Liedtke of the Canadian Press wrote:

The backlash intensified during an analyst conference call when Yahoo management revealed a much-anticipated change in its formula for displaying ad links will be delayed by at least three months....Investors have been eagerly awaiting the new ad platform, hoping the improvements would enable Yahoo to do a better job displaying short ads for Yahoo's audiences to click. The clicks on those ads, which typically appear as text on the top and sides of webpages, are critical because they trigger commissions for Yahoo and its partners....Google's financial growth during the past two years has outstripped Yahoo's partly because it had developed a better formula for determining which ads to display alongside search results - an advantage that even Yahoo's own management has conceded.....Yahoo now doesn't expect its new approach to be available until the fourth quarter, pushing back the potential financial benefits until early next year.

The bigger picture -- the one where Yahoo! appeared to have the right vision but only dipped its toes in the water (and failed to establish market leadership based on innovation) and the one where the company still appears to be reacting ever so slowly to its competition -- seems to beg the question of whether Yahoo! is a bit laggardly given what its truly capable of. 

Topic: Browser

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  • Ahead of their time?

    At that time, I'd thought web-office tools were inevitable. I remember hearing about how everyone was racing to deliver these subscription-based office tools. Everything seemed to be pointing that direction. In addition to Yahoo's storage solutions, there was also Freedrive, dialpad, and all web-based solutions that suggested that the office was going to be moved onto the internet. Only in the last couple years, though, have those promises started to become really feasible. I think Yahoo Photos was around in some form long before 2001, maybe as an extension of Yahoo Briefcase?

    It cracks me up that Google is delivering on all of Yahoo's past promises.
  • How MS plans to counter Web Apps Threat

    [url=,1895,1990126,00.asp]MS appears to be countering the threat of web apps using a range of technologies[/url] from its Atlas / AJAX tool, to WPF/E, to WPF / .Net 3.0 (formerly known as WinFX). I suspect its Atlas / AJAX tool is primarily to build web applications for users with low speed Internet connections, while its WPF/E and WPF tools are primarily for users with high speed Internet connections. [url=]MS? WPF/E tools[/url] are for building web applications across several OS platforms, that make strong use of the client?s resources. These web applications are what some refer to as Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). These WPF/E RIAs I expect will live inside or outside the browser, and be as responsive as desktop applications, and many of them will support offline use. WPF/E RIAs will have access to a subset of the features present in WPF / .Net 3.0. WPF / .Net 3.0 web apps or RIAs will differ from WPF/E RIAs in that they won?t be cross platform, and will only be able to run on Vista, Win XP, and Win Server 2003. These RIAs will however have full access to WPF / .Net 3.0 APIs, and allow for staggeringly rich interaction with the user ? including sophisticated 3D manipulation of data, and high quality video display. (Read [url=]here[/url] for more information on MS' WPF / .Net 3.0 RIA technology that lives in the browser.)

    The above gives MS and its partners a way to undermine the threat of AJAX web apps, by building their own AJAX web apps, and by also building RIA counterparts that are as rich as regular desktop apps, but with all the advantages of competing AJAX apps. Therefore MS can e.g. continue to develop its AJAX Hotmail / Windows Live App, while also providing a WPF/E counterpart that lives in the browser that is as responsive as its desktop client, and maybe another WPF /E counterpart that lives on the desktop. This would allow people who use a range of computers that generally have a high speed connection, to always be able to use a very responsive email client.

    The above also allows for many interesting things like Office allowing you to save your data across the Internet, and do collaboration with others over the Internet. If there is demand for it, MS could allow users to gain access to hosted versions of Office, or lightweight RIA versions of Office that live in the browser. Partners could build blogging RIAs with management features that are extensions of Office, with readers providing magazine quality layouts, whose content could be read offline. Far more sophisticated versions of YouTube, Amazon, MSNBC e.g. could be created in a fraction of the time it takes to create the current versions of the web apps.

    Therefore I see no real threat to MS software from current day desktop counterpart web apps. Rather I see MS making available the power of the rich client, to dramatically improve current day web applications.
    P. Douglas
    • Dizzying array of acronyms

      WPF = Windows Presentation Foundation
      WPF/E = WPF/Everywhere

      • It's like doing contract work for the military

        P. Douglas
    • By Far...

      P. Douglas, your comments are by far the smartest made on this subject. The broweser is a terrible platform for running applications and RIA applications is the way to go with office type applications.
      • Thanks. (NT)

        P. Douglas