Some Thoughts On Yahoo!, Semel, And Yang

June 18, 2007

I have to say Terry Semel stepping down from Yahoo! seemed rather inevitable. Just last week a really depressing article about the former Yahoo! CEO was published in Portfolio. It reminded me of another beleaguered CEO: Gil Amelio of Apple. There was one truly terrible MacWorld keynote in 1997 that still lives on in infamy. Not soon after, the Second Coming of Steve Jobs was engineered via the NeXT purchase.

So Semel is out, and Jerry Yang is in. Right away, Valleywag is saying Yang is no Steve Jobs and jumping on Semel’s exit. Others are politely doubting Yang, or hinting this is just a precursor for a merger. But Yang is certainly a morale boost which is surely what many Yahoo! employees are looking for right now. He’s also more tech-saavy than Semel, and geek-o-rama has worked for Google. Or perhaps Yahoo! was keeping an eye on this Wired poll (powered by Reddit). I voted for Yang in that poll, largely because the only other worthy option is a bit busy with a really cool cellphone.

During the dark days of 2001, Semel was brought in when it seemed everything Internet was on the ropes. If I recall correctly, the hope was that his Hollywood connections could help Yahoo!’s entertainment aspirations, making music and movie partnerships to create an entertainment portal.

But then Steve Jobs sort of did an end-run around Yahoo! with the iPod, made some entertainment deals with others including Disney, and is now selling movies, music, and TV shows via iTunes.

Around the same time as those dark days of 2001 I recall a co-worker showing us Google, a new search engine. The sparse home page was a breath of fresh air in comparison to the very image-heavy portal businesses like Yahoo!I think Yahoo! and Microsoft thought they had search wrapped up – as both were expanding into entertainment portals. Google also did an end-run around Yahoo!, proving that search could be done better. Google then continued to improve on web applications that Yahoo! had done: email, maps, advertising, and eventually deal-making: snatching away YouTube and DoubleClick. And to think Yahoo! could have bought Google.

Anyhow, there is still a lot of life left at Yahoo!. They have a slew of talented employees and made some cool web 2.0 purchases in Flickr, Del.iciolus, and MyBlogLog. They were one of the few big survivors of Web 1.0 (along with eBay and Amazon) that stayed independent and have come a long way from those down days. But for every increase in ad revenue, Google, Apple, and others have done better.

In any case, this move away from the leader that distracted them from many potential Web 2.0 partnerships – Google and Facebook the biggest ones – is one with potential, and signals a determination to get something accomplished before things get worse. And that’s the best news I’ve heard regarding Yahoo! in quite some time.