Yahoo’s New Era

Last year gave us non-stop entertainment and drama surrounding Yahoo’s possible merger with Microsoft. Will they or won’t they? Does Jerry Yang get along with Steve Ballmer? What in the world will Yahoo do to unseat Google as the search leader?

Late in the year, speculation arose as to whether Yahoo would begin selling pieces of the business off as news of layoffs and a talent exodus continued to emerge. Yahoo was painted in a decidedly negative light by the media, analysts having difficulty interpreting information, and large-scale investors with questionable interests.

Well, Yang departed and AutoDesk Chief Executive Carol Bartz has entered the fray, thereby launching a whole new level of speculations.

Enter the New Age

Most Americans are still running around shouting, “Change!” and intoxicated with blind hope. President Obama received a very warm welcome with record-breaking fanfare, but I just didn’t see the outpouring of joy for Yahoo’s new chief executive.

Why not?

Both leaders have arrived on the scene in less than ideal circumstances. I suppose one could argue the United States is in much worse shape than Yahoo, but the lack of enthusiasm I’ve seen for Bartz (among the digerati) is disappointing.

There seems to be a focus on what Bartz isn’t over what she is. Having experienced digiterati and searcharati, I can identify with the feeling of an outsider coming in. People fear change as a general rule, unless things are so messed up that the word “change” becomes a deus ex machina for the masses.

Enough About the Media

An interesting side note about search as an insulated (I told you so) revenue platform in a down economy: Yahoo noted fewer commercial queries, which equals less revenue for search advertising. A couple of areas in which Yahoo continues to excel are certainly worth noting (and were called out on Yahoo’s earnings call) as well:

  • User engagement: Users are spending more time on Yahoo than anywhere
  • Verticals: News, for example, set a record for usership during the inauguration
  • Search growth: Double digit query growth and market share stabilization
  • Search helps define user intent: Defining user intent feeds many other aspects of media.

Bartz has said that her aim upon arrival wasn’t to sell the business. Further, she has noted arriving on the scene sans preconceived notions about selling the search business. She has acknowledged that search is an important part of the business and further acknowledged that she’s still learning about the search world.

Promises, Promises

As I’ve said many times, prejudging the player prior to acknowledging the game is a problem. Bartz’s expertise and strengths may not be in media. She’s not an insider. My advice to the interactive media and search snobs would include stepping outside your burning desire to continue the incestuous circle.

Let’s talk about strengths.

Yahoo needs solid management that has the ability to move people around as needed. Yahoo needs expertise in how to allocate intangible assets (read: human talent) and create the paths necessary for proper communication and align the channels for growth.

Guess who’s known for having solid experience in all these areas and more? Welcome Carol, I’m excited about the change!

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