Open Letter to Yang

    June 19, 2007

Welcome aboard, Chief Yahoo.

I did a little asking around, to some people that matter in the industry, people that care about your search division, and especially about your Panama rollout. What will happen next? Anything cool? Bold?

I’ve got some rough news for you: they don’t think you’ll do it. Maybe they don’t think you can do it. Everybody’s couching their language in lukewarm "we’ll see" platitudes.

Well, it’s good to get that out of the way. Low expectations mean at least you can beat them, I guess.

What would I like to see, personally? Off the top of my head?

I’d like to see Yahoo do enough silly things to try to contend in search in one form or another that Google actually gets scared. In this era, some of that will have to involve acquisitions of properties that have momentum, ad inventory, or cachet attached. There are a lot of ways you can still own more users and more search-like experiences. Acquiring them will be expensive, perhaps prohibitively so, but the alternative is to miss the boat. Oh, if only past acquisitions hadn’t been so beside-the-point or overpriced, you’d be in so much better shape today.

Call me crazy, but:

* Get some momentum and leadership going by acquiring and fostering some of the available search startups. Powerset gets some buzz lately. Ergo, acquire Powerset.

* Ever heard of local search? Acquire Yelp.

* What’s this business with Yahoo Domains and all the hosting and so forth? Could be a much more powerful business if you bit the bullet and acquired GoDaddy. That’s right, the Big Enchilada. Go Big, Daddy, or Go Home. This is not a rocket science play, but an inventory and business customer play.

* Ensure that defaults on mobile devices are Yahoo-leaning. I had a Yahoo guy demo me the Yahoo One Search for mobile on a Blackberry last month at Mesh in Toronto. Right on! But will I use it? Google icons are all over my Blackberry, making me forget about the Yahoo ones. I get the feeling you could lean more folks to the Yahoo options on their Blackberry if you just acquired Research in Motion. I know, it’s tempting to merely partner and it’s expensive to buy a firm like RIM if they aren’t interested in selling, but look at the potential. All this bullish talk about all of these mobile partnerships you can ink globally mean nothing if all they mean is the opportunity to be someone’s second choice on their mobile device, behind Google. Next, innovate with some of the features/keys on the devices to make it even easier for users to access emerging services like free 411, and so forth. Integrate the Yelp reviews into things. Bob’s your uncle.

* As our frequent correspondent John K keeps saying, you’ll have to fire a lot of management types that accreted over the years. Get rid of clutter, and geek up. Now’s your chance! Don’t be shy.

* And yes, to this wish list I’d certainly add an interesting new partnership with Microsoft, or inking a deal to re-partner with Microsoft for search and search marketing. We’re hearing rumors in this area. It would simplify our jobs if it came to pass, and give Google a little something to worry about.

* Finally, I’m still waiting for you to implement my suggestion to make the home page just the plain search box for a month. What a great publicity stunt this would be. The world’s largest search company pulled that stunt starting in 1998. C’mon Jerry! August is Search Month for Yahoo! You can do it! You’re the Chief!

Good luck, Jerry. You helped build much of the web as we know it. I’m one of those momentum, inertia users that loves some of what your company has to offer. I still use Yahoo Finance at least half the time (better SEC filings format); Yahoo Mail (some of the time); and My Yahoo (for feeds and such, yep I’m a real ungeek). I even used recently; and who doesn’t love Flickr. You get the feeling Yahoo is very, very close to the position of global dominance and street cred that it could be in.

There’s also your advertiser ecosystem, specifically in search, to consider. That’s an area I care about for a living. My firm does paid search marketing full time, so we have a stake in seeing your search market share, and search marketing platform, grow. Mona Elesseily, my colleague, has just completed a 105-pg.+ Panama how-to guide that will be finally out on the market in a week or two (like Panama itself, it was delayed). Poring over every word just reminds me of what a massive effort it was to turn that vital part of Yahoo around. And it also pains me to imagine that Terry Semel pretended like the project didn’t exist, and certainly never seemed to take much detailed interest in the absolutely pitiful state of the former ad platform. Almost like he didn’t get it. I know that one of your big cheeses on the Overture side (maybe even THE big cheese on the Overture side) got it, because he was one of the first buyers of my Google AdWords Handbook back in 2002. So, if some people got that AdWords was better back then, and didn’t fix Overture until 2007… well… how do I put this delicately? Is there a problem with communication at your company? How are you going to overcome that? I mean, of course, internal communications. From 2003-, your PR was actually excellent: many folks continued to write and speak about how terrific Yahoo’s search marketing platform was… even though it wasn’t. Mission accomplished? Be careful what glowing PR you wish for, because PR doesn’t build a better product.

It would be a shame, of course, to give up now on the promise Yahoo still holds. It’s brave of you to take the helm at this juncture. And I hope those who won’t go out on a limb predicting success will soon have to change their tune. But if we don’t see some action in the vein of the suggestions above, we’ll be disappointed.