So, Yahoo, do you muster up the confidence to make another great drive, or do you take Microsoft's offer and let the clock run down?
Enough stretching Super Bowl metaphors (for now). Here's why I'm concerned about Yahoo's prospects if the acquisition happens:
Portals dilute brand value. Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL are the last of the true portals, the generic start pages where you can access a lot of stuff online. MySpace and Facebook are inching toward the portal route, but their version of it is to give users a window into what their friends are doing online (Plaxo wants to do the same in a more business-friendly context, and we'll see how well it succeeds; Yahoo is trying its own version of it, albeit following far behind). The old definition of the portal may remain relevant for hundreds of millions of users around the world, but as people get savvier with digital media, such portals diminish in value. Social, personal portals are the better bet, and Microsoft is ill-equipped for such a future.
Good vs. evil vs. ehh: Does Microsoft stand a chance against the "don't be evil" mantra of Google, if Google holds true to it at all, as the company has done so far? Yahoo doesn't stoke many passionate opinions either way, so going from bland to evil is a step down. Now, it might seem silly that Google's still trying to pretend it's this innocent newcomer when it's as hell-bent on world domination as everyone else. Consumers are still rooting for Google, though. If I'm at a social gathering and bring up Google, everyone's dying to hear more and starts chiming in with how Google saved their life. If I bring up Microsoft, they tell me how much they hate Office 2007.
Mission statements: impossible: Microsoft remains a software company, one with the vague mission statement of helping "people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential." In other words, Microsoft wants to be Dr. Phil, which is fine, as I've had days where I've wanted to be Dr. Phil, too, even to the point of occasionally making up Dr. Phil-isms and spouting them in a horribly butchered Texas accent.
It's hard figuring out exactly what Yahoo's mission is, but it uses the word community on its site a lot, and its corporate site also tells you, "There are more Yahoo! Mail users around the world than two times the population of Mexico." So this means there are two companies with a lack of direction (and one with a hankering for flan). Yet if Yahoo gave this some more thought, it could come up with something really powerful and focused, like a mission to give the entire world the most complete, fun, connected experience online (surely someone there could write it better). More than anyone, Yahoo can embody that young, goofy, innocent approach to the Web that made it so much fun in the first place, but if it shifts operations to Redmond, then the fun dies and only synergy remains.
The search experience matters. Of all the major search engines, MSN / Windows Live Search is my least favorite. I still use it here and there, but that's out of necessity. The opposite's true for all the others. Sure, I use Google the most, but I like Yahoo and Ask.com quite a bit, and even AOL's more inviting. It would be sad to have Yahoo's search team answer to Microsoft's. Last year Yahoo came out with Search Assist, one of the best search innovations this decade; there's still hope.
(Note that my qualms are on the consumer side; I'm a big fan of what Microsoft's doing with adCenter, its research tools, and much else of what goes on behind the scenes. Some of the smartest and most passionate people I've met in this business have either cut their teeth at Microsoft or headed over there. That being said, Microsoft first needs to satisfy consumers before it takes more of advertisers' budgets.)
Maybe none of this matters to Yahoo. And there are no guarantees. Tom Brady had that flash of inspiration and took the lead only to get stunned and find himself watching else's victory parade.
He'll at least come back for another round next year. We'll see if the same applies to Yahoo.