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THE SECRETS OF YAHOO

by Gerry McGovern
Author, New Thinking


"Yahoo; it's more like a huge library or archive. That's the reason we crafted human categories rather than fully automate the search process, and that is something that is consistent throughout Yahoo," Jerry Yang told Fortune magazine recently.

Yahoo is unquestionably one of the great Internet pioneers. They have achieved that position by focusing primarily on the needs of people, not the potential of technology. Yahoo has always kept things incredibly simple. Their website is an example of truly understanding the medium. It has always had minimal graphics and a select, well-organised set of information.

Yahoo knows that even though people like visuals, their number one hate is waiting and that they will nearly always trade a visual treat for something that downloads quickly. Yahoo knows that while people prefer choice they only want limited choice. Too much choice becomes confusing and time-wasting. When it comes to choice, most people would prefer 10 choices, 5 of them good, than 100 choices, 50 of them good.

Yahoo has always combined the power of technology with the skill of people. This combination created a website with the human touch. The opposite of this approach was the early search engines. I remember reading about how they had so much power, so much of an ability to go out and bring back a load of responses. But processing power is not enough. Clever programming will not solve every problem. People need to be in the mix, judging, evaluating, organising. That's what Yahoo is about.

Maybe it's a clever marketing facade, but Yahoo has a sense of being a people-oriented organisation. Yang talks a lot about wanting to build something that will last. The two founders, Jerry Yang and David Filo, are in it for the long haul and they have their feet firmly on the ground. They understood their strengths and recognised their weaknesses, bringing in experienced management at an early stage.

Yahoo has also exhibited a constant ability to innovate. It is always adding new services, always expanding, always keeping pace with the dynamic of the Internet. However, while embracing the momentum of change the founders are not carried away by it. Like Jeff Bezos from amazon.com, Yang and Filo don't wake up in the morning wondering what their stock price is.

"Many of us around here don't really buy these stock market valuations," Filo told Fortune. "To us the market valuation of Yahoo has always been ahead of where we thought it really ought to be."

It is surprising how many people who seek to put the Internet to work still don't understand its basic fundamentals. Too many people assume that the Internet is at the cutting edge of technology and that therefore we should be able to do weird and wonderful things with it.

The Internet is a publishing environment; it's where people come to find out stuff. It's a place where information overload gets worse by the day, so make sure you focus on quality, not quantity. It's used by people who have very little time, so, if you're making someone wait, you better have a very good reason.

Yahoo knew all this before most of us, and any student of the Internet should spend time, not just browsing Yahoo, but examining closely how they make the Internet work.

Gerry McGovern, New Thinking. All rights reserved.



Gerry McGovern is the author of New Thinking, a weekly column which has received numerous accolades and a book, THE CARING ECONOMY

The Caring Economy
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The Caring Economy, by Gerry McGovern, is published by Blackhall Publishing of 26 Eustace Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. ISBN 1-901657-61-2 Price _27.50 or US$35.95
Email: [email protected]

It is also available in the United States from Irish Books & Media, 1433 East Franklin Avenue, MN, USA 55404-2135. Call toll-free: 1-800-229-3505.

Email Gerry McGovern at [email protected]
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