With ex-Google exec Marissa Mayer taking the helm at Yahoo!, it will be interesting to see what her five year $129 million dollar package brings. The biggest challenge I see for Mayer is making Yahoo!relevant again.
Yes, they have $5 billion in revenue, largely driven by advertising (just like Google). Yes, they have over 3,000 patents. But to me, and I believe many others, Yahoo! is old school tech and not in that cool Atari 2600 kind of way.
What makes me say this?
In the last 5 years, I have never visited the Yahoo! site or seen a need to. I get my news from direct sources that I subscribe to. Google got my email and search. Apple gets my platform and communications business. I don’t even know if there is a Yahoo! app. And the list could go on. Bottom line: Yahoo! hasn’t demonstrated why I need it.
Even if we look at the historical development of the Yahoo! interface (1996, 2003, 2012 below), we see that aside from some text, picture and basic layout changes there’s not much that is different or innovative.
So, where to start?
My first question would be if Yahoo! wants to continue to be in the publishing business, which is basically what it does. Most of it is aggregated content, but basically if you told people that Yahoo! was actually the online version of a Yahoo! print newspaper, no one would probably say anything (except maybe, "Good luck!").
Assuming that Yahoo! stays with it’s current publishing model, it then needs to own that space in a big way. And since you can’t change the content itself, you need to change how you share that information with users and provide better tools that make that information more interesting, personal and relevant. And that means focusing more on design and user experience.
A good example of this is what Bloomberg did (and continues to online) with Businessweek, now Bloomberg Businessweek. Redesign:related has a nice post here. The result? 2012 Gold Award winner for Magazine of the Year from the Society of Publication Designers and at least one happy new subscriber – me.
Regardless of whether it's print or online, there is already too much information out there that users need to wade through. The challenge for Yahoo! will be to solve the information overload problem with a blend of design, editorial acumen and technology. They need to make Yahoo! a destination that redefines what information is, how it is shared and how it's made relevant to our lives. It needs to inspire us not with technology itself, but with an intuitive and insightful user experience that allows us to aspire more for ourselves.
If Mayer can do that, I’d be the first one back in line.