Does anyone still Yahoo?

Inside the Enterprise: Carol Bartz’ departure from Yahoo! is further evidence that large, monolithic websites have had their day.

Yahoo

Yahoo rarely seems to be in the news for good reasons. Back in 2009, the company failed to cement a deal that would have seen Microsoft buy the web portal. The failure cost Yahoo founder and CEO, Jerry Yang, his job.

Yahoo did manage to sign a smaller deal with Microsoft over search, but it was not enough to restore the company's fortunes. And this week, Ms Bartz learned by phone that she too was out of a job.

Yahoo, though, remains one of the internet's iconic brands. The trouble for the web-directory-to-search site is that, although most people have heard of Yahoo, fewer people can say what it does, or what it is good at.

In technology, you neglect your core business at your peril.

Yes, Yahoo owns Flickr, and Yahoo Finance is a useful tool, and some people do use Yahoo email and messaging. The company does a lot of things reasonably well, but most internet users would struggle to pinpoint one area where Yahoo excels.

Other web services whether it is the search giant Google, or micro-blogging service Twitter, or social buying site Groupon, or the e-tailer Amazon are successful largely because they have one, very successful core business. For Google it is search, for Amazon selling books.

These brands have branched out - Amazon into a general purpose online commerce site selling electronics and entertainment as well as books, Google into YouTube, mail services and more. But each company has continued to tend its core business well. Yahoo, on the other hand, has seen its original core business an online directory overtaken by the search engines, leaving it with a set of add-on apps and sites that all work well enough in their own right, but without that strong core.

According to Allen Weiner, a Gartner analyst who follows Yahoo, the company still styles itself as a media company, but lacks leaders who really understand that business. And Weiner describes Yahoo's social media strategy as "a work in progress." That might be too kind.

Today's online consumers are far more savvy than when Yahoo launched, and they are quite happy to use one site for search, another for social networking, another for micro-blogging and another still for storing their photos.

Yahoo is not alone in suffering by being a jack of all trades: AOL, for example, has struggled to replace its core, dial-up internet access business with content, despite high-profile media acquisitions such as TechCrunch and the Huffington Post. There are even rumours that AOL and Yahoo might merge.

With Yahoo said to be up for sale, now that Bartz has left, anything is possible. But if there is a lesson to learn from Yahoo's recent history it is this: in technology, you neglect your core business at your peril. A strong brand alone is not enough.

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT PRO.

Comments? Questions? You can email him here

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