July 7, 2007

Yahoo Takes Shot at Own and Customer's Foot

I just got an e-mail that Yahoo Photos is closing September 20, 2007 at 9pm. I have been finding the closing of the site somewhat odd, mostly because the many of the people I know and run across that use Yahoo Photos rely on Yahoo Photos to always be there. They are often infrequent users. They like and love the service because it is relatively easy to use and "will always be there". Many real people I know (you know the 95 percent of the people who do not live their life on the web) visit Yahoo Photos once or twice a year as it is where holiday, travel, or family reunion photos are stored. It would seem that this user base would need more than a year's notice to get valuable notification that their digital heirlooms are going to be gone, toast, destroyed, etc. in a few short months.

It the good will lost through a class action lawsuit against Yahoo! brought by its regular people user base (the core of its business) will not make things better. You know legal action is coming as photos are a valuable part of people's life and memories. Many of the regular people do not check their e-mail regularly as they have more than one or two accounts. Many people I know chose Yahoo Photos over other competitors, because Yahoo had been around longer and understood how to maintain their memories over time. To many Yahoo Photos is not an experiment that would go away.

Yahoo Is Many Things To Many People

I absolutely love Flickr and have never really been a Yahoo Photos user, as I mostly put my own photos on my own servers prior to Flickr. Part of Yahoo's quandary goes back to last a memo last Fall, names the Peanutbutter Manifesto, which was written by Brad Garlinghouse. Garlinghouse railed against the Yahoo multi-headed approach to services. Some services were new and innovative, while others were older and more tradtional. To the novice it would look like they served the same purpose. Yahoo Photos and Flickr do both serve digital photos and provide online photo galleries. Flickr has been providing a good source of ad revenues and Photos has not been as profitable. This seems on the surface to be smart decision, but to the millions more users of Photos than in Flickr this will do little more than bring ill will. Ill will is not something Yahoo can really afford these days.

Innovation and Incorporation of Ideas

Yahoo in the past few years has been buying innovative companies that provide value and unique ways of interacting with people and information on the web. Yahoo has also been innovating in-house with its research labs and now, Brickhouse. Having similar service running allows for one to be innovative and test the waters, while keeping one a safe resource that is familiar to the many who want stability over fresh and innovative. Companies must understand these two groups of people exist and are not fully interchangeable (er, make that they are rarely interchangeable). Innovation takes experimentation and time. Once things are found to work within the groups accepting innovation the work becomes really tough with the integration and use testing with the people who are not change friendly (normally a much larger part of an organization's base).

It would have seemed the smart move to be mindful that Flickr is the innovation platform and Photos is the stable use platform. The two groups of use are needed. Those in the perpetual beta and innovation platform are likely to jump to something new and different if the innovation gets stale. The stable platform users often are surprised and start looking to move when there is too much change. It is a real smart understanding that is needed of who the people are that use, love, and depend on these services. Real smarts are needed to keep these two different communities happy and loyal. When this works well the innovation group is happily the test bed for new helpful tools for the stable platform (which will need beta testing of its people using the service as well).

Irony Run Rampant

While Yahoo is aiming to show it does not grasp the two different use groups of its two photo platforms, nor the loayalty the much larger group has entrusted in Yahoo, many other companies are following the trail Yahoo has put in place by setting up beta programs for their own innovation of products. Google has its labs, but is moving its second generation attempts into its labs. Nearly every large consumer facing web organization has set up labs and/or has been buying small innovative web properties to boost their relevance and ability to build to the future more easily. Most organization outside Yahoo are innovating, testing, and moving solid broadly usable components into their stable large use base products. These other organizations understand loyalty and their customer base. I really thought Yahoo grasped this, with Jerry Yang taking over I had thought a new smart direction was in the works. A Yahoo that snubs its loyal users who believed they placed their prized possessions in the hands of an enduring web property, is new but not innovative and not a lasting property.



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