Sunday, July 22, 2012

Wither Yahoo?

The new CEO of Yahoo! was formerly a bigwig at Google.  She has her work cut out for her, in order to earn her $75 Million salary.  A first order of business might be making products that actually work.

Microsoft was, at one time not too long ago, thinking about buying Yahoo! for $31 a share, or nearly $45 Billion dollars.  Today, Yahoo! trades for $15 a share, and Microsoft no doubt is glad they didn't stuff money down this rat-hole, given the number of rat-holes they have stuffed their Windows money
into as of late (reporting an operating loss for the first time in decades, this quarter).

Yahoo's basic problem is not how to better monetize itself, but how to attract users.  And it cannot attract users with products that simply don't work half the time, or don't work very well, even when they do work.

Yahoo! shareholders, on the other hand, were kind of pissed that management didn't take the offer.  When Bill Gates makes you "an offer you can't refuse" you take it, and then retire and buy a Ferrari.

Since then, Yahoo! has changed management more often than most IT guys change their underwear (not kidding, actually).  And the latest savior of the company, Marissa Mayer, is supposedly the genius behind their gmail, calendar, and search engine (what does that leave, Google+?).

Can she save Yahoo!?   I don't know, but it gave me an opportunity to put an exclamation point next to a question mark.

Yahoo's basic problem is not how to better monetize itself, but how to attract users.  And it cannot attract users with products that simply don't work half the time, or don't work very well, even when they do work.

And these free online programs, such as Yahoo! mail, are the "bait" that companies like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! use to attract users.   No one goes to Yahoo! to see their latest celebrity news page, just as no one goes to MSN to see the blathering they put on their home page.   We want Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, or, most important of all, Google's search engine.

That is the honeypot that attracts users, and let's face it, Google has the ultimate honeypot - its search engine.   Hotmail and Yahoo! mail are distant second and third place finishers.

But if you want to even be second or third place, your products have to work - and work well.   And Yahoo!'s products just don't work very well.

Could Not Connect

Description: Could not connect to the server "".

This is the message you get, half the time you load the Yahoo! Calendar.

Yahoo is "OK" sort of, but their "Calendar" feature is very lame. You cannot search for items on your calendar for more than three months at a time.  You used to be able to, but then some clever fellow who programs their HTML decided that "most people" are not interested in searching for anything further in the future than three months.

And while they made a window that allows you to search other date ranges (provided they are three month increments) it doesn't work.   When you type in other date ranges, it just goes back to searching the next three months.   It is pretty crappy HTML programming.

It is sort of like eBay motors, which, when you type in a search term, doggedly keeps it, even if you change year, make, and model.   Once you put in "station wagon" in the search box, it will keep looking for station wagons, until you log out and log back in again.   Crappy HTML programming.

On occasion, the calendar bombs out or acts erratically, for days at a time.  If you are relying in this calendar, to, you know, use as a calendar to remind you of important things, well, you are going to miss a lot of important appointments.

And if you "search" for an item and try to edit it, it will not take the edit or delete - some sort of bug in the program. You have to access the item from the calendar page, not the search page, in order to edit it.

Just a weird freaky bug, and that does not bode well for Yahoo!, which is facing severe financial troubles as well.

Last month, I logged into Yahoo!, and my entire calendar was been erased.

Um, that is the coffin nail in Yahoo, I'm afraid.

I know they are struggling, but I guess you can't count on these online calendars very much.

A week later, my Yahoo! calendar came back mysteriously. You can export the calendar to Windows Calendar (for Vista, they deleted Windows Calendar in Windows 7 and beyond).   So I immediately did.

Hotmail has no search feature for their calendar, and no import/export feature. When you search on "Windows 7 Calendar" they helpfully tell you to buy a calendar program, or use the Hotmail (Windows Live) calendar, which is a piece of shit. Not even a search feature.  Clearly Microsoft is dropping the ball here as well.

Google? Excellent calendar, can search ALL events at once (instead of just four months, like Yahoo) and can import your calendar from the .ics file exported from Yahoo (although it took a couple of tries).

So, like with my e-mail, I have triple redundancy.

Yahoo! Mail wasn't too bad of a program, but lately there is a Yahoo e-mail worm going around that seems to affect Yahoo! users only.   If you get an e-mail from a Yahoo! address, and click on the attached link, it will send the same e-mail to all the contacts in your Yahoo! e-mail.    This is interesting, as it is the first time, I am aware of, that a worm has successfully worked with a web-based e-mail service. 

And from what I am reading online, only Yahoo! has this problem.   I erased all my contacts from my Yahoo! account, as I no longer use their e-mail.  (It was able to send this message from my account, even though I was only logged in to the calendar program - interesting!).

But it makes you wonder - why does Yahoo! offer these online "cloud" programs, and then execute them so poorly?   It is one thing to say that such-and-such a program has better features (more storage space, etc.) but another when the program doesn't work at all, or works only intermittently or is so crippled as to be useless.

It reminds me of these debates about American cars versus the Germans and Japanese during the 1970's.  Having nothing else to argue, the Americans would argue they have more legroom and hip room, as well as bigger and more powerful engines.

But the problem was, at the time, that American cars broke down all the time and these "advantages" meant nothing, compared to a car that actually ran.   A car, that is inoperable, is just a pile of metal, and the legroom and hip room mean nothing, unless you are homeless and plan on living in it.

So, arguing that Yahoo! needs to improve its click-rates or advertising model is akin to saying the Vega has more legroom than a Toyota Corona.   They are missing the point.  No one wants a car that doesn't run or a website that doesn't work.

What Yahoo! needs is not a more efficient way of exploiting what few users it has left, but better products to attract users.

Otherwise, you could have the best online ad strategy in the world, but it would not matter.  Without users there is no revenue.   And since these Yahoo! Calendar and e-mail fiascoes, I find it unnecessary to use Yahoo! anymore.

I end up using Google, for better or worse.  At least their programs work and work well.  And they have more features.

Marissa has her work cut out for her.  I am not sure it is possible to even "save" a dying Internet company.   Maybe she can go to work for AOL?