named PayPal president Scott Thompson its new CEO today. Scott who? Exactly. I'd never heard of him either. But with a technical background - and a need to prove himself, and no crazy Silicon Valley persona to stroke - he might actually be the right guy for the job.Yahoo
Yahoo, like all media companies, must learn to become a better software and technology company, or it is toast. You can have as many pageviews and ad sales folks as you want, but if you can't build great Web products - which demands great software, as well as great content - you're not going to grow.
Yahoo started out as a Web pioneer, but has since become a joke. Just go down its product list, one by one, and either laugh, cry, or scratch your head.
You can't seriously tell me that Yahoo Mail, for example, is even in the same league as Gmail - even though some 100 million people still use Yahoo Mail. Or that Yahoo Finance, one of the most important financial news sites in the world, is as well-built or designed as it should be. (It's no Verge.) Or that Flickr should be losing the momentum in photo sharing to Instagram and Tumblr. Or that Delicious shouldn't have been Yahoo's Pinterest long before anyone ever heard of Pinterest.
Hiring Thompson doesn't fix those problems right away. It's not like PayPal is a model Web service in 2012. But it suggests that Yahoo has a leader who understands serious technology. And as far as Yahoo CEOs go, that seems to be new.
As Adam Clark Estes writes for The Atlantic Wire, Thompson is a "huge geek."
With a bachelor's degree in accounting and computer science from a small private college in Massachusetts, he's not your standard Stanford-educated Silicon Valley executive. He's spent much of his career on the tech side of financial firms having spent much of his career at Visa and its various subsidiaries. Thompson also worked at Barclays Global Investors. He's been at PayPal since 2005 having served as the company's chief technology officer before taking over as president, but since PayPal's part of the eBay universe, he's not unfamiliar with what it takes to lead one of the world's largest technology companies.
Ideally, he can now start to recruit high-end engineering and product talent to fix Yahoo, create new things, and help make it a respectable Internet technology company again.
Yes, Yahoo's revenue comes from ad sales, and it's important to have someone good in charge of that, too. But without great Web and technology products, where will the ads even go? So a tech-savvy CEO is arguably more important for Yahoo today than a CEO who has run a TV studio or used to sell banner ads.
That doesn't necessarily mean that Thompson is the right guy, that he'll get the board support he needs, that he'll be able to recruit the right people, or that he'll get the job done. His ultimate job, really, may still be to sell Yahoo to the highest bidder.
But for a company that has pretty much wasted the last decade, it's a solid shot to do things right.