News of Delicious’s imminent demise turns out to have been overblown. Yahoo isn’t necessarily planning to kill the bookmarking site, a spokesman says--it’s merely considering “other options” for it (read: sale) because the service no longer fits with the company’s overall strategic goals.
That hasn’t stopped online commenters from decrying this as the latest bonehead move from a company that has been struggling to find its way for the past few years. But if you look at Yahoo’s emerging strategy, the decision not only seems to make sense, it also reveals that the company has the discipline to do what it takes to win.
Earlier this year, Yahoo brought on Microsoft veteran Blake Irving to head up its product group--or, in other words, to figure out what Yahoo should be building. The company was adrift since before Carol Bartz came on board two years ago, and while the new CEO hasn’t hesitated to knock heads to get the company in order, Yahoo still needs a strong hand at the product tiller to chart the company’s course forward. And that's exactly what Irving seems to be doing.
Back in November, when the company unveiled a series of new features such as Yahoo Local Offers, Irving painted his vision for Yahoo’s future. As with everyone else online, Yahoo has figured out that the future is local, social, and--with the proliferation of untethered devices--mobile. Yahoo has a great base to build on to deliver local and social experiences. Hundreds of millions of people visit the site every day, whether to use its mail service, to search, or to check out its content.
Yahoo thinks it can give those users what they’re looking for in terms of personalized, local, and social experiences, either on the web or on any device they might be carrying. And in doing so, Yahoo believes it can deliver to brands the audiences they’re seeking.
“Our job as a technology organization,” Irving said at another event back in September, “is to make it simple for users to have a very personal experience, and make it simple for advertisers to reach that person in their own personal context.”
Indeed, if you look at the image which started last week’s firestorm--a picture of a slide which appears to have been captured during a Yahoo product team all-hands meeting--you see that philosophy encapsulated in the presentation. On the left are the products Yahoo plans to jettison, ones that don’t align with that personalized social and local experience—AltaVista, Yahoo Buzz, Delicious, and MyBlogLog, among others. On the right, however, are listed the products and services that Yahoo plans to invest in and, presumably, build out: Deals, Yahoo Avatars, Yahoo Alerts, Yahoo Widgets, and so on.
When you’re trying to turn a ship as large and messy as Yahoo, it takes years for the implications to play themselves out. And the company has a long way to go before it regains the trust and respect of industry observers. But one of Irving’s lieutenants told Fast Company that the product group has been more rigorous, passionate, and energetic since Irving arrived, and that’s a good sign.
Writers are told they must “kill their little darlings”—that in order to produce a quality manuscript, they must be ready to do away with any piece of their drafts that distract from the overall product, no matter how brilliant those bits might be. In looking at Delicious with a gimlet eye, Yahoo is doing the same. The bookmarking site might be one of the Web’s “little darlings,” but if it doesn’t fit into Yahoo’s overall strategy, it must be let go.