Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer sat down with Bloomberg TV in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum, in a very interesting and far-ranging interview (embedded below), to discuss the future of Internet technology and search.
Mayer spoke at length about the future of search, social, mobile and Yahoo’s strategy. She also offered her first public comments about Yahoo’s positioning and strategy, amid intensifying competition from a range of larger players, including Google, Amazon and Facebook.
The Right CEO For Yahoo
It’s clear from this interview that Mayer was the right choice for the Yahoo CEO role. And, she may be uniquely qualified to turn the company around. The only questions, which are significant, involve whether she gets the necessary resources and can build the right team to execute.
Mayer spoke for most of the 30-minute interview not as a partisan CEO advocating on behalf of her company, but as a sophisticated observer of the marketplace and the technology shifts taking place. I found myself agreeing with much of what she was saying.
Mayer faulted Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s “four horsemen” idea — the notion that there are four big tech companies and ecosystems that matter: Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon. Citing Twitter (among others), Mayer said that there are other significant tech companies. She also said, “Technology isn’t stagnant . . . there are always opportunities for disruption.”
How Yahoo Will Compete
She said that Yahoo would compete and move forward in four principal ways:
- By partnering with multiple companies, including larger competitors
- By investing in and developing greater personalization
- By mobilizing Yahoo’s content and properties and making them equally accessible on smartphones and tablets
- By updating and “modernizing” existing Yahoo properties that have been neglected for some time (e.g., Yahoo Groups)
Like former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz before her, Mayer stressed the value of Yahoo’s content as part of users’ daily habits. She said there’s direct alignment between the types of content that users access on mobile devices and the content or tools that Yahoo offers: email, news, weather, sports, finance and search.
Search Personalization & Privacy
Mayer spent a considerable part of the interview talking about the future of search. She argued that that he future would focus on two main areas: UI innovation (including speech) and personalization. She didn’t talk explicitly about Yahoo’s relationship with Microsoft or directly address how Yahoo might compete with Google.
A key to search personalization will be the incorporation of numerous inputs and signals: search history, location, social data and so on. (This is what Google, Microsoft and Facebook are all doing in different ways.) A parallel concept she discussed was the “interest graph” — an amalgam of all the available information that will enable personalization of content delivery in myriad ways.
Mobile will also continue to be a major driver of search innovation. Almost as if she were describing Google Now, but without mentioning it, Mayer discussed the role of context and personalization in the delivery of content without explicit query input from the user. This is what Mayer used to describe,when she was at Google, as “the perfect search engine,” which would know user needs and preferences without requiring the user to provide those explicitly.
The line that summed up her thoughts on search personalization was, “In the future you become the query.” This was a reference to all the data and context that will help search generate more relevant results. She said that many of these innovations will be realized within in the “next three to five years.”
She also spoke about the trade-off between privacy and surrendering personal information for enhanced functionality. The way to manage that tension is to provide users with “transparency, choice and control,” Mayer explained.
The Importance of Design
Mayer spoke near the end of the interview about the importance of design. She described Apple being “the gold standard.” She admired how Apple concealed complexity behind simple and intuitive user experiences and that the company effectively made the technology “fall away.” This is also something, of course, that Mayer pursued in search when she was at Google running the homepage and search UI.
Google has always used the debatable “openness” of its Android platform as a PR bludgeon against Apple with developers and hardware makers. Somewhat surprisingly Mayer praised Apple’s “curation” (read: control) of the app ecosystem and says it has enabled a better experience and raised user expectations.
The interview reflected that design and UX are clearly areas that Mayer is thinking deeply about as she considers how to mobilize and update Yahoo’s products and content offerings.
Innovation vs. Execution
Mayer was asked about the period that’s elapsed between her arrival at Yahoo and today. She praised the people and the culture at Yahoo. “I knew there had to be great people at Yahoo . . . It is a great company overall that has a very fun culture,” said Mayer. But she also discussed the ways in which she was trying to improve the work environment.
She said upon arrival she immediately “focused on people” and “building the right team.” Mayer added that she “wanted to make sure that Yahoo is the best place to work and that people really want to come and work there.”
Getting the right people and managing resources are Mayer’s obvious challenges. She spoke about the tension between “innovation” and “execution” and the need to make choices. She said that Yahoo will be focused on execution as it “modernizes” and mobilizes its properties. However she added that Yahoo needs to find a way to continue to innovate at the same time.
Below is the full interview with Mayer from Davos.