Her work on the Google UI has been subtle and critical at the same time. Few have noticed it because the changes have been so gradual, but Mayer has steadily revamped the Google user experience by tweaks and turns to make searching simpler, more intuitive, and faster. Her challenge as the CEO of Yahoo is much greater, of course. At Google, Mayer took a product that, at its core, was amazing, and revamped it to improve results for users and for Google.
At Yahoo, she must take a product that has lost relevance and either add entirely new product sets or reshape it for the times and for future growth. Reviving dated Web brands has proven difficult over the past. Mayer understands all of this more than anyone (and she is certainly smarter than I would ever claim to be). So I have some humble advice for her. Naturally, it centers on local and mobile. That’s what we cover here at Street Fight, but regardless of my editorial biases, these are also two areas where Yahoo could shore up its business and, over time, dramatically improve results. And if it plays the game well, it might be able to shift from a portal to a more dynamic provider of useful things for a hungry, mobile, social Web populace.
1. Become the local king of the “Internet of things.” Yahoo needs to become the king of hyperlocal news automation. The tools are out there to take much of the data and text which comes out of local environments and turn it into readable stories and useful information. This can be everything from updates on local parking spot availability to length of line at a favorite eatery, to quick, automated summaries of city council meetings and police blotters. Anything that can be turned into hyperlocal information by an algorithm can scale well. Mayer has the deep background in engineering to solve these problems while keeping an eye on the consumer.
2. Solve the local shopping search problem. This is somewhat a subset of the local “Internet of things.” Local shopping, to date, has been a difficult nut to crack. Google Shopping, Bing and The Find have all taken a stab at it. No one has really nailed it. When I want to buy something locally, its nearly impossible for me to get accurate information from nearby stores on pricing, inventory and styles available. If Yahoo can crack that nut, get merchants paid, get quick replies for shoppers seeking to buy right now rather than buy online, it could turn into a fast-growing business with Yahoo getting a profitable chunk of the transaction primarily for working as a market maker. Yahoo could also prove a welcome competitor to Amazon, which is quickly moving toward same-day delivery — in other words, local content.
3. Revamp Yahoo Mobile. This is a not news: Yahoo’s mobile offerings to date have primarily focused on delivering content that Yahoo pull in through its portals. This is no longer enough. The mobile offering has to be far stickier. Local can probably help solve the stickiness. Local shopping and hyper-local content, such as real-time sports updates or better tie-ins to local social features may drive additional usage. Personally, I have no idea exactly how Mayer can solve this because it may be the biggest challenge. I have close to 50 apps on my iPhone and getting my attention is hard, let along holding it (congrats, Flipboard guys!). But giving me a reason to pay attention to Yahoo Mobile will go a long way towards driving me to interact with Yahoo in other ways, too. I suspect that doing a better job of delivering the first two things I discuss here would go a long way towards that end.
Mayer is lucky in that failure is an option. I know this sounds weird, but her company still has considerable advertising inertia and she, more than anyone, understands the impact a single killer product innovation can have on a company’s future. I am very curious to see what she does and will be watching closely. Good luck, Marissa!
Alex Salkever is an executive at a cloud computing company and a former technology editor of BusinessWeek.com. The views expressed in his column are his own and not those of his employer. His Personal Fight column appears every Wednesday on Street Fight.