Watching Yahoo struggle forth is an exercise in frustration - like watching the final scene in Gladiator.
Actually, it's worse - because the wounds have been all self-inflicted. First, the board spurned an offer that would have made shareholders rich, and handed control of the company to an entirely new set of people (obviously, this is needed.)
Then in the immediate aftermath, they decide to double down and make the Yahoo content even less navigable, turn their once-great Yahoo Ecosystem (read: APIs) into a befuddling minefield, and make the user experience for advertisers, would-be social media users, and would-be buying customers ever more horrible. Then they topped that dubious set of accomplishments by devaluing the value of a Yahoo user id to the point of worthlessness, relaxing their once-heroic mobile efforts, and removing themselves from serious contention in the cloud, in search technology, and in social media.
Now, they have a new CEO. How long can user forums, email and dusty bookmarks lodged inside ancient PC browsers sustain a business? You're about to find out. Unless Scott Thompson is super-smart, the answer is: not very long. Can he fix it? That all depends - most of the core stuff that could be used to rebuild the business is really, really broken:
1. Yahoo user IDs are worthless, and virtually unusable outside Yahoo
When was the last time a site let you log in using Yahoo? When was the last time you needed to? Yahoo doesn't have a front-and-center strategy that could expand the use of its user identities - I find it consistently easier to log in to Yahoo using Google - than using my Yahoo credentials, and my Yahoo credentials are useless almost anywhere else on the web, either for commerce or access. Bye, bye social network, content-sharing and commerce partnerships.
2. Yahoo's confusing APIs, poor navigation, unreliable results, and "corporate' legal stance make it almost impossible for developers to use them
Yahoo's APIs - once the cutting edge of what was available - are becoming harder to use, license and manage every day. Try finding the billing page within the developer area and you'll instantly know everything you need to about Yahoo's other commercial businesses - and general approach to user interface design. Try understanding how "non-commercial use" expands their business when everyone is speeding in the opposite direction, and I predict you will, like most of us, just give up and try one of the 4,000 other sources of data. And what's with the substantial statistical differences between Yahoo Search results, and the results I'm paying you for? Why don't they match?
By the way, if any of you out there are studying user interface design, and what to see an example of what NOT to do, sign up for Yahoo BOSS (the custom Yahoo search API that is one of the few Yahoo APIs we still use.) I guarantee you will come away from the experience inspired - as in, inspired that there is much still to be done in the world of UX design.
3. Yahoo's own social media presense is zip, zero, nowhere
Sure, Yahoo Finance and News still get lots of hits. But the trend is, more and more, we are getting our news by following the stories that friends recommend on the (non-Yahoo) social networks that are the new web front end. Yahoo 360 has less users than Anderson Cooper has blood-stained white t-shirts. At Heardable, we track over a hundred social networks. With the single exception of Flickr, which remains a great, but internally under-loved service, Yahoo ranks at the very, very bottom.
In fact, when I go take a peek at the new Social Network Utilization Map on Heardable, I can't even find (non-Flickr) Yahoo nets unless I first expand my results to show all 100+ social networks - and then finally, there they are, with almost zero presense. This, on top of a massive email base of tens of millions of users? Unforgiveable! What was Carol Bartz doing the whole time she was there? Did she ever look at the user database, and think "social"? Obviously not...
4. Yahoo Stores need to morph into something more like Facebook Pages, pronto...
If you're a business utilizing Yahoo's commerce, you're probably in one of the few areas of Yahoo that actually does what it says on the box. But how do you make users aware of the fact you exist, outside of Yahoo (and Bing?) Answer: not very easily.
5. Yahoo's advertiser front end sucks - indeed, as evidenced above, Yahoo's front end to virtully every possible customer - sucks
Why is Google so great? Because their user experience is a breeze. I can add advertising to my brand new site in a few minutes, and everything is really well-integrated, from AdWords, through to Google Analytics, site optimization, you name it.
Okay, I'm going to stop here. You get the idea. The problem with Yahoo is it has sat resolutely on its behind and watched the world go by. I'm sure inside Yahoo there were some really caring people who never, ever got a chance to do what they felt was needed. But I'm also sure that there are an equal number of dummies that really need to be shown the door.
On that subject - I had a meeting in Yahoo a few years back and sat in a conference room next to the executive offices. On the massive room-wide white board, someone had laid out Yahoo's corporate strategy. There were many, many interconnecting boxes, reiterating the need over and over again to create a "larger audience for our content" - but seemed to be missing any of the steps that would enable this to happen, including utilizing the brand, user base, or expanding via social media. The map told us everything we needed to know about where Yahoo was headed - i.e. into the abyss.
Can Yahoo be saved? Now is the time for Scott Thompson to start walking the halls and talking with everyone to see who gets it. Time to reach down and find that small band of repressed smart people that still work there. Time to finally give them their chance to make Yahoo great again.
It can be done, but only with a massive, company-wide effort - starting with the firing of the people responsible for this mess, and the hiring of some brilliant internal or external folks (from Facebook?) with great ideas and strong experience in building and sustaining innovative, web-wide user experiences and brands.
Heardable's co-founder and CTO, John Sharp, is also the founder of invitation-based funding platform Hatcher, the former President and CTO of the leading Asia healthcare portal DocDoc, and a veteran entrepreneur, inventor, and investor. John is based in Singapore.