Sullivans Death Knell for Yahoo Search

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-08-27 Print this article Print

Larry Cornett, vice president of search products and design at Yahoo, gushed about Yahoo's newfound ability to enable YouTube video to play right from the search results: "That is true task completion. That is when a user is happy. This is what they really want. They don't want a bunch a links that go off and explore a bunch of pages. Bring the information to them."

That made sense to me, but who cares that Cornett is gushing about his new babies? Why not hear it from a search engine expert's point of view? For that, I turn to Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan, whose "Yahoo's New Search Clothes - But Will It Help? (Probably Not)" offers another kiss-of-death on Yahoo's search services.

While comments from Siegler and Schonfeld toward Yahoo tend toward the sarcastic, Sullivan's acid bath for Yahoo is more subtle. He describes Yahoo features in complimentary terms such as "cool," "neat," "nice" and "awesome," only to turn around, often in the same sentence, to dismiss the features for one reason or another.

On the video playback feature, Sullivan noted that it "has a nice 'wow' factor, but it's hardly unique, not something Yahoo's two rivals couldn't do. As it happens only in a drill-down option, perhaps it won't even get used much."

What are we to think of Sullivan's purposely conflicted characterization of Yahoo's new features? It is the equivalent of a group of friends describing a mutual acquaintance they don't like as "nice;" the acquaintance is so patently unlikable that a verbal insult in such a setting would seem coarse and vulgar.

Sullivan, who has written a eulogy for Yahoo Search, now writes as though he looks down on the company. This is Yahoo's fault; it has done nothing to inspire the men and women who cover the company to think and write positively about it.

I have enjoyed watching Yahoo and Bartz cast off (or try to, as it were) the torpor that saddled the company under Yang's reign. I cannot find fault with Yahoo's new Search, Mail and Messenger upgrades. As long as Yahoo's search services compel people to keep coming to Yahoo, I won't wring my hands that Yahoo has "given up" on search by putting Bing on the back end.

The media digerati may care that Bing is powering Yahoo; the millions of other Yahoo users won't care at all. But that may not matter because no matter what Yahoo seems to do, the media finds fault with it. The media won't let Yahoo live in peace; there is a pack-mentality schadenfreude to all of this. Where does it come from?

Maybe the media wants Yahoo to go away because it's, well, it's old for an Internet company. Maybe the media looks at Yahoo as all that's clunky about Web 1.0 applications that work alone, walled off from other apps in a Web 2.5 world that is obsessed with the notion of Web services that interoperate with, well, everything. There is very much a Twitter rocks/Yahoo sucks thing going on.

Those of the morbid persuasion will say Yahoo has been dying for five years. I'm not going to argue that point here. What I see is a company that was supposed to be turning around under Bartz, but appears to be on the same fateful course it was clearly on under Yang's stewardship. The media won't let it fly straight.

Barring any earth-shattering product announcement, Yahoo is dying a slow death, and the media is assisting in this sad suicide. Yahoo: Do not go gentle into that good night. Announce something bold and announce something big because the media is burying you one shovelful of words at a time.  


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