Yahoo? Are They Still Afloat?

This just in from that sinking-ship Yahoo!

Instead of going to a specific social networking page, social at Yahoo! means taking your activity and identity with you. This means that when you leave a comment on Buzz, Local, or even third party sites (after you grant them permission, of course), your activity can be shared on many of the Yahoo! “starting points”, such as Mail or the home page.

So, there it is. Yahoo is preparing to sink it's last two reliable and popular products - Y!Mail and Y!Messenger - in it's quest to become Facebook II.

A few weeks ago, I read that Jerry Yang, one of Yahoo's founders, had stepped down as CEO. Tech news stories noted that he was still guiding the company, and that Yahoo had not yet turned itself around. What surprised me most about this story was how little I cared. Once upon a time, what Yahoo did mattered to me. But this past year, Yahoo has slid off my mental list of dependable or exciting tool providers. This Fall I've helped two learners set up email accounts. In both cases we went with Gmail instead of Yahoo. This was a change for me - I suspect a permanent one. Yahoo is just too flaky for me to recommend it to learners.

Out in the wider world, Yahoo's troubles mostly have to do with a declining stock price (coming after Microsoft's springtime bid for the company was turned down for being too low). There was also a bungled flirtation with Google over ad placement and revenue sharing. And then the U.S. economic contraction came.

Among Yahoo's users, frustrations have piled up in recent months over the abandonment of Y!Mash, and the creation of a new Y! user-profile page that (so far) adds nothing but newness. Continued tinkering with MyBlogLog designed to move it ever closer to the Facebook model, changes to Flickr, and a lack of movement on Y!360 (where a year ago site maintenance was halted on the promise of something new and better in 2008) have also been sources of discontent.

I haven't seen signs of Yahoo users rushing to close their Y!mail accounts or drop Y!messenger. In fact, the number of complaints Y! gets every time it fouls another established tool - there have been several thousand posted this year on just the Y!Profiles and Y!360 product blogs - suggest a large, angry but oddly loyal user-base. Unless they get pushed overboard, as was the case with those Y!360 users who swam ashore at, Yahoo'rs seem remarkably committed to the company. Still, I suspect, fewer new users are going to come aboard such a publicly unseaworthy ship.

Like me, they're more apt to take a second look at MSN products or some of the junior social networking systems like multiply, ning or orkut. Like me, they're going to look to Google as the better source of reliable free email and blogging or photo-sharing tools. Like me, they're going to greet news of more "social at Yahoo" tinkering with a shrug.

And when the tinkering finally makes Y!mail unreadable - as it surely will - I'll be done with Yahoo altogether. Though, by then, I might not even notice.

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