Yahoo watchers have heard this before: The company is planning to “create community from isolated sites,” according to the headline of a Reuters feature Tuesday that includes comments from co-founder David Filo and VP of Social Platforms Neal Sample.
It’s the idea of “social search” — creating value in the connections between users and relying on their likes and dislikes to add value to online search. It’s not a concept that Yahoo created, but certainly one that they rallied around years ago as a way to beat Google. Now it might be Yahoo’s best hope for regaining some of the value that’s been lost in the company’s long-running dalliances with Microsoft and AOL.
Back to the future
Yahoo went on a buying spree in 2005, scooping up social web sites at a dizzying pace. It started with Flickr in March of that year, then blo.gs in June, Upcoming.org in October, and delicious in December. (You could also include the January 2006 purchase of WebJay, a music playlist sharing service.)
Yahoo was banking on this social circle concept — the wisdom and engagement of crowds — to challenge Google’s dominance in search. In late 2005, Google had 46% of U.S. searches compared to Yahoo’s 23% (Nielsen/NetRatings numbers). Since then, of course, Google’s market share has gone up to 60-70%, while Yahoo’s has dropped to 15-20% (depending on which measuring service you quote).
Yahoo was so excited by its new plan that then-CEO Terry Semel told financial analysts in May 2006, “You’re starting to look today at what we consider the next Yahoo.”
Change of plans
That version of “the next Yahoo” never arrived. Instead, with Jerry Yang back in the CEO’s chair, Yahoo shifted its focus to an open platform. Yahoo’s Build Your Own Search Service (BOSS) and SearchMonkey are two of several efforts that have been successful in pushing that agenda along.
But this open platform hasn’t helped bring Yahoo’s isolated properties together into a cohesive user experience. Sure, delicious.com buttons now show up on Flickr photo pages, and Flickr photos are pulled into event pages on Upcoming, but the plan to bring it all together has languished for years. So, what’s changed to bring the plan back to life?
New kid in town
According to the Reuters article, what changed is the appointment of new CEO Carol Bartz. Neal Sample, Yahoo’s VP of Social Platforms, says Bartz “really instilled a sense of urgency that this is critical to our success going forward.” Yahoo’s goal is to bring these properties together and “introduce Yahoo users to other parts of Yahoo,” according to co-founder David Filo.
Introductions are just one step, though. They’ll also have to give their enormous user base an answer to the question, Why should we use other Yahoo properties? Why should the community of photo enthusiasts on Flickr start bookmarking their favorites sites on delicious? Why should My Yahoo users play their fantasy sports on Yahoo Sports?
We’ll be watching to see if the company can answer those questions this time around.