This week it feels like someone must have cursed our house with a Chinese curse and we've suddenly been thrust into "interesting times." Yikes.

One of the biggest mistakes that some companies made during Bubble 1.0 was to obsess about all the wrong numbers, such as a rising stock price. While it was a welcome distraction from the much harder work of building great products and services, the lack of focus on what matters eventually came back to bite.

Last year I spent the better part of a day in "media training" and learned to be very skeptical of reporters. So when I read the now famous quote: "It's not our goal to be No. 1 in Internet search. We would be very happy to maintain our market share." I stopped for a few seconds to imagine how Sue finished that statement. Something like "...what really matters is building the greatest search services we can" or words to that effect.

But I know that it's more fun to jump to conclusions and write all those doom-and-gloom stories. It sure makes for great headlines, doesn't it?

If you think we're just giving up on search, you haven't been paying attention. Or maybe we've not been tooting our own horn enough? I try to tone down that sort of thing here, but maybe that's exactly the wrong thing to do.

I bet that if we surveyed most searchers about what they'd like us to do, few of them would say "be #1" or "beat Google!" Those things might happen, but they're a byproduct of doing so many other things right (speed, ease of use, good design, relevance, etc).

Dave Taylor said it well:

I don't think it's a confidence issue at all. I think it's everyone succumbing to the win or die! perspective. Yahoo doesn't have to be #1 to be a darn successful search system and extremely useful and valuable to the Internet at large.

Who gets to declare the winner? Journalists? The stock market? Measurement companies? Or you, the searchers?

As Robert Scoble said, "There is so much left to do it isn't even funny." What is funny is watching someone come along every few months to declare "game over!" on search.

Posted by jzawodn at January 24, 2006 01:42 PM

Reader Comments
# Steve said:

I think history will show that this quote has legs. I don't imagine that Jeff Weiner thinks it's ok because Sue probably had good reasons for what she said. What matters is that when you go to hire top talent for search now, you must explain away this very negative quote. It's as if your cheerleaders came out and started chanting "We're number 2! We're number 2!"

on January 24, 2006 02:06 PM
# Robert Oschler said:

Let's see now. What has Yahoo done lately?:

- Added web service API's for almost every conceivable aspect of their search engine: Local Search, Contextual Search, Related Terms, Term Extraction, Spelling Suggestions, Travel / Video / Audio / Shopping search and more.

- Added the ability to have Local Search results *automatically* mapped into their Flash or non-Flash based, AJAX or JSON based, customizable mapping API.

- Added Mindset which allows you to weight your search to either extreme of Commercial or non-commercial search, or a blend in-between.

- Added their Creative Commons search so that developers and web site owners can easily find content they can use and build upon, with a suite of rich operators to help refine the search.

- And a LOT more but I'm tired and they keep making more stuff!

This is not the behavior of someone willingly "letting go" of a contested position.

on January 24, 2006 02:30 PM
# David Young said:

The interesting thing about all this is that I think that Yahoo! has been doing more to innovate with search in the past year or so than Google -- if one looks at things like the content extraction service, the Y!Q stuff, blog searching, search histories, and incorporating additional metadata into search beyond just the search terms, Yahoo has been doing more innovation than Google.

Google's hype bubble hasn't quite reached its peak yet, which undoubtedly is part of why they continue to grow their userbase. There are probably still a ton of users in the "oh wow, Google is something new!" phase, who haven't reached the "damn, the first page of Google results are all link traps" phase, and haven't yet moved on to look to how to use Yahoo to take searching beyond the keyword search.

Unfortunately, taking advantage of Yahoo's more personalized search services requires user effort and a willingness to part with more precious personal information, which I would think does something to hinder new user adoption (or "reverse switchers", or whatever you want to call it). There's no way around this that I can see though -- frankly, as big as the Internet is, a few keywords just isn't enough to go on to find the right result set anymore.

on January 24, 2006 03:48 PM
# Brian Duffy said:

Yahoo is doing some really cool things with technology... but insists on carrying on with some really braindead policies. From giving up the Chinese blogger guy to handing the Feds whatever they ask for, Yahoo is building a lousy reputation.

on January 24, 2006 04:25 PM
# Kevin Marks said:

One of the things that really impressed me when Jobs came back to Apple was him saying to an all-staff meeting 'In order for us to win, it's not necessary for Microsoft to lose'. This was in the middle of the Anti-Trust case, and Microsoft were the big scary enemy figure for lots of Apple people.

