More Micro-Hoo & Will Yahoo! Truly ‘Innovate’?

If you’re still hungry for coverage of the Microsoft-Yahoo! search deal you can read Danny Sullivan’s long and almost exhaustive Q&A style article on SEL. He touches on most questions and issues there. There’s also a roundup of other coverage in the piece. He humorously calls what Yahoo! will be doing now “search styling” — referring to the UX/UI makeover that Yahoo! will layer on top of the Bing index and organic/paid results.

The conventional wisdom (including from me) is now emerging that Microsoft got the better deal and that Yahoo! has sacrificed a strategic asset. But I was thinking last night, what if Yahoo! really executes well and is able to make this work as they’re publicly saying? What if the UI layer that Yahoo! puts on top of Bing really does make for a better experience than what Yahoo! Search is offering now?

Many months ago, I downloaded the Inquisitor browser plug in, acquired by Yahoo!, and used it for a time. It shows only Yahoo! search results. So as an experiment I tested it out for about a month and primarily used Yahoo! as my search engine:

Picture 27

While like many of the features of Yahoo! Search, in my experience using it as my primary engine, it wasn’t as good as Google — the results weren’t as complete or relevant. It was good but not as good. Comparable to the Android vs. iPhone experience.

This leads me to think that with a better underlying index maybe Yahoo! can really make good on the promise of all the UX and interface inititatives they’ve been talking about in search. Maybe they’ll truly be able to “innovate” around the search user experience and come up with some great features and capabilities. I’m hoping that’s true and that we will see more “innovation,” as promised yesterday by everyone.

The problem and pushback to this is that Yahoo! may lose more key people. One of the contributing reasons motivating a search deal with Microsoft is the fact that Yahoo! has already suffered a massive search brain drain with defections to Microsoft, Google and elsewhere. Yesterday CEO Carol Bartz said the following about Yahoo! Search employees in response to a question about layoffs and redundancy:

TIM WEBER (BBC): I’ve got a question, does it have any impact on jobs? Do you envisage that people working on search at Yahoo! move to Microsoft, work for Microsoft or will the Microsoft teams take care of all that and Yahoo! will then see redundancies in its teams?

CAROL BARTZ: I’ll take that one. There’s actually three variables here. Yes, there are certainly many Yahoo! search employees that will be asked to take jobs at Microsoft as they integrate the technology and combine the search market, and frankly run a very good search market. So, there will be that bucket of employees, if you will. There will also be search employees that we look to, to help us on the display side of our business, another aspect of globalizing our audience products in Yahoo! And then unfortunately there will be some redundancies in Yahoo!, so that’s the third bucket.

What I would remind you though is that this is a transition over the next two and a half years. So, virtually nothing will change for the first — well, until we get regulatory approval, which we hope is in early 2010. And then after that it’s on the outside 24 months for transition. Hopefully together we can do it faster, because we’re all anxious to get this going. But yes there will be redundancies; it just is in the future.

So if Yahoo! is really not going to fall completely into “also-ran” status in search, they’ll have to retain good people who can do the job and provide a differentiated experience from what exists at Google and Bing. If not, they’ll turn into AOL or Ask, companies that once had vibrant search efforts and essentially gave up, shifting into maintenance mode.

2 Responses to “More Micro-Hoo & Will Yahoo! Truly ‘Innovate’?”

  1. Malcolm Lewis Says:

    I don’t see them retaining search talent. If you’re a search hotshot, you’re either working for Google/MSFT or you’re starting an new search company of your own.

  2. Tim Cohn Says:

    Interesting point of view Greg… if Yahoo couldn’t make search their core competency – maybe Microsoft can.

    Yahoo did have Google’s search under their hood once albeit under different circumstances though.

    Maybe Bartz with Microsoft’s help can turn Yahoo into both the search and display advertising machine she envisions.

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