There has been a ton of buzz about the “The Peanut Butter Manifesto” written by a Yahoo senior vice president, Brad Garlinghouse. Brad discusses a lack of focus and cohesive vision for Yahoo. In all honesty, is it possible for Google and Yahoo to have any sort of cohesiveness once they have become such online behemoths? Dealing in an industry with an extreme diversity of products and services ranging from the free (open-source) to the large enterprise applications that corporations pay a premium for, is any of this news the littlest bit surprising?
While focus is extremely challenging in a rapidly changing environment, there is definitely validity in Brad’s argument. The only problem is, when did Yahoo ever have a well defined vision? A simple review of the The Wayback Machine to compare a history of Yahoo.com and history of Google.com can provide an interesting perspective on the difference of focus of the two companies. Taking a look at Yahoo! in December of 1996 (way before any bubble burst), you can see that the company was already aiming at being a major web portal. According to Wikipedia.org:
A Web portal is a site on the World Wide Web that typically provides personalized capabilities to its visitors, providing a pathway to other content. It is designed to use distributed applications, different numbers and types of middleware and hardware to provide services from a number of different sources.
So distributed applications and different services from different sources …. not focused. In comparison, Google spent its’ first 5 years perfecting their search engine technologies. While I am confident that Yahoo invested significant resources in such technologies, their strategy could already be potentially described as “spreading peanut butter across the myriad opportunities that continue to evolve in the online world”. I think that much of this talk is a result of the massive success that google continues to experience (let alone the fact that their stock price continues to soar is probably somewhat intimidating to Yahoo executives). They have every right to be concerned about their performance, but can Wall Street truly expect such a massive company to simply redefine their vision (whatever their initial vision may have been)?
I do agree with Garlinghouse’s statement that Yahoo has ended up “with competing initiatives and synergistic opportunities “ within the same organization, and a massive restructuring can help to clear up the mess. My only question is will the company ever be able to define their vision accurately?