On Yahoo's Mojo & The Tiresome Need For Perspective

I'd largely agree with Om Malik's idea that Yahoo is a sharper company that seen in the past, which he addresses in his How Yahoo Got Its Mojo Back. But perhaps a little perspective is in order. Some selected points and counterpoints:

Many starting to see that many of Google's forays into anything but search have been like its search results lately - off target.

Hey, I agree Google results don't feel as good as they have in the past, but neither do I feel that Yahoo's results are somehow superior. Instead, they both feel equal to each other. In short, be wary of anyone who simply declares whether search results are relevant or not without some type of backup of how exactly this is being declared so.

Google News and Froogle - well I think Jeff Jarvis has some choice words about that.

The choice words about Google News are the fact that you don't get a list of what sites Google considers news, something I'll be revisiting more in a future post. How about some transparency, Google! News flash -- Yahoo News doesn't provide transparency either. Over 7,000 news sources are declared here by Yahoo News but no list is provided, not even if you drill down as suggested into categories or use the advanced news search page. It lets you narrow by source -- but it doesn't tell you what all the news sources are.

In fact, it's typical that over the years when Search Engine Watch comes across a new news search site, we ask for a list of all sources, which are never provided. It's great that more people are demanding that Google provide a list, but it shouldn't be held to a higher standard than Yahoo or others. They should provide lists, as well.

AdWords/AdSense are great, but prone to click fraud.

I just sat on a clickfraud panel at our SES New York show earlier this year, and the audience was hardly saying that Yahoo was somehow immune to clickfraud. There are concerns with both Google and Yahoo. And if Yahoo expands its own contextual ads programs, clickfraud will expand right along with it.

What it also has a couple of guys, I like to call them blog evangelists, who knowingly or not, have brought the right kind of attention to the company. Russell Beattie who recently joined Yahoo has been blogging furiously (much to my annoyance) about Yahoo and its wireless efforts. In normal course of events, Yahoo would have issued a press release, and many of us would have paid little or no attention. Jeremy Zawodny is the other and has helped the company focus on some of the newer social media trends.

Now here's where Om's more on target to me. Yahoo seems to do much better than Google in the blogosphere. Jeremy's been out there for ages, far ahead of Yahoo itself and helping bring the company into embracing the concept of blogging. The Yahoo Search Blog as I've written before is often refreshingly non-corporate. Meanwhile, non-traditional Google has an oddly stiff corporate blog and keeps its chief personality, GoogleGuy, hidden behind a cloak of anonymity. More on this in my past post: Jeremy Zawodny: Yahoo Search Blogvangelist.

In an effort to best Google, the company has upped its free email storage to one gigabyte. Yahoo offered desktop search tool, just like Google.

Here, ironically, Yahoo has been playing catch-up. It would still be charging for significant email storage and offering terrible email searching, if it hadn't been for Google pushing it forward with Gmail. Desktop search is again an area where Google beat it and redefined how we traditionally thought of desktop search. It could be fast, free and easy to download and install.

More important, Gmail, Google Desktop and Google Maps are all examples of what I call "pulling a Google," where the company breaks the mold of how we traditionally think a product should be. Gmail said web based email could give you massive storage and be searchable. Desktop search, I've already noted Google changes in that space. Google Maps made the click and zoom model for maps seem archaic.

Believe me, I've been very, very impressed with much of what Yahoo's done over the past year in the area I watch, search. It massively improved web search (though disappointingly still doesn't provide good enough transparency on paid inclusion). Shopping search, local search are products that feel much more refined than their Google counterparts. Yahoo Images expanded last year, while Google Images was stale for more than six months. Personalized search through My Yahoo Search looks promising and hopefully will eventually get out of beta. Yahoo moves on blog and feed searching are also impressive, especially when Google has done nil in that area.

But when many where enthralled about how wonderful Google was, I almost felt tiresome in having to go back and sound a reality check on some accolades it would get. Some examples:

  • In 2004, the New York Times runs an article about "searching" that as I note assumes that Google is the only search engine out there, ignoring Yahoo.
  • In 2003, the New York Times has a column suggesting that Google is godlike in knowing everything. As today, I urge that perspective is sorely needed.
  • In 2002, a "The Age Of Google" article suggests that before Google, we found nothing. I strongly disagreed (scroll down to the Search Engine Articles section for my comments).

I was far from the only one saying that Google wasn't perfect. I know my fellow editors Chris Sherman and Gary Price made and wrote similar comments, as did people far and wide across the web. But these voices were often lost in all the Google love out there.

As with Google, so too Yahoo. Perspective is always helpful. We may be entering a "Yahoo's Hot; Google's Not" time among the "chattering classes" as Om calls them. But that isn't the same as "Yahoo's In; Google's Out" overall. Even when Google was seen as the hottest thing going, Yahoo still kept many, many of its loyal users. Similarly, while Google is taking many PR hits, that's not necessarily meaning that it's actually losing the less chattering users that depend on it.

The reality is that both companies have strengths and weaknesses. The competition between them is ultimately good news, in that they should stay on their toes and benefit us all.

Postscript: Yahoo's Jeremy Zawodny in Getting our Mojo at Yahoo? Yeah. And some new DNA too comments on some of the reasons why he feels the company has gained more attention recently.