Tara sent me a note that caused me to read the ResearchBuzz article on Yahoo Labs before I had a chance to find it in my aggregator. While I'm impressed that the article doesn't point out the obvious (that it looks like a copycat maneuver in the Google war--nobody could think of a name other than "labs"?) right away, that's not what struck me about it. Neither is the fact that she paid me a nice complement at the end. :-)

What hit a nerve for me was this:

There needs to be more communication between Yahoo users and Yahoo. I had a question about AltaVista news last week, and the only communication tool I could find at AltaVista was an online form. (I used it but nobody at AltaVista ever responded.) And Yahoo needs to have some kind of intention about what they're going to do for search--not just following Google but striking off in their own direction.

I couldn't agree more. I think that Yahoo needs to get beyond using stupid comment forms that generate e-mail into a pseudo-CRM system as their primary vehicle for user feedback. There's been a lot of buzz at, around, and about Yahoo and RSS and weblogs. Yahoo needs to realize that this technology is used to open up communication and that this really ought include communication with and among Yahoo's users.

Several times, in discussions with PR/Marketing type folks, I've pushed for a more open feedback system. When Yahoo launches a new product or service, I think users deserve an open forum in which to communicate with Yahoo and each other about it. A form to e-mail system ensures that Yahoo will see their feedback (at least in aggregate), but nobody else will. Not even other interested users. I suspect that if Yahoo supplied a Yahoo Group for user feedback on a new product launch, the result would be open and honest feedback as well as new ideas. Users would interact with each other and share ideas for improving the new product or service. Yahoo would benefit and Yahoo's users would benefit.

Yes, there'd be spam, bitching and moaning, and so on. Does that mean it's not worth doing? I think not.

Really, it's not all that different than Asking Questions in Public. By not offering a Yahoo hosted place to discuss such things, Yahoo is turning a blind eye to the positive effects of the communities that form around new ideas, products, and services. Those who happen to have weblogs will probably end up posting their rants or praise in blogspace. Then the Yahoo PR, Marketing, and Product Managers will end up searching Feedster and following TrackBacks to find out what users are thinking and saying. (Don't get me started on the irony in that statement.)

I'm not saying people shouldn't blog their reactions and ideas. But if it's the only real mechanism to get it out in the open, that's bothersome to me. Isn't Yahoo, in large part, a communications platform?

I thought so.

On the plus side, I think that in the near future it'll become apparent that Yahoo is not simply following Google's lead. The intention is there. Trust me on that one.

Posted by jzawodn at January 20, 2004 12:02 AM

Reader Comments
# Mike said:

Yahoo can do nothing BUT improve their relations with users. My impression of Yahoo for years now has been that they couldn't be bothered to deal with the annoyance of users. Feedback forms that never generate replies, payment required for listing reviews, reporting false spam in mail that never gets it out of bulk, and much more. Yahoo has just seemed to have a "we're the king of the hill - go to hell" attitude. Yahoo listings editors have a long-standing reputation for being notoriously snobby and picky and expect to be treated like super prima donnas.

With Google, it's amazingly easy to deal with real live FRIENDLY people, who usually take less than a day to respond. They have people interact with users in forums, put on seminars at trade shows, have all sorts of feedback forms and emails. They're always innovating. Adsense is awesome. They bend over backwards to help you with campaigns and a lot of other stuff. The only bad thing I can say about Google is they royally screwed up with their "Florida" update.

on January 20, 2004 12:27 AM
# john said:

wow, jz, something tells me Scott Johnson will be tickled to read that line:

Then the Yahoo PR, Marketing, and Product Managers will end up searching Feedster and following TrackBacks to find out what users are thinking and saying.

And I agree with Mike's comment and have the same sort of perception of Yahoo and their relationship with their users... to me Yahoo ranks just above paypal on the 'customer feedback loop' equation (ever try finding an email contact at paypal?

