Why is it hard for Yahoo to make more money?

The New York Times recently devoted a lot of ink to “Why Marissa Mayer is mediocre and couldn’t turn Yahoo around.” (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for “regression to the mean” and other reasons why sought-after job candidates often don’t work out that well; also see “America’s Worst CEOs: Where are they now?”)

Yahoo! has a huge audience and a very capable team of engineers. Computers and Internet applications generally don’t do what consumers want. Why is it hard for them to build the stuff that people want? For example, Yahoo Travel doesn’t seem to add anything to other travel booking sites (in fact they say it is “powered by hipmunk”), which means that it is okay for business travel (user tells server where he or she needs to go) but terrible for leisure travel (server should tell user where is best to go given date-time constraints and activities desired; see my February 2014 posting).

Yahoo Finance is the same as Google Finance (maybe because Google copied all of their features!). Why doesn’t the server ask you about your investment goals and tell you how much to invest and where to invest it? (if not specific funds then at least asset classes)

Yahoo Mail is the same as all of the other web-based email services (see this paper by Jin Choi on an RDBMS-backed email system from the late 1990s). Since Yahoo has a staff of capable managers in India, why don’t they offer a service where they’ll actually answer the email for customers? A personal assistant who can put stuff on the Yahoo calendar, delete spam that makes it through the filter, come up with a daily to-do list, organize parties from the contacts list, etc. It is a lot easier for Yahoo to hire and supervise an employee in India than it would be for an American consumer.

As a portal company Yahoo is uniquely positioned to offer something like the online community aggregation system I wrote about back in 2009. Instead they sat idly while Facebook drained users and page views away from all of the standalone online communities. But I still think it would be worth a few programmers.

Is it really the case that the superheroes at Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Uber have used up all the oxygen? It feels to me as though there is a lot of low-hanging fruit for a company with Yahoo’s resources.

What would readers do if they could push a few new products (or features for old products) out the door at Yahoo? I’ll start with a trivial one: add the ability to publish a narrated slide show from Flickr.

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

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