A recent article by Kara Swisher at All Things D; regarding upcoming changes at Yahoo! got me pondering about what their future could be. The best I’ve been able to come up with is what their future isn’t, and perhaps a general direction as to where they could go.
What Isn’t In Their Future
When looking at Yahoo!, there are some things that are no longer a meaningful part of their future. These are battles that they have fought and lost, and it is time to move one. The first one is search: that battle has been fought, and for better or worse, that world belongs to Google, and to a lesser extent Bing. When people use the word “Google” as the generic verb for searching for stuff on the Internet, you know who won that particular battle. And unlike other brands which have taken on a generic connotation (Kleenex, Band-Aid, both still trademarked terms but still used by a lot of people in a generic way), search isn’t as much of a commodity as you would think. Let’s face it: facial tissue is facial tissue, and except for the logo, the box all looks the same, so people often grab what’s cheapest. But when it comes to search, we’ve configured our browsers to use Google by default. We type google.com when we want to look for things. People actively choose Google, and do so in large numbers. They aren’t choosing Yahoo! I used to use Yahoo! for search, but I got tired of the search page getting more and more cluttered, to the point where finding the search box took effort. With Google, I got what I wanted: a search box, without the extra goo and dreck that came with the yahoo.com home page.
The other thing that is probably gone is ad display. Again, others have managed to take the business and make it better. Again, Yahoo! is becoming a smaller part of that business, and it may be time to take what they have and sell it off to someone else, or simply shut it down.
Also gone: being a portal, a destination for people on the Internet. Facebook has taken that one and run away with it. Along with it goes all of the other Yahoo! sites for things like movie showtimes. It is time to stop pretending Yahoo! is a destination site anymore.
But What Could They Do?
One direction that Yahoo! is looking at, and may have a future, is in content. They already own one of the biggest content providers out there, Flickr. They are apparently bidding for the Canadian TV rights for the 2014 and 2016 Olympic Winter Games. There is still plenty of room for content creation, and Yahoo! may be able to become a large part of that. Granted, they will be up against YouTube for video, but there may be other avenues they can explore that YouTube hasn’t effectively addressed yet.
No matter what, Yahoo! needs to remake the company. Up until now, it appeared to be “try to more of the same, only harder”. Yahoo! under Bartz and Yang seemed to simply be moving forward based on inertia, and not because of active decisions and overt action. Their new CEO is about to make some big changes. Hopefully they are changes in areas where Yahoo! stands a chance of growing and building. If they keep trying to put eggs into a compromised basket (i.e. in things like search and ads), then all they have done is put off the inevitable.