In Marissa Mayer’s first year at Yahoo, there have been plenty of acquisitions aimed at improving culture, spreading knowledge, and, crucially, attracting job candidates. The home page, Flickr, and Weather apps were all brought into the modern era, too.
These early moves may have stemmed the long-running Yahoo exodus, but that’s the low-hanging fruit. Marissa’s next challenge will be far greater: To bring back people who left Yahoo years ago, and entice a new generation that was never there to begin with. That means not just getting up to speed with the competition, but sprinting right past it.
Below are five takeover targets that could help Yahoo fulfill that mission. They all fit with Marissa’s focus on daily habits and ambition to become a cross-platform mobile leader. You won’t find any FourSquares or Pinterests in this list – these are small startups with geek cred at best. But I believe each has the potential to grow into a giant (Note: I have no affiliations or relationships with any of these businesses).
Content has always been central to Yahoo’s business, but in a fast-moving world, how we consume content is changing. Content is more abundant than ever (an hour of YouTube video is uploaded every second!), making it impossible to plow through even a small fraction of relevant content. Yahoo can draw in users by synthesizing what’s out there.
Yahoo’s Summly and Qwiki acquisitions show that it is well aware of this. But another piece of the puzzle is the “Save For Later” movement. It’s exemplified by Safari’s Reading List, and YouTube’s Watch Later, which allows users to defer incoming links so they can get back to what they were doing.
While Instapaper defined the space, the one app that dominates in functionality now is Pocket. It’s a perfect example of the simple “do one thing and do it well” design mantra that Yahoo needs to embrace. Having expanded to include video and image saving, Pocket is fast-becoming a verb to encapsulate saving anything for later, keeping all your saves in the cloud. It’s not hard to see how Pocket’s insights could help Yahoo deliver highly targeted content and ads in the future.
IFTTT has been called “Pipes 2.0,” after the Yahoo product that once promised so much. Like Excel a generation earlier, it fits into the space of end-user programming, allowing people to transform data without doing any actual coding. IFTTT boils internet programming down to simple “If This, Then That” recipes, e.g., if I take a photo on Instagram, send it to Dropbox.
Yahoo needs IFTTT because it’s not enough to provide siloed services for pictures, finance, etc. Sure, Flickr’s team might build a dedicated “Send to Facebook” button, but that doesn’t scale across the entire internet. Ultimately, the user wants be at the center of the services they use. It’s that service in the middle, the one that helps users juggle everything else, that has the best chance of understanding users and enriching their life.
Tempo Smart Calendar
Calendar functionality has hardly changed since the paper diary, making Tempo Smart Calendar — a spin-off from the group that made Siri — a breath of fresh air. By scanning users’ email, contacts,and other info, Tempo augments calendar entries with actually useful information. A few examples include: finding the PIN for a conference call and dialing you in; bringing you intelligence about who you’re meeting; integrating a map of your meeting location.
Yahoo could certainly benefit from a stronger calendar offering to complement its reinvigorated email service, and Tempo is all of that. Furthermore, the company brings a mindset to product design that all Yahoo’s assets could benefit from. It’s not just a calendar with prettier gradients, but a new kind of product that cleverly incorporates the user’s data across services.
Yes, Yahoo Maps is still a thing. And if Yahoo is going all out on mobile, it will need to become an even bigger thing. Now most people perform precisely one task with maps: Get me to X. So the time-honored map interface — starting with a big view of your city to pan and zoom, search somewhere in the corner — feels dated, needlessly complex, and out of touch with user preferences.
CityMapper is a London-based app that brings the “Get me from X” question to the forefront of the interface, and answers it especially well. The results include options for car travel, taxi, bike, and public transport, instead of making that part of the initial query, and include not just time info, but cost and calories burnt. While Yahoo will need a lot more to enhance maps (e.g. traffic updates a la Waze), CityMapper is designed around solving real problems instead of just presenting data. As with Tempo, that’s a role model other Yahoo properties could benefit from. ( Another example: witness how Compfight is often a better Flickr search than Flickr itself, for anyone performing the popular task of sourcing commercial images.)
Yahoo Answers was once the internet’s ubiquitous Q&A platform, but it’s long since been eclipsed by Quora and StackExchange when it comes to serious content. This is unfortunate for a company that gave up on web search, because Q&A has similar characteristics. It caters well to niche audiences and captures users’ attention when they’re looking for something, an ideal opportunity for advertising. It’s not surprising that Answers is one of Marissa’s key verticals.
One startup with a fresh approach to this genre is Slant, a user-generated take on “What is the best X?” lists. Users submit new options and vote on the options already out there. Although it’s conceptually similar to Answers, Slant emphasizes the competition among possible answers. This makes the act of voting more compelling and breaks away from the typical “all or nothing” highlight around just the one top answer. The site overall has the kind of clean and modern experience which Answers lacks, as well as catchy mail updates to keep people coming back.
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