For the longest time, I have been a fan of Yahoo! as a company, a brand, and a web service provider. As a brand Yahoo! had a fun vibe that made rooting for it fun. I genuinely thought Yahoo! Mail Beta (now referred to as ‘The All-New Yahoo! Mail’, because marketing types aren’t very creative) was a good design and had members from their team dropping by to read my blog, insisted that online conference for my school’s computing club took place nowhere else other than Yahoo! Messenger (club members who usually used Google Talk – and often tried to convince me to use that instead – had to dust off their old Yahoo! IDs to sign in; I was totally a dicktator about this), I had members from Yahoo!’s engineering team emailing me thanking for the feedback I gave on their products. I evangelised them to the extent that I was a small part in an online marketing campaign they had too – I remember I even had to fax back release forms to Sunnyvale, CA for this.
Long story short, I like Yahoo! a lot. Or used to. For fuck’s sake, I used Yahoo! Search as my default search engine.
The company has been an underdog, now that you think of it, ever since Google launched Gmail back in 2004 – and who doesn’t like an underdog! I always considered what its problem was more of a marketing and image problem – a problem of making things ‘cool’ with geeks again – and perhaps working a bit more on technology. When I visited Yodel Anecdotal – the Yahoo! Corporate Blog – 2-3 years ago announcements used to be about something new or the other that Yahoo! was doing. It was a company that was trying.
The latest announcement on Yodel Anecdotal today is about how they plastered a FedEx ad on one of their sites.
Video interviews with Yahoo! employees nobody gives a fuck about (except for, bless her, the employee’s extended family).
Weekly search trends – which is nothing other than filler fluff for times when they have nothing to talk about.
Another one about a Barnes & Nobles Nook reader ad on Yahoo! Shine.
You know what that Barnes & Noble ad announcement reads? (I’m not making any of the following excerpt up.)
The “Close X” button is displayed prominently at the top right, which brings the user back to the normal browser view. The thin Nook banner remains along the top to compliment the 300 x 250 Nook window on the right. The wallpaper then fills in with Nooks displaying different book covers.
The “Close X” button is displayed prominently at the top right, which brings the user back to the normal browser view. Are you fucking kidding me??? Is this the most exciting thing Yahoo! can muster up – across all the projects its employees were working on that week – to announce on its corporate blog?!
If yes, then I’m very worried that Yahoo! has completely lost it. Yodel Anecdotal once was a hub of showcasing what the company was innovating on, and now it is just a loud sales brochure for display advertising on sites it owns. Either that, or a sales a brochure for a multi-billion dollar buyout from investment companies who couldn’t care less whether Yahoo! is a media company or a technology company as long as financial jugglery can show profits.
I can’t help but think that all the video profiles of all and sundry employees is merely a memo handed down by HR to keep morale up among its troops so that the decent ones don’t jump ship while Yahoo! finds itself a buyer.
It’s easy to blame recently-fired CEO Carol Bartz for the mess as she couldn’t help with providing a clear technical direction. (I do think she did a half-decent job of beefing up Yahoo!’s original content news teams globally, from personal experience I’ve heard from people working in Yahoo! News teams.) Yahoo!’s attitude run deeper, tracing its roots back to the co-founders themselves who told Google to fuck off as all Yahoo! cared about was display advertising (to paraphrase wildly).
Yahoo! bought Flickr and launched many new services either through acquisitions or in-house services. Yahoo! does seem to have a reputation of a company where acquired startups go to die – think blo.gs, MyBlogLog, Jumpcut, Zimbra… Almost all in-house experiments are mothballed now, acquired services sold or shut down, and there are murmurs that casual users have started backing away from Flickr. I haven’t heard of anything new Flickr has done in a long while – at least nothing good enough to be more important than a description of how rollover ads get closed with contact details for Yahoo!’s advertising team (who are WAITING FOR YOU RIGHT NOW IN CASE YOU WANT TO PLACE AN ORDER!!! HURRY OFFER VALID ONLY TILL STOCKS LAST!!!)
I’m being harsh. Off-late, Yodel Anecdotal has once again started including product updates albeit after a year of more or fluff, fluff, and more fluff. Yet even with the course correction things aren’t the same. Most interesting news is about content deals or existing products being launched in new markets.
To this day, I use Yahoo! Mail. Yahoo! Mail has had an image problem among geeks ever since Gmail launched but even friends who don’t care about technology laugh these days at the notion of using a YMail address. (My saving grace is at least I have a ‘respectable’ lastname/firstname combo as my ID instead of embarrassing_name666 or something similar.) 4-5 years ago if you put Gmail and YMail’s side-by-side you could see how much richer the latter was. Tabbed UI, auto-embedding YouTube videos, image slideshows, (then later using OtherInbox, before Gmail had Priority Inbox) intelligent sorting of email – YMail got all of this long before Gmail did. When Gmail launched, it was minimalistic in features. It’s 2011 now and you know what, Gmail has gone miles and miles ahead while YMail has stagnated over the past few years.
My university and work email IDs cover all my university / work needs respectively, and Facebook (Twitter, WhatsApp, Skype…) cover everyone else I need to communicate with online. I send – maybe – 2-3 emails at most from my personal email account. Eventually I will move on from my current workplace and university, and then I will need to use a personal account – and I’m pretty sure I would use Gmail for that simply because it’s better now both on desktop and on mobile. (Yahoo! Mail for Android is fucking ugly.) The only reason why I stick with Yahoo! Mail is how much of a pain it would be to shift all my logins for other websites to my Gmail account, for now. And when a self-confessed fanboi for a company says the only reason he is sticking to their product is inertia, things are very wrong indeed.
I don’t know whether it is even possible for Yahoo! to get back in the game now. It is no longer the company I used to love as a user.