The savior narrative runs strong at Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo: An executive from Google, the company that long left Yahoo behind in the dust, comes in to revive the ailing Web giant as its CEO.
It's a tale that's easy to tell, but it's easier said than done. Tuesday, at the Las Vegas Hotel, Mayer delivered a keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show that unveiled new products but stuck to an old script. And that script did not address the question: Can Yahoo innovate?
A video introducing Mayer urged viewers to “never stop dreaming.” But Yahoo's products—email, weather, sports, and news—are hardly the stuff of dreams.
Mayer made a point she’s made previously—that Yahoo's historic strengths play well to the mobile world, where Yahoo now has 400 million monthly mobile users. But it's not clear how easing everyday activities—the "daily habits” Mayer likes to talk about—inspire dreams.
A Media Company Redux
One way Yahoo might become more inspiring is through its media properties. It remains a large presence in news, sports, and finance online. To bolster those, it recently hired Katie Couric, the television broadcast personality, as its global news anchor.
But Couric was very vague when Mayer asked her about her plans for Yahoo News, dismissing online reporting as “linking,” citing Yahoo's global reach and talking about telling interesting stories about people.
The flipside of Couric's old-school approach came from Nick D'Aloisio, the entrepreneur whose news-summarization app, Summly, Yahoo acquired last year. D'Aloisio announced Yahoo News Digest, a twice-a-day newsletter offering blurbs of news collected algorithmically but "editorially curated”—that is, selected by human editors.
One wonders: Will Yahoo News Digest offer shortened summaries of Couric’s interviews, perhaps even—gasp!—linking to stories online?
Yahoo also hired the energetic David Pogue, formerly a New York Times columnist, to run Yahoo Tech, a new tech site for an audience Pogue called “normals."
And to tout its video offerings, Yahoo literally rolled out Weekend Update anchor Cecily Strong to highlight its deal to host Saturday Night Live archives.
Daily Habits, But Prosaic Ones
Mayer summed up Yahoo's offerings: “Search, communications, digital magazines, and video.”
All of this may entertain, but it seems to fall short of the stuff of dreams.
It does, at least, narrow down Yahoo’s focus. The company has been plagued by overreach, a legacy of the dotcom days when it seemed like Yahoo could slap its brand on any topic imaginable. (Remember Yahoo Pets?)
But simplification and beautification are not the same thing as inspiration. For that, we’ll have to wait for another speech.