How to make Yahoo visible

yahoo-sm If you think of Yahoo, what springs to mind?

Search engine? Portal? The owner of cool things like Flickr, Delicious and Konfabulator (as was)?

Yahoo isn’t on my radar screen at all. The only time I think of Yahoo is when I sign in to Flickr, as I’m presented with a Yahoo log-in.

In fact, Yahoo isn’t part of any conversation I have about any of the current moving-and-shaking things going on in the tech world.

But I’ve actually been thinking a bit about Yahoo since Tuesday night when I joined a group of people including some senior executives from Yahoo for a pleasant dinner in London.

The main point of this get-together was to chat about Yahoo and social media. We started off with a few formal presentation-type commentaries from the Yahoo folk as we started dinner, and then open discussion.

Differing points of view from Yahoo about Yahoo were reflected in some of the comments from Yahoo execs.

For instance, George Hadjigeorgiou:

Yahoo is the starting point for consumers and advertisers on the internet.

And Duncan Watts:

Yahoo is where the activities are.

Rather Web 1.0 to my way of thinking.

A really interesting view came from John Linwood who talked about opening up the Yahoo platform to third-party developers where the “starting point for consumers and advertisers on the internet” can then become anywhere on the internet, not the Yahoo portal.

Jeff Jarvis, one of the invited group, has a good write-up of how he saw the evening. One of his concluding remarks is pretty much spot on:

[...] I think what we witnessed [...] was the debate the company is having within: portal or platform?

But isn’t there something more fundamental going on here? I mean, Yahoo is practically invisible.

Think about the primary things you do online.

Search? That’s only about Google. (And what a brand advantage Google has. Whether they like it or not – and they don’t – ‘google’ is a verb for searching, no matter the search engine you use.)

Instant messaging? Everyone I know uses Windows Live Messenger aka MSN Messenger, Google Talk or Skype. Increasingly, I’m engaging IM-wise with more people on Twitter and Jaiku (the latter now owned by Google), especially via mobile devices.

Social networks? That’s all about Facebook at the moment, never mind the buzz about OpenSocial, Google’s developer deal with MySpace announced yesterday.

Many questions and no quick answers to put Yahoo front of mind.

The more I think about this, the more I think John Linwood is on the right track.

It’s definitely not about portals nor so much about social networks themselves.

Rather, it’s something like OpenSocial as a clear indicator of demolishing the walls around your garden and letting others in to add whatever they want to your platform that will be compellingly appealing to yet others.

Yahoo already does this with Flickr and Delicious. Or maybe it’s better to say Flickr and Delicious do this; they now happen to be owned by Yahoo.

That perception may well be at the heart of the Yahoo dilemma on visibility or lack thereof – in all the commentary and media reporting I’ve read about OpenSocial, I didn’t read a single one where anyone asked what this means for Yahoo (and ironically, you can read about OpenSocial on Yahoo News).

One interesting question, though, on Yahoo Answers – will Yahoo join OpenSocial? Yet unanswered.

So, it’s about the platform.

Which will probably address that visibility issue.

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About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.