How Yahoo! Is Creating A New Kind Of Web Portal

This week the end of Marissa Mayer’s first year as President and CEO of Yahoo!.  In that time, she’s spent billions of dollars acquiring 17 companies, ranging from news aggregator Summly to the photo blog service Tumblr.  So what’s the plan?

First, it’s worth noting the turnaround that has gone on the company in the last year. Yahoo!'s stock is up more than 70% since Mayer took over. It’s appearing on ‘Most Valuable Brand’ lists for the first time in years. Job satisfaction is at a 5-year high, and "It's no longer shameful to work at Yahoo!." But probably most importantly, she’s made the company, if not quite relevant yet, it’s actually newsworthy again.

Yes, overall revenue may be down on last year, the company might be far worse off were it not for its stake in Alibaba and various critics still doubt the company has a real future, but it’s still early days. Mayer is creating a new Yahoo!, one that is still a web portal, but one for the mobility age. And a shift like that takes time.

A hallmark of Mayer’s stewardship so far is the massive list of companies that have been bought. Over a dozen have been purchased in 2013, including GhostBird, Loki Studios,, Qwiki and of course Tumblr and Summly. Some are for the app or service itself, others are purely for bringing in the talent. Some may argue that nothing is really new; Yahoo! has a long history of random acquisitions, few of which ever come good.

But this isn’t a return to the nineties. The retirement of Alt Vista showed that Mayer isn’t about keeping dinosaurs on life support. “Yahoo’s future is mobile,” she said at the earnings announcement. And with 340 million monthly mobile users, she’s probably right. Have a look at the list of acquisitions, and they almost all have the same thing in common; a mobile focus.  Considering the success Google has seen from being everything under the sun, a mobile leader as well as a search engine, it could be a smart move.

For better and for worse, Yahoo! has always been a web portal. But what we’re seeing here is a new kind of web portal; a social & mobile one, which harks back to the company’s halcyon days, but instead of being the users being chained to desktops, the users will be mobile. Wired recently picked up on this, citing the need for more data from users. And without a big social network from which to harvest that data, the company is instead turning to every other need; from video to games and everything in between.

Mayer told a business conference in New York that, "The moonshot for Yahoo is being on every smartphone, very tablet, every PC, every day for every internet user." And everything that’s been done so far backs up that theory.  From the revamp of a host of existing apps, from Yahoo! mail and Flickr to weather, to the slew of mobile apps & services being bought up, everything is about mobile and social. They’re even experimenting with getting Yahoo! on Google Glass, not something a company stuck in the past would consider.

It also seems to be paying off; Mobile Mail users has risen by over 100% since the tablet app launched, Summly users by more than 50%. And when you look at the competitors, they’re basically doing the same. Google is now the daddy of web portals; you can use the web all day on a variety of devices and never actually leave its services. And isn’t Facebook home just a social version of the same thing? The idea is sound, the hardest part of Mayer’s job is getting Yahoo! up to the same speed, and monetize all the users.

For those still critical of the company, let’s put things in perspective. The company is still raking in billions, its user base numbers in the hundreds of millions, although late to the party, it is actually evolving with the times. Can anyone really say they feel the same sense of impending doom about Yahoo! as they do for Blackberry?

Yahoo! still has billions in the bank to spend and a solid vision, and will no doubt continue down this road. Clearly the complete evolution of a company older than many millennial Tumblr users won’t happen overnight, or even in the first year. But it will happen. 


By Dan Swinhoe, Editorial Assistant, IDG Connect


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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