What is Yahoo?

Yahoo sign at the 3GSM telecoms industry trade show in Barcelona on Feb. 11, 2008.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Yahoo announced today that just in time for the holidays, it's laying off 4 percent of its workforce -- about 600 people. That'd still leave the world with about 13,000 Yahoos, as they're known. But it does raise these questions.

In the world of Google and Apple, what exactly is Yahoo anyway? And given the company's lackluster growth lately, what's its future? Here's our senior business correspondent Bob Moon.


Bob Moon: The name may be catchy...

Yahoo commercial: Ya-hoo-ooo!

...but it's never been terribly descriptive. What is Yahoo?

Forrester Research analyst Joanna O'Connell took a stab at that question.

Joanna O'Connell: Yahoo is big. And they are an aggregator of audiences. And they are a company that can chop up those audiences in really interesting ways for marketers.

Translation: Yahoo makes its money selling targeted advertising on some of the Internet's most popular destinations. Tom Krazit follows Yahoo for CNet.

Tom Krazit: If you want to do that kind of advertising, Yahoo is really someplace that you have to consider, given the size of their properties.

But what is Yahoo's product? Is it search and email technologies? News and information? All of the above?

Krazit: They were a technology company, and then Terry Semel came in and said he wanted to make it a media company. And then he left, and Jerry Yang said, "Hey, we want to focus back more on search." And then he left, and Carol Bartz came in and hasn't exactly clarified one way or another exactly what Yahoo wants to be.

In fact, the website TechCrunch asked Carol Bartz, the current CEO, in May: "What is Yahoo?" She sounded as if the company wanted to be all things to all people.

Carol Bartz: People come to us to find out what's going on in the world in a very nice, quick fashion, to do their communications through Mail and Messenger, check in on their teams, we all know about Yahoo Finance. It's a place where you can just get it together.

Which is what analysts say Yahoo needs to do: Get it together, and focus its business model. Danny Sullivan runs the website Search Engine Land. He says Yahoo can't count on always being a leading web portal.

Danny Sullivan: I think the worrisome thing for them is, you've got new people who are coming on who may have no idea what Yahoo is, because they start their day at Facebook.

It underscores Yahoo's need to focus on exactly where and how it wants to compete.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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