Can Mayer undelete Yahoo!?

Can Mayer undelete Yahoo!?

Summary: Did Yahoo! press the undelete key on its own destiny with the unexpected recruitment of Google product linchpin Marissa Mayer to become its new CEO?

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TOPICS: Cloud, Google
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When I posted here last week under the headline, Twitter, the Yahoo! of its time, I was working on the assumption that Yahoo! was firmly jammed in the trash can of cloud history with no chance of rescue. Events this week have undermined that premature assessment. The appointment of one of Silicon Valley's smartest product strategists, Marissa Mayer, as Yahoo!'s new CEO could be just the undelete action Yahoo! needs, leading to a miraculous turnaround from its current challenges. Readers who encounter my earlier headline in future years may end up scratching their heads wondering what on earth I could have meant, with their hindsight of Yahoo!'s subsequent resurgence.

I have always admired Mayer, ever since learning that she was the custodian of Google's lean, wholly functional home page. At a time when everyone else on the Web was starry-eyed about capturing the attention of Web surfers with glitzy graphics and special effects, it took real strength of mind to realize that what mattered most to Google's users was finding results. In a strategy that went totally counter to the received wisdom of the time, Mayer realized that the less time users spent when visiting Google's website, the more value they would get out of it. That epiphany led directly to the harnessing of AdWords, which made money for Google by sending visitors to other people's websites. It was a masterstroke.

And it was precisely opposite to the strategy Yahoo! pursued and which ultimately failed it, as I outlined last week in my now unwisely titled posting. Mayer has always understood the importance of function and user outcomes. Yahoo! got sidetracked into focusing on content and user distractions. As a result, its most valuable assets have been starved of investment and development.

It's a big gamble whether Mayer can succeed in turning Yahoo! around at such a late stage, especially as she has never led a company and faces a huge leadership task. But I'm inclined to believe Yahoo!'s board have made an inspired choice. What's more, she may have timed her move perfectly to sync with an emerging groundswell against display advertising and its social media successors in favor of a greater focus on delivering value that users pay for. Her challenge is to ensure that Yahoo! really can turn its wasting functional assets into services that can retain their broad appeal while beginning to generate meaningful new revenue streams.

Topics: Cloud, Google

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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4 comments
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  • Mayer and her now-famous Google home page

    Why is everyone in the media reading so much into Mayer's accomplishment of keeping a bare, minimalist home screen for Google?

    Anyone who uses Google today besides web search skips past the home screen. With just a few mouse-clicks, users will get to the other things they need from Google (email, document sharing, location services, etc), and at that point the screen can be quite busy and complex indeed, along with an advert or two.

    Google is phasing out its oddly-named iGoogle, which is the part of Google that most resembles Yahoo's old-school web portal. Should Mayer be employing the same strategy to add more utility and depth to Yahoo's services, and in so doing making it less of a flashing, blinking flea market of banner ads that it is now, then having her onboard is indeed a good thing.
    Tech watcher
  • Wish her the best...

    ...and she is a whole lot easier on the eyes than Yang. :D
    IT_Fella
  • Insert product name here

    Having had the problem once, I know how difficult it is to get people to "think different" about a tired old brand that people think they know.

    If she is truly a product strategist, then she may be precisely what Yahoo needs, because the way out of being a tired old brand is a hot new product. These days, that's probably some new 'social' idea. It needs a cool name, and it needs a pretty heavy introduction (preferably one that keeps the Yahoo name in the background), and it needs to be the right good idea.

    It's not impossible; Steve Jobs did it five times. But I think that's a record. Most people would be happy with one such win.

    It might even be that she unleashes the forces that cause Yahoo to explode toward massive success, and then turns out not to be the person who can manage the growth. That does happen. But that would be OK. She'd still get the credit, and she'd probably walk away with a second $300 million, if not more.
    Robert Hahn
  • ISP's use Yahoo for mail

    My AT&T isp uses Yahoo! for mail, so any discussion of the demise of Yahoo is surely premature. It's not something I use via browser that often but I do use it sometimes.
    Outside of mail I'm not really sure what Yahoo is about. There;s a big building next to Bob Hope Airport with Yahoo! on the side, not sure what goes on there!
    Ashtonian