Acqui-hires are great, but Yahoo’s mobile strategy needs much more


Yahoo’s mobile shopping spree continued last week with two acquisitions: It picked up GoPollGo, a real-time polling tool aimed at increasing user engagement and providing feedback for media companies, and it pocketed the frequent flyer search company MileWise. The terms of the deals were not disclosed, and Yahoo shut down both offerings as the deals were announced.

Those pick-ups are just the latest in a remarkable feeding frenzy from Yahoo as it desperately struggles to become a major player in the smartphone era. New CEO Marissa Mayer’s first acquisition came last October in the form of Stamped, a mobile recommendation app. Yahoo’s mobile buys since then include the location discovery app Alike, the social news curator Snip.It, the recommendation site (and app) Jybe, the news-reading app Summly and the to-do and reminder app Astrid. Oh, and as I’m writing this the company has announced the pick-up of Loki Studios, which develops location-based mobile games.

A one-stop shop for customized mobile content

The first major step in Yahoo’s mobile game plan clearly is to acquire as much quality talent and technology as it can at relatively affordable prices. The company is also making good on Mayer’s promise to drastically reduce the number of mobile apps it offers from roughly six dozen to a more manageable 15 or so. It gave its Flickr mobile apps a much-needed overhaul that added Instagram-like filters and other filters. And as my colleague Kevin C. Tofel recently noted, Yahoo has introduced a compelling new Weather app for iPhone and iPod touch devices as an email client for the iPad and Android tablets.

All those moves are part of Yahoo’s over-arching strategy of becoming a kind of aggregator of customized mobile content across a wide range of categories. As Fast Company’s Sarah Kessler wrote in March, the company hopes to create a series of unified, Yahoo-branded offerings including everything from Flickr photos to news to games to, say, flight information. The ultimate goal is to leverage information such as location and preferences to deliver the most relevant content to users – and to reap the ad revenues that highly targeted content should yield.

 The importance of social media, messaging and the mobile web

Creating a one-stop shop for all sorts of mobile content is an extremely ambitious goal in an era where hundreds of thousands of apps are available with just a few clicks, however, and simply providing highly customized information won’t be enough to get Yahoo back in the game. Like any modern media company, it will have to tap huge social networks like Facebook and Twitter much more effectively, encouraging its users to spread the word. It may also need to invest in traditional marketing campaigns to drive awareness. Also, it should consider adding a messaging component that enables users to interact with each other within the Yahoo world itself, just as Facebook and others have done.

But Yahoo will make a huge mistake here if it allows its new, app-centric initiative to take its focus off the mobile web in general. The company must make its mobile sites much more user-friendly, especially for those with existing Yahoo accounts. (I recently spent 15 minutes on my phone in a futile effort to get an update on my Yahoo fantasy baseball team after I logged in.) It must integrate its mobile sites more tightly with its apps, encouraging users to download an app when and where it’s appropriate. And it must continue to develop its Axis browser, which has largely fallen off the radar after receiving solid reviews following its debut a year ago. The importance of the mobile web will only grow in the next few years as HTML5 continues to evolve, eventually leading to the rise of web-based apps. Yahoo must keep that in mind as it pursues its ambitious new strategy.

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