Carol Bartz has been fired from Yahoo!. I liked Bartz. I had high hopes. Understandably, then, this is a bit of a disappointment.
I think that Bartz should be somewhat happy about her performance, even though she was eventually fired. She was brought on as a kick-ass manager and she did kick-ass manager things. She trimmed about a metric ton of fat from the company, jettisoning winning properties like Geocities. But she also failed to bring in a clear vision for the company. Was Yahoo services? Was it content? Was it web-applications? Yahoo! does all of these things in a very disconnected way.
Yahoo!'s services are great. I like Yahoo! Mail, I love MyYahoo!, but that's where the goodness ends and the mediocrity begins. Yahoo!'s apps are terrible. They bought Konfabulator for widgets... and did nothing with it. Yahoo! Connected televisions are slow and buggy, and even if they weren't, customers seem to be less than thrilled.
Yahoo!'s content is hopelessly hosed. They want to dance the line between inert and edgy, trying to be cool while not insulting anyone, thus appearing hip only to people over the age of 65. In the age of websites like Gizmodo, Engadget, and countless smaller sites that will not mince words, the old maxim of "insult no one," forced upon mass media by the FCC, fails miserably. Instead of realizing that the world is growing up, and thus daring to use naughty words, Yahoo! has been left behind, stuck in the same weird, existential hell in which other Internet old guard like Cnet are trapped.
For evidence of this shift, go to Alexa.com. The audience for Yahoo! is basically flat for all age groups except for 65+, which is highly positive. Same with Cnet. Compare this to a youthful website such as Gizmodo. It is essentially not read by anyone over the age of 40. Even the New York Times is younger than Yahoo!'s audience. Yahoo! cannot pretend to be hip, it has to actually be hip. And being hip means pissing people off.
Regardless, listing the ways that Yahoo! has failed achieves little. It's how Yahoo! can still succeed. They are the fourth largest website on Earth. They are third in the US, behind only Google and Facebook. They have massive reach. They have four major resources that I see: MyYahoo!, Flickr, Yahoo! Pulse, and Mail/Messenger. They have two minor resources, Finance and search.
Yahoo! needs to start with their major portal, MyYahoo!, and generate as much value as possible for the end user. Value comes from integrating all of their tools as easily as possible onto a single page. Facebook, Flickr, Pulse, eBay, news, live video. Integrate Yahoo! shopping into the home page as a service and sell it on the back end as a product, just like Google's search revenue. Don't rely on companies to develop MyYahoo! content, do it yourself. Make it graphical and compelling. Hell, sell the development of MyYahoo! content.
Use Flash and HTML5 to make content boxes dynamic. It allows people to visit other sites and read news without leaving their portal page, which keeps them on your services longer. It also gives you significantly more vibrant versions of mail, messenger, and video.
Fuck your own services! If customers are using other things, let them use them. Develop high quality YouTube, GMail, and MSN boxes. Do EVERYTHING that you can with others' products. Do this because no matter how much you do, you will be able to do more with your own. Always develop, always innovate. If you are not releasing a major update once per year, you're dying.
The goal is to turn the MyYahoo! page into an "app" that people leave on for all of the time that they are at the computer. Facebook is already this for many people for social reasons. Yahoo! can become the flipside of the coin, being the portal through which people find things to share via the social connections.
Flickr is still the premier place for pro photographers. The service has stagnated almost entirely with no updates whatsoever for months, and no major updates for years. Design Flickr Apps, push Flickr integration with digital picture frames, and push Flickr onto cameras. Flickr is integrated absolutely nowhere else in Yahoo!. WTF?! You want Flickr everywhere. Make it easy to do whatever the hell a user could ever want. They still, STILL, do not have an Android app. That is pathetic.
Yahoo! Pulse will be great once they integrate it into MyYahoo!. Until then, it's a wan rejoinder to Facebook and does little to attract people to Yahoo!.
Mail and messenger are still strong platforms for communication. Again, with better integration between Yahoo!'s other services, it encourages users to use Yahoo!.
Finally, Yahoo! cannot succeed with the detached, mathematical advertising of Google. Google does it better and will win. Instead, Yahoo! needs to follow the lead of Gawker media, where they heavily integrate ads into the overall experience. Yahoo! needs to work closely with advertising partners to develop compelling pieces that are both prominent but not intrusive. The era of the ad-blocker is coming, and soon no one will see any ads ever.
Make ads a choice. Make them desirable. Think about all of the ads that are viewed willingly on Youtube. For example, have a list of "See This Week's Fliers." Companies buy a spot on the list and can also buy a "featured" position that is always at the top. The remaining list is sortable by most popular, most recent, or by category. People click on it and a big, Yahoo! designed (or customer, just so long as it looks good) flier made from ANYTHING OTHER THAN PDF appears through which the user can peruse. This provides excellent advertising data and reveals user engagement. Integrate the same user-optional advertising all throughout the site.
Finally, some of Yahoo!'s content is good. Finance has good user engagement and a decent reputation. Sadly, they are doing little with this. Other financial websites like MarketWatch and Bloomberg are blowing Yahoo! out of the water. The same goes for Yahoo!'s OMG! and Shine pages.
Basically, I think that Yahoo! should ditch the branded names scheme and create entirely new .com addresses. For example, AOL has TMZ for gossip. It is a standalone entity owned by AOL. Yahoo! needs to do this with ALL of their content immediately. Build other brands that you can then integrate into your parent brand. Don't try to grow the parent brand beyond its boundaries. OMG! and Shine are already entrenched and have good readerships, but they need much more. They need to start spewing content. Gadgets, clothing, politics, cars, environment, science. If they're not producing original content, they need to partner with someone who does.
Yahoo! can grow, but it will require significant investment in new, productive talent.