Normally I wouldn’t do this, but it’s so unusual to find a rational view of G and Y, that I can’t resist pointing out this article:
The Swift-Boating of Yahoo!
October 19, 2006. Issue 14, Volume 1
Today’s simple Internet story line goes like this: Google is the source of all good things in the digital world; the company that can literally do no wrong. Google is the charming politician who people just want to like. One needs only look at Fortuneâ€™s recent piece (â€œChaos by Designâ€) to see the celebration in full flower. In the story, Larry Page thanks a manager for her multi-million dollar mistake (“I’m so glad you made this mistake… Because I want to run a company where we are moving too quickly and doing too much, not being too cautious and doing too little. If we don’t have any of these mistakes, we’re just not taking enough riskâ€) and the business operations guru celebrates chaos as a virtue. With the story framed this way, every product that fades into oblivion (Google Local, Froogle, Google Print, et al) becomes a badge of innovation, every failed business deal a triumph of experience. When objectivity is suspended, failure ceases to exist as a story element.
Unless youâ€™re Yahoo! The other side of todayâ€™s simple story line features Yahoo! as the wounded, dancing bear. Gosh they just canâ€™t seem to get anything right! Poor Yahoo! Whatâ€™s become of them? Itâ€™s Yahoo! as Al Gore, circa September 2000. Last week, Saul Hansell of The New York Times played this out in a piece of reportage (â€œYahoo!â€™s Growth Being Eroded by New Rivalsâ€) that accepts and supports virtually every negative assumption about Yahoo!. Hansell notes that Yahoo! â€œâ€¦has suffered some embarrassing setbacks in its sales of both display and Web search advertising.â€ True that Yahoo! lags well behind Google in terms of both search dollars and the monetization of search results, but last I looked Yahoo! was still the dominant player in online display advertising, raking in a huge share of all the marketing dollars currently invested in the online channel. Slowing growth? Well, that tends to happen when youâ€™ve got a huge market share, doesnâ€™t it? The New York Times article then helpfully points out that â€œMany advertising industry executives say Yahoo!â€™s lead in working with big marketers has eroded as other companies have built up popular Web sites, sales operations and advertising technology.â€ Huh?
To support this new conventional wisdom he quotes David Cohen, senior vice president at Universal McCann, about Yahoo!â€™s shrinking lead. This is the same Universal McCann that handles advertising for MSN, a big Yahoo! competitor.
Letâ€™s suppose for a minute that Yahoo! — not Google — had done a deal for YouTube last month, as has been widely speculated (but never confirmedâ€¦ there goes that darned echo chamber again.) How would the business press have reported it? â€œYahoo! Does Desperation Deal for Video Siteâ€ or â€œYahoo! Bets 15% of Cash Reserves to Try to Keep Up with Google.â€ You see how it works? The same fiscal discipline and considered judgment that put Terry Semel on the cover of Business Week for Yahoo!â€™s miraculous turnaround is now being portrayed as slow-footed stodginess. Framing is what itâ€™s all about. And today weâ€™re being served up a story thatâ€™s been very poorly framed.
Memo to the business press: Take a breath. The truth is that both Google and Yahoo! are really good companies with smart people and some pretty terrific assets. You do a disservice to both — and to your readers — by canonizing one and Swift-Boating the other. Theyâ€™re also different enough from one another that they donâ€™t need to be cast as hero and villain. Maybe if you do your jobs and read something besides the stock ticker and each otherâ€™s stories, youâ€™ll realize the digital future is plenty big enough for two.