Whether it’s real or not (and I have no reason to doubt it), Stewart Butterfield’s resignation letter to Yahoo is a must-read.
The big news this morning is that Microsoft has offered $44.6B to buy Yahoo, the figure representing a 62% premium on the share price at yesterday’s market close. It’s very unclear at this point what will come of this, but as a user I find it hard to see how such a tie-up could be beneficial to me. From my perspective, although MS has done some interesting things on the net, none of their initiatives have been focused on delivering the best quality of user experience or even innovation – their plays have seemed to by cynically based on scaling up so-so experiences and hoping that the brute force of that scale can make them important. What we learn from Google, however, is that though scale is important, it is deeply related to quality and innovation in a way that consumer software never was.
I subscribe to a feed from Hitwise Intelligence, an “online competitive intelligence” firm that publishes traffic analysis on various topics on a blog. Today I found this post by Heather Hopkins: US: Google Maps Making Inroads Against Leader, Mapquest. I was very surprised to learn that not only is Mapquest still a viable site, but it remains the market leader by quite a big (though shrinking) margin over Google Maps and Yahoo! Maps.
It’s surprising because I assumed that Google’s site had long since become the market leader – which it is with pretty much everyone I know. I haven’t heard of anyone using Mapquest in years – and if you go to the site, all you find is the same barely-usable interface and sketchy, jaggedy maps as always, not to mention almost useless search results and a decided lack of actual mapping features.
There are two pretty clear reminders in this case for anyone who works in online marketing: a) the market leader isn’t necessarily who you (as a specialist) assume it is, and b) a site’s market/traffic leadership doesn’t mean that it is the one to emulate. I guess incumbency status really is important, even on the net.
At the huge CES event in Las Vegas yesterday Yahoo revealed further information about their next step into social networks. Michael Arrington has a good overview: Here Comes Yahoo Live, I Mean Yahoo Life. Basically it’s some kind of mashup between Yahoo Mail and Maps with some third-party widget exposure/access built in.
The problem for Yahoo, as far as I can tell, is that piecemeal things like this are simply not comprehensive enough for anyone to really take them seriously. Yahoo already has a lot of great elements that it could leverage into a social media strategy, and the fact that they aren’t even at the table (as far as anyone can tell) indicates simply that Yahoo is either a) hedging their bets far more than they should, or b) too siloed an organization to pull its own pieces together effectively. Either way, they won’t likely achieve a whole lot until they solve one problem or the other.
In other words, Flickr is smaller than Facebook and MySpace, but nevertheless it is still one of the best-of-breed social networks on the web, and until Yahoo can demonstrate that it can (and will) marshal its own properties, their social network strategy is likely to be a disappointment.