Tuesday night, I got to crash a snazzy dinner thrown by Yahoo (YHOO) to talk about social media with London geekmedia. I came away wondering whether we will start to see a new Yahoo.
Two of their executives engaged in what I argued was continuing portal speak. “Yahoo’s where the activities are,” said one, who talked about “properties.” Another bragged about owning consumers because they do their email there and talked about Yahoo’s continuing “aspiration to be the starting point for consumers and advertisers.” That is the definition of a portal.
But then John Linwood, a VP of engineering, talked about opening up Yahoo as a platform. The other day, Yahoo boss Jerry Yang talked about this, too, but I was concerned that he was still looking at this as a media and portal model, trying still to get people to come to Yahoo rather than following Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) open and distributed model. But Linwood said that, indeed, they plan to provide tools and content that developers can use to build new businesses away from Yahoo. Then he also talked about putting controls on that.
BBC tech correspondent Rory Celland-Jones asked pointedly whether Yahoo knows it has missed out and it is just slapping the social label on its rhetoric to try to catch up. One of the Yahoo execs tried to insist that the internet is still “at a very early stage” (read: Google has not won yet, he wishes).
I think what we witnessed Tuesday night was the debate the company is having within: portal or platform? Even if platform has won at the top, we need to hear stronger confirmation of that and see strong action and the question remains whether it’s possible to change Yahoo’s culture to make the shift. It’s already big and old. But it’s not too late to change, and I think I finally saw the seeds of that change.