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Tuesday, September 16, 2003

When, precisely, did Yahoo! become evil? And how could it become good again?

Maybe a smart reader can help me pinpoint the day that Yahoo! crossed over to the dark side. Who knows, maybe it was the day they went public. But lately it seems increasingly evident that they don't "get," and don't want to "get," that intangible web sensibility we like to call "it."

They don't get it.

Like countless others, I often use Yahoo! Mail. Feature-wise, it's very good. It often solves a lot of problems for me. I expect a little advertising to come with this service, I honestly do. I just don't expect it to be so ridiculously intrusive. Not when I'm paying 50 bucks a year for the premium mailbox.

In the middle of a message that I don't want to send, I hit "cancel." Instead of taking me to a screen like the message list or the previous message (which would have advertising anyway), I'm served ANOTHER ad on a separate, useless page that says nothing but "your message has not been sent." And the ad, as all the ads in Yahoo Mail, is really, really big, and gives me a headache. I realize that there might be a good reason to tell me that my message wasn't sent... but with all this advertising on a service I paid for, I'm beyond caring.

Now I thought Yahoo was making the transition to fee-based revenue. If so, then why annoy willing fee-payers with ads of this nature? So far, the premium "StatTracker" for the fantasy football (only $10) isn't littered with ads - hey, I paid for it, right? But how long will it be before they figure out that this, too, is another source not only of incremental "upsell" revenue but also a nice place to plaster intrusive advertising that slows down the user experience?

The only thing users care about as much as email is, of course, search. If industry rumblings are any indication, Yahoo! plans to serve up a foul brew of paid inclusion, paid directory, and sponsored listings to replace what was a perfectly good Google index. For their sake, let's hope they've taken an accurate reading on the average user's sophistication level. I know the average reader of this site won't be thrilled with the latest incarnation of Yahoo Search.

What Yahoo should do, of course, is to resurrect Inktomi (with help from scientists at AltaVista and FAST, who also now work for Yahoo through Overture) as an unpaid index and genuinely compete with Google on the search quality front. The index could be syndicated to other portals or search destinations in a package deal with Overture listings. The Yahoo site's revenues wouldn't suffer too much, because high-quality search would be accompanied by banner ads and Overture listings.

Nah, I guess that just makes too much sense for Yahoo. We expect them to make a mess instead, plodding along with a paid-inclusion index that isn't really search. And hope that they prove us wrong.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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