Reading Shri's blog this morning, I discovered that there is actually something that Yahoo! does better than Google, at least for today. Of course, in addition to this ostensibly slightly more intelligent image search, there's also the lead in mobile search that Y! has, or so I'm told by a billboard on 101 every afternoon. You could probably throw in the unlimited storage for your email, but in yet another brilliantly executed marketing tactic, nobody actually knows about that.
Put that together with the continued shuffling of the top of the corporate deck, and you start wondering if there isn't in fact a glimmer of hope for Yahoo!
Countless people with far greater credentials than mine have pontificated ad nauseam over what the company should, and shouldn't do going forward. I submit that it all has to start with a couple of core cultural changes, and unfortunately that's going to be a lot easier said than done.
First of all, and excuse the cliche, the company has to actually dare to be great. It was very clear to me in my short time there, that too many people in positions of significant power and influence quite simply lacked a backbone. A company that is led by followers is going to struggle to be a leader.
I'm reminded of the people who buy a lovely sofa set, or dining chairs, and then leave the plastic shrink wrap on them lest anything actually come into contact with the plush surface material. Or better yet, the guy in our local cricket league who owns a $300 helmet, but does not wear it to protect his head for fear of damage. It's no point crowing about all your wonderful assets and capabilities if you're not going to have the guts to leverage them in any way. It's even okay to do something imperfectly once in a while, particularly when the alternative is to do nothing at all.
Secondly, the company needs to rethink how it actually defines itself. I'm not just talking about the whole media company vs. technology company vs. internet company vs. something else debate here. I'm talking about the process inherent in self-definition.
There are two ways that an individual entity, be it a person, an organisation, a company, or a country, can define itself. The easy option is to take a look around you, and define yourself in terms of others. We see this all the time in the geo-political arena, and it's precisely what I saw, and still see/hear, going on extensively at Yahoo! Someone else is having success with something, therefore if we want to be successful, that's what we must be. Or everybody hates so-and-so, so we must at all costs, avoid looking like them.
Success, however, is more likely to be forthcoming if you take the other, harder, approach. Take a moment for introspection, and then think about what your place in the world can and should be. Based not on others, but on what you can really bring to the table.
Yahoo! still has unparalleled assets, especially in the form of data. It also has good systems, and good people, my and other people's disparaging comments notwithstanding. When it decides to focus on harnessing those, and opts to build on it's own foundation, the opportunity to be a great company will once again present itself.
So my not-particularly-thought-out advice to Jerry Yang -- shut out the rest of the world, think about what you have at your disposal, and imagine what you could really do with it. Then go out there and dare to chase that vision. It's ultimately inconsequential whether Google gets blown away, nudged aside, or embraced in that process.