The press have a nice simple A vs B frame they deploy all the time, because they always think business is zero-sum, and because writing an A vs B story make it easy to look impartial and balanced.

on January 24, 2006 04:44 PM
# Ran said:

The strangest thing about all of these reactions is that if Yahoo really didn't care about search, they could've just continued using Google as the backend like they did all those years back and slapped the Yahoo stuff on top of it to make their money, ending up with something much like Amazon's A9 approach.

on January 24, 2006 05:01 PM
# Bill said:

Yahoo is great for stock quotes and TV listings, but I can't think of a single reason to prefer it over Google for searching. Sorry, it's a lost cause and your CFO is smart enough to know it.

on January 24, 2006 05:49 PM
# Matej Cepl said:

Just one thing I still miss from Yahoo! Search -- link to Usenet archive from search. Yes, I know, I should have Greasemonkey script for that (and I have one --, but I do not use Firefox all the time).


on January 24, 2006 06:47 PM
# Adam K said:

So let's take a quick look at another industry that has matured: Auto Rentals.

Avis is not #1.
However they know it, and they advertise it. Avis tries harder. Why do they try harder? They try harder because they are not #1 - they WANT your business.

So does Yahoo want to be #1? No. They want to have the desire and drive and reason to improve, and offer new things, so that they end up with your business.

So what?
Non-quote. Big deal.

on January 24, 2006 09:00 PM
# grumpY! said:

scoble is wrong in my opinion. sure there is "lots" to do potentially with search, but the ROI doesn't merit the effort.

is msn search better than google? yahoo? is yahoo better than msn? does anyone really care about the last 0.01% anymore? i would offer that if you had $1 million to spend on search, you could likely go further with an ad campaign than new tech. i don't see any significant press attesting that typical users cannot find suitable results.

this is a veiled "hats off" to the teams involved by the way, that they have in fact been able to meet present consumer needs in a timely fashion is a testament to their hard and smart work.

on January 24, 2006 09:54 PM
# Stanley Wong said:

As a long time former Yahoo! insider, I can't believe that Yahoo! is going to roll over and die any time soon. The reality is Yahoo! faces some real challenges in creating a platform/portal that really works together as a cohesive whole rather than a bunch of sites and features that function indepently from one another. Part of the reason for this is due to the fact of how the company is structured where different business units act like fiefdoms and march to their own drummers.

In order for Yahoo! to beat Google, Yahoo! has to realize that less is more and a strong unifying vision (no more marketing speak!) is necessary to rally the troops and mobilize the company.

My heart breaks when I've been watching Yahoo! from the outside over the last two years being systematically overtaken by Google and not seeing them able to respond.

on January 25, 2006 01:03 AM
# Bill said:

Robert Oschler said:

"Let's see now. What has Yahoo done lately?:

- Added web service API's for almost every conceivable aspect of their search engine..."

Curiously, an ad-related API continues to be completely missing from that lineup. You still have to sign away your first born to get access to the old Overture API. Hell, you can't even tell what the API consists of without emailing a rep and answering enough questions to get a Top Secret clearance! And then once you do get it, any data you retrieve using it don't really belong to you.

Anyone with an email address can get access to Google's ads API, and do whatever they like with their ads data. Yahoo, not so much.

That, IMO, very clearly illustrates the difference between the two companies and their respective philosophies towards their users. It is also why I was completely unsurprised to hear that Yahoo rolled over the minute the DOJ came asking. Just par for the course from Yahoo...

on January 25, 2006 09:37 AM
# Search Engines said:

Be Number One - AGAIN, is the way this should be phrased!!!

Todays Search Technology has probably gone as far as it can possible go - there is only so much Algo Updating one could do.

Nothing can be done NOW - that has not already been tried - ALGO wise, using the same limited variables that are used today.

There will probably be Specific Areas of Search - that Search Engines will focus on - and tweak their strengths

But, possibly the day of the one size fits all dinasaur, will come to an end as a new generation of sophisticated Searchers evolve.

Unless their is a new revolution in Algo technology and real-time processing power

If will be interesting to see the evolution of Search Engines in a few decades.

on January 25, 2006 12:57 PM
# Dimitar Vesselinov said:

I think the biggest challenge to Yahoo is MySpace, not Google. 50 million users...How can you compete with this phenomenon?

A Unified Theory of Search, Social Networking, Structured Blogging, RSS and the Active Web

on January 25, 2006 01:12 PM
# John Furrier said:

There is no way Yahoo is getting out of search.

on January 25, 2006 05:31 PM
# Page said:

Hi Jeremy,

I agree with Stanley! That in order for Yahoo! to beat Google, Yahoo! has to realize that less is more and a strong unifying vision.

Bst Rgrds

on February 7, 2006 04:58 AM
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