What Yahoo! needs

Yahoo! seems to be the new web underdog, a company that is making a come-back for some people and a company that is helplessly sinking for others.

A few days ago, I spent my free time hooked on an interesting article published by Business Insider: ‘The Truth About Marissa Mayer: An Unauthorized Biography‘; more than 22000 words describing who is Yahoo!’s new CEO, her early years and how has she managed to rebuild the company with a lot of work and a not-so-friendly all-business attitude.

Several counter-arguments were published, like Om Malik’s ‘No Henry, you need to get real about Yahoo. Here are the facts‘. A much more negative picture of Yahoo! was described, based on number of users and other interesting data. According to Malik, innovation is key for a resurgence, and the company has been focused on face-lifting several old products like Yahoo! Mail, Flickr and several websites like Yahoo! Weather.

My opinion is in between those two: Yahoo! needs to radically improve in two big fronts, relevance and availability, and I don’t think they are headed in the wrong direction.

Innovation usually attracts new users, but it’s not the only way of gaining relevance; redesigning a product by adding fresh features can help to recover users’ interest, and with a good execution, long-term interest becomes relevance.

A good example of this is Flickr: its new web interface is clean and focuses on users’ content (although it has lost too much white for my taste), but more importantly, the new iOS app with its new live filters is a good answer to Instagram.

With this new app, Yahoo! is precisely trying to fix the availability issue, in the same way that apps like Yahoo! Mail for iOS, Android and Windows 8 do.

Business Insider explained how Marissa Mayer conducted a survey trying to figure out what mobile apps consumers make a part of their daily lives; after activities like calling people, texting, and maps, the main things people do on their phones everyday are: check email, check weather, get news, get stock quotes, check sports scores, share photos, communicate with groups, and ask questions.

Yahoo! has a product for each of these activities, but the fact is that they are not as popular as they used to be in the good old days. Redesigning websites so that they look better both in a desktop and in a mobile browser is important, but not enough.

I like to read the latest news about upcoming films, look for showtimes in cinemas near me, read reviews for newly released movies… wouldn’t it be great if there was a Yahoo! Movies app where I could do all this instead of dealing with a poor mobile website?

Would it be enough? probably not (there is Flixter and Fandango for that), but what if a fresh and useful new feature was added? what if I could use Yahoo! Maps to look for the closest restaurants to the theater and I could make reservations through OpenTable? what if the app connected with Facebook so that I could check-in and share my review on Rotten Tomatoes?

Other products are even more complex: for Yahoo! Mail to pass Gmail and Outlook.com, a massive change is needed, a brand new and exclusive feature that changed the way we use email. A lot of people use Yahoo! Mail as their main email account… what if they could have two emails onscreen at the same time so that they could write a new one while reading a related email? what if the inbox suggested tags or folders for certain emails, based on previously classified emails and senders and the changes could be applied in one single click?

Combining features from other services, providing exclusive features that competitors don’t have, creating mobile apps with a delightful design… Yahoo! needs to make awesome mobile apps at the same time that beautifully redesigns its old websites, and if the result is a whole new product, even better.

Mayer’s strategy when she started at Yahoo! was probably the most efficient way to save the company: figure out what features and products do users want and make sure they get them as soon as possible.

Image via Yahoo!

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