Web 2.0 Conference Day 2: Yahoo! CEO on future of media

Today was a bit more laid back, with all the talks happening in the main auditorium. In practice this meant a lot of people wandered in and out of the talks, to spend time schmoozing and having meetings.

Today was a bit more laid back, with all the talks happening in the main auditorium. In practice this meant a lot of people wandered in and out of the talks, to spend time schmoozing and having meetings. Most of the hallway chatter was about weblogsinc selling to AOL. The man himself, Jason Calacanis, was the networkers main target in the foyer. In general, I've noticed a lot of VCs, geeks, business folks, and companies networking and looking for money. There are also writer-geeks like me - and to be honest I've just been soaking up the whole scene and making copious notes. I will create some more meaningful, analytical posts after the conference.

The most enjoyable talk during the day, for me, was the very first one between John Battelle and Yahoo CEO Terry Semel. The difference in outlook and attitude between Semel and Barry Diller, whose talk with Battelle was yesterday, was stark. Diller's conversation struck me as old-media, 20th century thinking. Semel on the other hand impressed me a lot with his take on what is required for 21st century media. Now, this was my takeaway when drawing comparisons. However I should note that a few other people I talked to thought Diller's talk was very smart and they enjoyed it. It seemed AOL CEO Jonathan Miller agreed, because in his talk he complimented Diller on being a very smart guy - "Barry pays attention". So now I'm wondering if Diller was just acting the old media mogul and deliberately provoking the Web 2.0 audience with his dismissive comments about bloggers and user-generated content. Maybe he was, but either way I was far more impressed with the vision that Terry Semel outlined.

Semel started out by saying that Yahoo! is both a media and tech company - and that's necessary for a 21st century media company. He said that "Yahoo is all about content" and mentioned the 3 different types of content that Yahoo! is focused on: user-generated, professional, and the future of what content may be. On that last point, Semel said that Yahoo! will try to take a leadership position in designing the future of content.

In terms of the competition, Yahoo! will compete with Barry Diller's company in some verticals. But Yahoo will have a much broader selection, due to user-generated content. This seems to gel with Diller's comments yesterday about focusing on so-called professional media content - e.g. Hollywood.

Overall, Yahoo! is attempting to create "a whole new experience" in media and this is a long-term vision. Semel will judge Lloyd Braun, head of the Yahoo! media group, on results in 12-18mths and not rush to a judgment.

There was also a significant amount of discussion on Yahoo!'s competition with Google. Semel says Google has done great with search, but they don't have the pillars of Yahoo! - meaning content, personalization, communications, shopping, and other media-focused things. Even though Google is "starting to look like more of a portal" (referencing all the things Google is doing currently), Semel rates Google as the number 4 portal only. He said Google has lots of beta products, but "so far don't seem to have a real plan". 

Semel also thinks Yahoo is monetizing better than Google, saying that communications products and content are the 2 main forms of monetization. He also said Yahoo! will "always be more open than they [Google] are".

In summary, Semel thinks there is a big change happening on the Internet - deeper engagement, more time spent, more user satisfaction will be keys in the current and coming era. Things like personalization, community, content on platforms, search. He thinks Yahoo! has a "much richer experience" than Google - and that Yahoo! has much more diversified model, which is well-positioned for user-generated content, community, etc.  Indeed he said that user-generated content is "of utmost importance" to Yahoo! - "gigantic piece of what we do". 

"Content in general is going to be more and more important", said Semel. New media requires new paradigms, going forward. And Semel thinks Yahoo! won't have to choose between user-generated and professional content - the market and users will decide and Yahoo!'s goal is to monetize as much as possible.

ZDNet's Dan Farber is also blogging from the conference.

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