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Whatever Happened to Yahoo? Nothing, and That's the Problem

Not long ago, somebody mentioned the name Corel to your editor. "Corel," he thought. "Wait, is Corel still around? Surely not. It didn't survive the early 2000s bust, did it?"

Actually, it did. We're just not sure how. The predictions were so dire for the Canadian firm in the late '90s -- when times were still good -- that we at RCPU distinctly remember one very well-known and well-respected analyst telling your editor that Corel probably didn't have more than six months to live. That was in 1997, or maybe 1998. You get the point.

We haven't followed Corel (who has?) in recent, well, decades, so we're not sure how the company that nearly put itself out of business trying to take on Microsoft Office managed to remain both alive and, as far as we can tell, independent. But the company, once run by the never-dull and possibly not totally sane Michael Cowpland, must have made some adjustments somewhere. Because that's what good companies do: make adjustments to survive.

And so we come to Yahoo, which we still refuse to spell with an exclamation point. And really, why should we? The only thing exciting about Yahoo these days is the turmoil the company is in. Yahoo fired its CEO this week and now looks every bit as doomed as Corel did during the Clinton administration.

Somehow, Corel managed to find an audience and appeal to it -- to give it something it really wanted or couldn't live without. This is why we don't think Yahoo will survive the way Corel did: When is the last time Yahoo provided any sort of product or service that was indispensable, highly desirable or hard to replace? We're thinking 1997, maybe. It's a wonder Yahoo is still around.

Google has ripped consumer search and, in large part, Web-based e-mail away from everybody else in the market. That cut the heart out of Yahoo, which really never succeeded at becoming much more than a search engine and e-mail provider (and then pretty much turned search over to Microsoft and Bing). The Yahoo 360 social network -- actually slightly ahead of its time and way ahead of Google -- never went anywhere (because it was terrible and hard to use, in your editor's view). Even Yahoo Messenger is no longer a top-shelf instant-messaging client.

Microsoft will be Microsoft for many years to come because of the thousands (millions?) of companies that have invested in Microsoft infrastructure for years and have no desire, or possibly even ability, to rip it out. Sure, Microsoft might not survive as a 90,000-person battleship and probably shouldn't be engaging in its futile chase of Apple in the consumer space, but Microsoft provides products that are indispensible, hard to replace and, yes, even desirable. That's a great blueprint for survival.

Apple got back on its feet after the late '90s by coming up with the iPod, the product everybody had to have. After that, Apple had its hooks in everybody (because that's how the company works; it's the most proprietary technology company ever). Like your iPod? Use iTunes. Like iTunes? Hey, you might want to sync that on your iPhone, or iPad, or whatever. Apple makes not only cool stuff but stuff that people now think they can't live without. Even without Steve Jobs at the helm, Apple is set to be successful for a long time.

Even Google has managed to make itself seemingly indispensible, with a search engine that's still the brand-name default for millions of users and a Web-based e-mail platform that's so pervasive that people almost don't have to get past the "at" sign anymore when giving out their personal e-mail addresses. And that doesn't even touch on Android, Google's cloud services or the company's many other popular offerings.

Big and small, companies that survive and thrive do so by getting their hooks into enterprises and consumers. Yahoo never did that. Back in the late '90s, there was nothing cooler than setting up a "My Yahoo" portal (whatever happened to that word?) as a home page. Look, sports scores! News headlines! The weather! All in one place! What will they think of next?

Not much, actually, in Yahoo's case. Where has the innovation been? When did Yahoo ever adjust its business model for the 2000s, much less for the 2010s? What does Yahoo offer that we really want, absolutely need, or have and don't want to try to replace? Nothing -- nothing we can think of here at RCPU, anyway. Think of Amazon, another Web pioneer, and then think of Yahoo (or even of AOL). See the difference?

Standing pat is a great way to end up out of business, which is where it appears Yahoo is headed -- probably to be bought for much less than what Microsoft offered for the company a few years ago. It would be a sad story if it weren't so ridiculous. Corel is still alive, and Yahoo is circling the drain. Nobody would have predicted that 15 years ago -- but 15 years is centuries on the Web.

What's your take on Yahoo's chances for survival? Leave a comment below or send it to lpender@rcpmag.com.

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Posted by Lee Pender on September 09, 2011 at 11:57 AM


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