There is one simple truth in tech that never seems to change: The best products always win, one way or another. They attract users and keep them. I know you can push out poorly designed products and hope they last in the marketplace for a while, but for the long haul, if your company produces products that are truly remarkable, they will stand the test of time. They will rack up sales. They will lead to a high stock price.
Over the past two years or so, Yahoo has fallen into a steady, slow and mind-numbing slump. You can blame Marissa Mayer if you want, but the truth is that Yahoo just doesn’t make great products consistently. Some of them are just not that useful. While there are millions of people who use Yahoo for email, searches and photo sharing, my firm belief is that a portion of these “users” are not really that active. I have a few Yahoo email accounts myself. In fact, I have signed up for almost every Yahoo product over the years, I have a Tumblr and a Flickr account, and I’ll usually try most of the apps for weather forecasts, news and even the one for watching television.
Here’s the problem. They’re not great products. Some are marginal at best. I don’t have a desire to keep using them, but more importantly I am not a fan of the products or care to invest time in them anymore. They don’t have the faint glow of excellence; it’s more like a dull glimmer of uselessness.
Let’s take a look at a few.
I have the same complaint about Mail I’ve had for years: The ads are too distracting. Email is an activity that requires concentration. You have to compose your thoughts. When there is a big shining banner ad for Mountain Dew, it’s a problem. Even if you eventually ignore the ads, they still take up a good portion of the screen, tend to use bright colors, and seem designed mostly for putting money into Yahoo’s bank account. The ads are the priority, not the product.
The main search engine page has more problems than just a flood of blinking, annoying ads. Again, the goal with this page is to get you to click on things, not to help you find anything. It’s still informative to note how Google.com is so simple and easy. If Yahoo.com really wanted to help you find anything, the page would not be so cluttered. Research on how the brain works suggests that we can focus on only one thing at a time (multitasking is a bit of a myth), and when there are so many options on the page, we get downright agitated and confused.
I’m not the target market for Tumblr, but (ironically) I like the imagery and the idea. I like how anyone can have a visual blog, and there are times when I visit a few favorites just to get some inspiration. My gripe about Tumblr is that it doesn’t seem like a Yahoo product, even though Yahoo bought the site for almost $1B way back in 2013. It’s likely Yahoo didn’t want to interfere with success, but the sites doesn’t even use a Yahoo login automatically.
This one is a touchy subject because I don’t make it a habit to criticize any other publication, and I know every site has to pay the bills somehow. My issue with Yahoo Tech is that the ads are just so enormous that it seems like you are visiting the ad, not the site. Readers just don’t have a ton of time; they want the content fast. When you go to the Yahoo news sites, it fills your screen with distractions. It makes you regret visiting the site at all.
Yahoo is supposed to be working on a vast mobile strategy. My guess is that the company is so corporate-minded and interested in making sure employees are actually at work that it's lost the ability to make anything innovative and new. It just has the same old apps. Instead of trying new things and seeing if an app resonates with its user base, Yahoo just keeps wanting us to keep clicking on ads. Meanwhile, Facebook just made a new robotic assistant for Messenger that only works for a smartphone — it is feeding the wolves with meat.
Are you a Yahoo fan? I’d love to hear your defense — just post in comments. I’m not saying I’m a 100% active user anymore, but the reason I ended up drifting over to Google apps hasn’t changed much. Every once in a while, I’ll check just to make sure I’m not missing anything, but Yahoo is still using the same old tricks. It’s a slow, sad decline that only has one final outcome, and it’s definitely not positive.
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