Yahoo, the world's largest internet "portal" made a bit of a splash yesterday when it announced that it was scalping Google's Marissa Mayer to fill its recently-vacated CEO position.
Per Bloomberg, the 37 year old Mayer joined Google in 1999 as its 20th employee. She is credited with maintaining the company's spartan home page for a decade and overseeing such products as Gmail, Google News, and image, book and product search.
The mission she's accepted as CEO will be twofold...
- To bring back users who ditched Yahoo for Google and other sites
- To boost advertising revenue
It's on her to fix the fortunes of a company that's seen three straight years of declining revenue and three CEOs in less than one year.
The question I have is, despite the flashiness of the hire, will it really make a difference?
I fail to see what Ms. Mayer could possibly do, regardless of her successful track record.
Let's face it, folks, no one on Earth is going to go back searching with Yahoo after they've moved on to Google. Microsoft pumps millions into Bing and can barely gain any traction. I mean, I'm sure you've all seen MSFT's recent adds for how search on Bing is social. Guess what, that will not move the needle. If I'm going on a trip somewhere and get travel tips from my friends via a Bing search, I'm pretty sure it's time for me to commit that, c'mon man! And honestly, I don't know a single soul who cares about this sort of feature.
I can honestly envision the meeting that MSFT held where Bing Social Search was proposed. I can just imagine some 48 year old middle manager thinking he's got the idea of a generation, the key to search success...when in reality, it's a transparently stupid gimmick that won't do a damn thing. But I digress...
I mean, short of paying users money, what would possibly drive people that use Google Search, Gmail, Gchat, and even Google Finance to leave and use Yahoo?
Google made an innovative product in Gmail at a time where its biggest competition came in the form of clunky desktop-based Outlook, or AOL-esque Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. It was new, innovative, and had a clean design in a world of competitors that looked like they were made with geocities (and were about as user friendly.) You might be able to make incremental improvements on an email system, but nothing that's as big a leap as Gmail was when it arrived, certainly not a big enough leap to overcome the network effects Gmail benefits from. And when you're already using Google for search and email, you're likely going to look to Google's other solutions, including Docs and Finance, before you'd look to something Yahoo or MSFT provides.
If anything, in my view, Yahoo has slowly morphed into another aol-style content site, only it's got better sports coverage and a search bar that gives decent results if you use it. At best, its news section comes off as a mix between Bloomberg and HuffingtonPost, again with better sports writers.
All kidding aside, I feel like Yahoo's mail and search businesses will continue to bleed users to better services and, in my view, it'll turn more and more into a content focused business. It's really a matter of how quickly they do this and how concerted the effort is.
Am I way off base? Is there something I'm missing? Obviously, I've tackled this from a pretty high level, but intuitively I just don't see how Yahoo ever competes with the likes of Google again. That day has come and gone and Google blew right past them.