Can Yahoo leverage its 'science and data'?

Blake Irving, chief product officer at Yahoo, said the company's best asset may be its "science and data that exists." The challenge: Leveraging that data.

Blake Irving, chief product officer at Yahoo, said the company's best asset may be its "science and data that exists." The challenge: Leveraging that data.

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecommunications conference, Irving was asked about Yahoo's challenges. Like his boss, Carol Bartz, Irving made the distinction between what Silicon Valley thinks of Yahoo vs. what the rest of the world thinks about the company.

Then Irving said something interesting:

Spending time with the folks at Yahoo!, I started to uncover some other strengths that I frankly didn't know were there -- the amount of science and data that exists. The way that the research organization communicates with the product team is unlike any company I've worked at before, whether it be Xerox many years ago, or Microsoft the last role that I played.

The research organization and the scientists exists on that and the product organization work very, very closely together.

Traditionally, technology companies have a transom that exists between these organizations as researchers try to get information, get ideas and code and technology into the engineering organization. It's buffeted by engineers saying "Oh look, I know how to do that already."

At Yahoo!, I found this amazing, collaborative group of folks that were trying to work with each other in as meaningful a way as possible to get technology in.

Now Irving may have just been spinning investors, but the point is notable. Of course, Yahoo has a ton of data. Obviously, the company needs to leverage that science better. If Yahoo had leveraged that science and data it would have been Google already.

What's the problem? Irving said there was no one coherent strategy. Yahoo had a bunch of brainiacs running around willy nilly. Irving's product focus goes like this:

Yahoo!, at its core, is the premier digital media company. It's simple. That's it. We're the premier digital media company. That doesn't mean that we are a traditional media company that's producing magazines. It means that we are a digital technological company that produces media. Media in the vernacular of the Internet is e-mail, it's crowd-sourced, it's conversations that happen whether it's in the social media site or whether it's media that served from a crowd sourced editor or somebody who is an editorial using a series of digital publishing tools and surfacing that content around the world. So there's, I think, a misunderstanding of what media is. Really when you're talking about the digital landscape and you're talking about the Internet, just about everything you touch is media, whether I produce it myself and communicate with a few people or it's an editor reaching tens of millions of people.

At this point, Irving is talking mostly about blocking and tackling. Taking a strategy and executing on it with processes. A few key points from Irving:

  • Yahoo is focusing on its platform and building sites in a common way. This common platform will be the base of future Yahoo sites. "We'll roll 135 sites on top of that common infrastructure," said Irving. Of those sites, 85 will replace existing sties and 50 of them will be brand new targeting a specific region or demographic. "It allows us to move a heckuva lot more quickly on to new things and allows us to lower maintenance costs on the back end," said Irving.
  • The company's tablet strategy is examining media consumption habits. Irving said smartphones and tablets are different Yahoo's strategy will reflect that fact. "The tablet, for us, is another media consumption device primarily built for media consumption. Yes, I know there's a lot of folks in here that are entering their notes on a tablet today, probably more people in this room typing on glass than on keyboards, or about the same amount," said Irving. "But the primary benefit of that device is it gives you the ability to have an interactive experience that is deeply personal, that can be, frankly, a magazine with a digital -- with digital video inside it, and you can actually transact with it as well."