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Older Yahoo Product Strategy Memo Appears To Inform CEO Mayer’s Current Vision
Kara Swisher at AllThingsD, the prodigious leaker of Yahoo internal memos, has released former Chief Product Officer Blake Irving’s August 2011 internal strategy document. The 21-page memo is called “Yahoo Three-Year Product Strategy” and lays out “five strategic elements” and a number of “horizontal” areas of focus: “Personalization, Video, Mobile, Social, and Local.”
According to Swisher, the document’s recommendations are similar to the vision recently laid out by new CEO Marissa Mayer. As reported by AllThingsD, there were lots of generalities (e.g., “shift platform to mobile”) in Mayer’s recent presentation to employees, though few specifics.
It’s not entirely clear how much of the Irving memo Mayer has embraced but the following are the major bullets of that document:
- Infuse deep personalization using science and data into every consumer and advertising experience we build.
- Delight our customers with best-in-class products, iterating frequently for constant improvement.
- Build for connected devices first with localized, in-context, multi-screen experiences in mind.
- Power real social relationships with features that enable 1:few conversations around content.
- Build a digital media ecosystem that creates a premium marketplace for advertising and content and distributes Yahoo! experiences across the Web.
The Irving document is filled with specific discussions of products and initiatives and yet still feels somewhat empty and unconvincing. One comes away from reading it without a clear sense of how Yahoo is going to actually do any of the recommended things. However it’s good to see an emphasis on mobile and local — important areas where Yahoo was once a leader but which have been largely neglected for several years.
Below are several of the recommendations from the memo that I found most interesting:
- MMC (aka “Conversations”). MMC seamlessly enables continuous conversations between two or more participants across multiple devices and modes: email, SMS, and IM. It lets you use the communications mode of your choice and also keeps you connected to the same conversation even when you switch between modes. MMC will create “conversation objects” that can be embedded anywhere in our products, either Web or mobile. MMC also supports the inclusion of rich media to power conversations about content to drive engagement within our network. In essence, it is the next generation of Mail, SMS, and Messenger in one seamless experience.
- The formulation of an apps strategy that prescribes which content and services we build into apps, which new apps we create, and how we go to market with them. We will significantly grow our market share in iOS, Android, and, eventually, Windows7-based smartphones. We will create an ecosystem of interconnected apps that leverages our personalization capabilities to create live links between apps and make relevant recommendations of other Yahoo! apps based on our users’ interests. We will publish and rigorously follow a set of app standards and related toolkits that ensure the availability of core features in all of our apps (e.g., search, ads, social features, “more apps”).
- TV Companion Experiences. Watching television is the world’s most popular leisure activity, and increasingly people are connecting to the Internet via multiple devices to supplement their viewing experience. Viewers connect for a variety of reasons, likely depending on the television program. For example, a viewer may look up fantasy sports stats, read the latest gossip on TV stars, learn more about newsworthy topic or check in with their social circles. Our acquisition of IntoNow and its patented Soundprint technology provides us a unique advantage to own the TV companion digital experience
- Create innovative advertising programs that leverage our market presence across four key screens: PC, tablet, mobile, and TV.
- All content in the publishing platform needs to be geotagged. For some content types (e.g., Deals), this is relatively easy because deals often have physical addresses. However, for other content types (e.g., News), a story location may not be contained in the metadata and instead must be semantically extracted.
- Through our partnership with Nokia (and other providers, as needed), we will offer a credible alternative to Google Maps as a presentation layer.
It’s clear that Mayer must address technology and the underlying “platforms” on which Yahoo’s ad-tech and consumer experiences are built. She also must address search (with limited resources) and halt Yahoo’s continuing slide in that area.
Mail must also be confronted. Although it’s a major source of trageted display impressions, most of the ads should be eliminated (or people should be able to pay to opt out). Otherwise, Yahoo Mail is bloated; the product generally needs to be simplified and streamlined.
Yahoo should support and invest in those content areas where it has leadership and/or traction (e.g., news, finance, sports, video). It must also build everything with an eye toward tablets and smartphones and multi-screen user experiences (this is in the document). And it should again make local a top priority (as mentioned, also in the document). Yahoo has an opportunity with small business marketing as well — another area where it was a leader but lapsed.
Much of the blame for Yahoo’s failures, beyond attrition and management chaos, go to the culture, which Mayer is trying to fix. It appears she’s off to a good start in that category.
While the Yahoo brand is tarnished it hasn’t yet suffered the kind of cataclysmic free fall that AOL sustained. A reinvigorated Yahoo brand will be a function of execution across multiple fronts. It’s therefore highly unfortunate that Yahoo investor and now board member Daniel Loeb (and his allies) forced Mayer to give back the lion’s share of the recent $7+ billion Alibaba transaction proceeds to investors.
It limits what Mayer can do, who she can buy and how much room she has to maneuver.