But on the same hand, I'm starting to get excited about Yahoo again, in no small part, thanks to your weblog...

on January 20, 2004 12:59 AM
# Adam Lasnik said:

On one hand, I agree with Mike's statements above. I've e-mailed questions and suggestions to Yahoo! in the distant past, and they've pretty much seemingly gone into a black hole. :(

Additionally, Google *IS* setting the bar high here. They definitely aren't perfect, obviously, but they have three employees that volunteer their time to answer questions and offer advice on WebmasterWorld, for instance, and to my knowledge, there's nothing similar from the Yahoo camp.

I know Yahoo'ers are good people. I'd give shoutouts to two of my friends that work there, but at least one is pretty shy, so I don't wanna embarrass him.

On a different note... one thing I find interesting is that -- despite all the time I spend on the 'net (too much time!), I've not once seen a Google employee write frankly in public about his thoughts on the company's directions and policies like you do with Yahoo!, Jeremy. And just to clarify, I LIKE reading your blunt commentary, and wish there was something similar out of the Google camp.

Anyway, sorry for rambling a bit here, but just wanted to give you some kudos on your blog and also offer my sincere wishes that Yahoo! does evolve to become more customer-centric in the months and years to come.

on January 20, 2004 01:25 AM
# wil said:

I couldn't agree more. Yahoo is cold. Very cold. If you get a response, even an automated one, it's something to jump up in joy about.

I noticed a 500 server error while browsing Google yesterday. I fired off an email to the address at the bottom of the error message and got a human response through this morning. A nice friendly response that gave me the warm and fuzzie's for helping out the 'ol struggling Google. That's what 'customer service' is all about not 'Your ticket #23929339 will be read, and ignored ...'.

on January 20, 2004 03:57 AM
# Scott Johnson of Feedster said:

Heh. Yes I did like reading that. Made my morning actually.

on January 20, 2004 05:17 AM
# Justin said:

Just a note about Google vs the competition.

Everyone seems to think that Google is just going to lie down and take it. For example I watched an interview with bill gates saying where he is going to build a better search engine that understand word meaning.

Google has 250-300 P.h.ds working for you who are all experts in search and love their jobs. Id like to see Google take the fight to MSN/Yahoo/Whoever.

Google broke some serious ground in the field of search and although pagerank might not be that important anymore who says they are not working on the next piece? I know that you have to adapt to survive but I would be seriously surprised if Google was unable to fight off the competition or atleast hold them off.

on January 20, 2004 08:11 AM
# Hal said:

Should be interesting if Google and MS go at it. One of Google's core philosophies (as I've been told by reps) is "don't be evil". MS on the other hand is known as the "Evil Empire" and will fight as dirty as necessary.

BTW, I agree with the opinions here about Yahoo - cold and distant. Yahoo really doesn't matter for me - I only use them because they have EVERYTHING (maps, news, weather, search, email, finance, yellow pages, etc.) in one place, but most of it's from third parties (mapquest, Google/Inktomi, MarketGuide, The Weather Channel, etc.). If Yahoo were to disappear it'd just be a LITTLE less convenient - just use the third parties' sites.

Google OTOH - I definitely prefer their search (though lately it's nowhere as good and I'm starting to use alltheweb.com more), groups, news, adwords, adsense, etc. over anybody else.

on January 20, 2004 12:31 PM
# rick said:

Bell Labs? HP Labs? There's long-running precedent for naming your research arm.

on January 20, 2004 04:52 PM
# aaron wall said:

There is a serious divide between Yahoo and Google on this issue. If you have a question with Google they respond, and fast.

Maybe not to a general spam report that fine tunded math will hopefully take care of, but if you have a question with something like AdSense they get back to you in about 1 day...

That is really fast! Just about any good company which keeps its best employees has good feedback loops inside and outside the company. I think the simple roots of Google and their playful ideas give them an unfair competition against every and all of their competitors.

on January 20, 2004 07:20 PM
# Ike Chambers said:

I agree with Mike's statements too.
To Justin: Can You post link to this interview with bill gates?

on January 22, 2004 04:31 AM
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