Is Yahoo asking itself the right questions?
After the news broke about Yahoo's acquisition of Tumblr, I paid a visit to Yahoo.Com (it has been quite a while) to get a sense of what all these aggressive offscreen moves might mean for Yahoo as a brand. What is the face Yahoo hopes to turn to the public? What are we supposed to glean from the legendary home page as to where Marissa Mayer is trying to take the company?
After browsing the plain, unappealing news feed, with information I can get with more context and panache from a number of other websites (The Atlantic Wire, HuffPo, Slate, etc.), and the Web 1.0-ish charm bracelet of a services menu off to the side, I came away feeling Yahoo, as a brand, is weak and watered down. As I asked in a tweet yesterday, is Yahoo a portal trying to be a content site? Or maybe it's the other way around. Either way, it's tepid.
To compare apples and apples, look at AOL's home page. The company has not only been a good steward of the Huffington Post, it's managed to use the rich resources of that site to enhance its own. For better or worse, it made the decision to be a content company—or at least convince people that content is a key component of its "make the Internet better" philosophy—and AOL's initiatives (Patch, the HuffPo acquisition) feel like they are pulling in that direction.
If Yahoo wants to turn itself into a nimble, social-media driven concern that learns to successfully monetize the type of Web experience promoted by Tumblr (rather than making Tumblr more like itself), then it might succeed in the one arena where Tumblr has not—making money—and take Yahoo to new heights. Online communities could be the nexus linking Yahoo's suite of services (such as email) and platforms like Tumblr. Maybe this is what Mayer has in mind.
In the Washington Post's Wonkblog, Timothy B. Lee asks a more fundamental question about Yahoo: Is it a media company or a tech company? Media companies, he argues, chase trends and build brands, while tech firms create new markets. Mayer must be sure, he says, to keep alive the programmer-driven, hacker culture that powers Google and Tumblr if she hopes to have all of her recent purchases make a difference to Yahoo.
Edgy style, new products and platforms—if Yahoo can pull this off, maybe what it offers the world will no longer seem unnecessary and redundant. I guess the truly fundamental question is whether Yahoo can make itself indispensable again.