Yahoo’s Jerry Yang took the stage at CES yesterday to offer a vision for the company’s future as a more integrated, open platform and “starting point” for consumers on the internet. Much of the news surrounding Yahoo yesterday was about the new mobile application Go 3.0 and related widget platform for third-party developers and advertisers. In a way, that news and strategy is a microcosm of the larger strategy that Yang previewed for the company, which involves connecting key Yahoo services, with community at the center. It also involves integrating third-party content in new ways.
Dan Farber at ZDNet has a nice overview of the speech and screenshots of a “proof of concept” suite of applications under the name “Yahoo Life.” The Yodel Anecdotal blog tries to explain how this all might come together:
Then Jerry walked through a vision demo showcasing the possibilities of a more open Yahoo!, in this case focused on one of our key starting points, Yahoo! Mail. He showed how a smarter inbox could prioritize the most relevant connections in his life, both from Yahoo! and multiple social networks, and make all of his communications (email, IM, SMS, voice, status text, photos, etc.) simpler to manage. He then walked through how Yahoo! as an open platform—using Yahoo! Mail, Flickr, Yahoo! Local and Maps, and third party applications like Evite and eBay—could let you tap into the collective tastes, interests, and knowledge of the people you know and of the rest of the world. His example was trying to corral a bunch of very different friends, family, and execs for an awesome dinner. He was able to discover and explore what millions of people find interesting in Las Vegas (via Flickr and our TagMaps prototype) and what his dinner guests might enjoy as well.
Apparently, Yahoo Mail becomes central and a kind of social networking hub in this vision of the future. And many have referred to this as Yahoo’s “Inbox 2.0” strategy.
I think the spirit of all this is right. It’s a big vision that plays on Yahoo’s existing strengths. Yahoo has been the online “starting point” for millions of people over the years: Mail, My Yahoo, Finance, News, etc. And the company has a tremendous array of assets accordingly. However, of late, it has largely failed to bring those together in a coherent way. What has been missing is a kind of social media glue at the center.
Yahoo appears to be taking a page from Facebook’s playbook in both becoming more “social” and trying to become a platform. However, Yahoo currently has more to offer users (and publishers) than Facebook. It just doesn’t have the same level of buzz.
The challenge will be to pull all this off in an elegant and simple way. It appears that there are large numbers of moving parts here — both literally and figuratively — and there may be too much complexity for some. Simplicity for the end user is the key to making all this work. Of course, everything is largely speculative until new apps actually emerge.
Yet the strategy also makes sense because it plays on Yahoo’s strengths and doesn’t simply continue to chase Google in search. Search appears to be a piece of the overall approach but not the core here; community and trusted content sources are emphasized.
Postscript: Yahoo contacted us to clarify that there is no product called “Yahoo Life.” Instead, what Yang demonstrated is an intended evolution of Yahoo Mail and other, related products.