The message in all of this is simple. Yahoo is finally getting comfortable in its own skin.
Yahoo, a technology-powered media company, has learned that it needs to stop playing catch-up with Google on the technology front, a game it can't win (think Panama). Instead, Yahoo should focus on better aligning technology with media -- to deliver something that's uniquely Yahoo. The BuzzTracker buy shows that, on the news search front, Yahoo understands what it needs at last.
Yahoo's Real Strengths
What does it mean that Yahoo is a leader in technology-enabled media? It means that it's a company built on strong (but not necessarily top-tier) technology, and an ability to manage enormous amounts of content of all kinds. That strength in content-technology synergy has made Yahoo a giant in the publisher and search spheres, and a dominating force in Web-based e-mail.
How could Yahoo become better at being what it already is? By making technology and content work together more smoothly. That's a challenge which is one part technology, and one part usability -- which is where BuzzTracker fits in.
A mashup of search engine, aggregator, and traditional portal, BuzzTracker lets users find online news both through its search bar, and through a wide array of press clippings that link to articles across the Web. The search feature isn't all that impressive; but the way BuzzTracker manages its clippings is a showcase of usable design.
With a superbly clean look and excellent navigation that includes above-screen tabs, research suggestions, and a simple, rectangular grid layout, BuzzTracker's clippings section offers the feel of an online newspaper, while helping users find information across the Web in ways that are reminiscent of search. Far more than acting as a news aggregator alone, BuzzTracker is a truly refreshing take on online discovery tools. It's a portal and search engine in one.
Yahoo could take BuzzTracker far by incorporating it into Yahoo News. Doing this would improve the Yahoo News navigation enough to finally give it an edge over CNN.com or MSNBC.com. And by providing a different way to find information on the Web, a BuzzTracker/Yahoo combo could do something Yahoo search hasn't ever been able to: it could steal search share from Google, or at least from Google News.
Yahoo understands at least some of the value that BuzzTracker and Warm, its CEO, provides for synergizing geekiness with user-friendliness. The official Yahoo blog praises Warm as "a serial entrepreneur with a history of developing new media technologies... [whose] mantra is 'Does it pass the Mom test?'" Some in the blogosphere posit that Yahoo bought BuzzTracker to get Warm's tech-usability smarts; if they're right, and if Yahoo taps those smarts to apply BuzzTracker's approach across more of Yahoo's properties than Yahoo News alone, Google could be facing a serious threat. BuzzTracker may be the key to letting Yahoo stay in the search wars, without ever competing directly in search.
Yahoo's Smart Pattern
What's genuinely exciting about BuzzTracker is that it's part of a pattern. Since Jerry Yang reclaimed the helm at Yahoo in June, Yahoo has gone on a development and buying spree that shows that Yahoo really, finally understands what makes it tick. It's begun to sync its search and display networks through Smart Ads behavioral targeting. (Look for new property Blue Lithium to help with that targeting as well.) It's bolstered its display network with the completion of the acquisition of Right Media, creator of the Right Media display ad exchange. Yahoo is also pushing its e-mail capabilities ahead, beginning the rollout of a free text messaging service via Yahoo mail, creating a new interface to rival Microsoft Office; it acquired business e-mail service Zimbra for $359 million last week. Yahoo is finally doing what any smart business should do: it's growing by playing to its own strengths.
That change is the benefit of a new leadership that truly understands the business. Jerry Yang, both a Yahoo co-founder and an Internet pioneer, obviously knows both Yahoo and the online space intimately. President Sue Decker, who joined in 2000, is no stranger to Yahoo, either. More important, Decker is bold enough to give an honest assessment of where Yahoo stands: It was Decker who announced last year that "It's not [Yahoo's] goal to be Number 1 in Internet Search." Together, Yang and Decker offer the right combination of aggressive confidence and humble realism, both of which will serve Yahoo well as it continues its comeback.
Where will Yang and Decker take Yahoo next? Run a Yahoo News Search to see.