Yahoo's 'New' Mobile Strategy Is Neither New Nor A Strategy. Discuss. - InformationWeek

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1/8/2008
06:30 PM
Stephen Wellman
Stephen Wellman
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Yahoo's 'New' Mobile Strategy Is Neither New Nor A Strategy. Discuss.

Yahoo helped to kick off the mobile Web hype at CES yesterday by unveiling its new mobile Web strategy, which includes an upgrade of the company's mobile content and services platform, Yahoo Go 3.0, and a plan for mobile advertising services. Unfortunately for Yahoo, there's nothing new in its mobile strategy, or anything truly stra

Yahoo helped to kick off the mobile Web hype at CES yesterday by unveiling its new mobile Web strategy, which includes an upgrade of the company's mobile content and services platform, Yahoo Go 3.0, and a plan for mobile advertising services. Unfortunately for Yahoo, there's nothing new in its mobile strategy, or anything truly strategic.Let me preface my conclusion about Yahoo's announcements with a brief discussion of the word "strategy."

Strategy in the business world can be defined in two ways. The first is the effective marshaling of resources. It's knowing which efforts to fund, which ones to kill, and which business initiatives are fine just as they are. Many management gurus claim that this is a science and that it's at the core of all business strategy. Other strategists, however, argue that this isn't true strategy, but rather the strategic management of tactics. These critics would content that while managing resources is important, it's not the core of the issue. That's a semantic sandbox fight I'll leave to others.

The other side of strategy is the ability to know when to move. It's zigging when the others zag. It's that part of business that allows the successful executive to chart a course where the competition isn't going, or to ignore a trend when the rest of the market goes there and flounders as a result. Many strategists argue that this is the core of strategy and that it is as much an art as a science.

Let me re-phrase it: Strategy is the ability to redefine the game to factors that favor your business's natural strengths, and put your competitors at an instant competitive disadvantage. Several technology executives personify this aspect of strategy, including Steve Jobs at Apple and Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page at Google.

Taking either of these definitions in mind, I don't see how anyone can really consider Yahoo's announcements this week to be remotely strategic. Yahoo isn't pulling Google onto its preferred playing field (not that Yahoo seems to have a field at which it can outperform Google these days). Yahoo's news this week is nothing but a set of copy-cat moves as the perennial second-place search company desperately tries to keep up with Google.

Yahoo Go 3.0 is a nice upgrade over Yahoo Go 2.0, but, based on my experience with it today it's still a mobile widget that's slower than it should be. Accessing e-mail is slow, as is updating news feeds. It's a nice platform, but I don't think it can hope to compete with Google's existing applications, or the coming onslaught of Google Android.

It's nice that Yahoo is pushing for an open mobile Web, but c'mon, Jerry. You guys are really late to this party. Google has been out there pushing for this for over a year. Where was Yahoo on the question of openness in January 2007? Or even in November last year?

I don't see how Yahoo's move to open its platform to Google Android will matter, either. While Yahoo Go 3.0 is nice, I prefer the mobile version of Gmail and Google Maps and other Google apps to Yahoo's applications. So why would I want to use Yahoo on a phone that has these applications embedded on it?

Frankly, I think Yahoo is in the worst position in the mobile Web when it comes to the big three. Google has its massive brand cache, loads of cool technology, and more money than most countries on its side. Microsoft has more than 20 million Windows Mobile devices, loads of cash and resources, and the promise of the prosumer and business markets in its corner.

The gang in Redmond also have a growing online ad business (with its own interactive agencies and ad distribution platforms) to tap into, too. Yahoo just has some applications and the hope that its mobile ad efforts can compete with Microsoft and Google. It doesn't have an OS and it doesn't have any plans or reach to build one. I don't know if Yahoo will even be able to effectively compete with Microsoft, much less Google, which, as we know, is still the online advertising king and will likely dominate the mobile market, too.

If Yahoo seriously hopes that its new mobile Web plans will have any impact in the market, it's going need to come up with something more innovative than a widget and some new ad initiatives.

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