January 28, 2008 4:00 AM PST
At Yahoo, a need to hit refresh
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In its rivalry with Google, Yahoo also has struggled with identity: it's fluctuated from being a search player to being a media property focused on selling brand and graphical ads.
During the Semel years, Yahoo crafted an image as a media company by establishing new headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., hiring Braun, and attempting to develop original programming. The results were, by most accounts, disappointing. And while Yahoo is still investing in original content (it just launched a new business TV show much like one it used to operate before the dot-com bust), Yang and other executives are taking the company in a different direction.
One former executive put it like this: "Yahoo's been weighed down by trying to do too many things and not being very good at any of them, (and) not having the commitment to excel at any of them."
Yahoo's future may be in its past, and Yang said as much at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month. Straight out of the '90s Internet playbook, Yang wants Yahoo to be the starting point for online users, with greater emphasis on mail, search, and personal home pages. The company also plans to deliver technologies including Yahoo's Go 3.0 mobile products and a new e-mail platform. Last October, Yang also said the company would focus on extending its advertising offerings beyond Yahoo to sites across the Web and open up Yahoo's technology infrastructure to third-party developers and publishers.
To trim down, Yahoo also indicated in recent months that the company would phase out or consolidate services like photos, premium music, and auctions.
Miles said there's another problem inside companies like Yahoo. Ideas for new products, if they're not in the strategic plan of product launches, are often stifled because they're competing against those in the product hopper.
In fairness, companies like Yahoo can suffer from their own success. Often, a new product that competes with or doesn't directly benefit what made that company a success can be ignored, or worse, killed off. As a result, the employees who had those new ideas leave. Yahoo has had a flood of executives depart in recent years to head up companies like online video site GoFish. In another example, Yahoo's former director of product marketing, Richard Frankel, just joined SocialMedia Networks, an ad network for Facebook, as its chief operating officer.
"Silicon Valley is awash with people who have left their company because no one would listen to them," said Berkeley's Miles. Because ideas flow upward from the company, Miles said, changing top management isn't always enough to recharge a business.
"If you're going to keep an organization young," he said, "you must continue to work on getting everyone on the same page with knowledge flowing up and down and across."
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