Friday, August 29, 2008

Yahoo What?

This news story caught my eye this morning:

File this one under the "ouch" category. Yahoo is shutting down its social-networking experiment, Yahoo Mash, after only a year in business.


Mash didn't really offer anything new, other than the fact that instead of inviting friends you created profiles for them and then invited them to customize and change them. You could also add "modules," a sort of rudimentary version of social-network apps. It was designed as a quirky, cute step up from Yahoo 360, the social network that Yahoo had based off its millions of pre-existing user accounts; if Yahoo 360 was analogous to AOL profiles, Mash was more like Facebook.

To which my first reply was: "Yahoo had a service called 'Mash?'"

And my second reply was: "Yahoo has a service called 'Yahoo 360?'"

Understand, I'm a Yahoo user from way back. I remember when Yahoo was the cool new kid on the block, showing us all what to do with Internet indexes. In the years leading up to the first dot-com bubble I worked for a company ( whose business plan was to be the thinking man's Yahoo. I've had a Yahoo email account for years and years, and I've spent a good number of hours browing through threads in this or that Yahoo Group. I have a My Yahoo page, which is the default page for my browser at home. I know Yahoo, I spend time on Yahoo, and yet I had no idea that Mash and Yahoo 360 even existed.

There are a couple takeaways here.

First, the hallowed me-too play doesn't work any better for the big boys than it does for the rest of us; if all you can say about your service is "it's kind of like Facebook," then you should go back to the drawing board. If your service is like Facebook but isn't better than Facebook, you'll fail for the very simple reason that people who want something like Facebook have already found what they're looking for in Facebook.

Second, get the friggin' word out. Yahoo is a profitable business and has money to spend on things. Yahoo owns a banner advertising business. Yahoo has a tremendous presence online. And yet somehow I -- a person who spends his entire day online -- never heard about Mash or Yahoo 360, even though I hit the Yahoo servers two or three times a day. That doesn't speak well for their advertising efforts. Assuming that they had an advertising effort.

If you want to know why Yahoo has been struggling of late, maybe this gives some indication. Build a service, don't tell anyone about it, and then kill it a year later when it fails to magically attract support through some sort of social osmosis. That's a lousy excuse for a business plan.