Friday, May 02, 2008

Y!OS, a new start of Yahoo?

In the recent Web 2.0 Expo, Yahoo exclaimed an ambitious "open" strategy (or Y!OS or short). Yahoo is going to rewire itself to be a real Web 2.0 company, i.e., a new Web platform (by contrast to a Web portal previously). As a platform, Yahoo will provide users lots of standard services so that ideally all the hidden data that Yahoo holds now will be open to the public. Will this new policy bring Yahoo a new life?

Y!OS, the positive side

The most positive signal delivered by Y!OS is that finally Yahoo understands Web 2.0. Does someone remember when Yahoo bought Flickr? It was March 2005. Three years after the Flickr purchase, Yahoo decides to rewire everything by the Web-2.0 format---a format Yahoo should have already learned from Flickr back to March 2005. But still, this action is a positive sign, isn't it?

Another good news is that we may get free access to the complete Yahoo! Directory, the once most valuable hierarchical online resource repository in the world. Yahoo has spent great amount of money on building, organizing, and maintaining this repository (and I doubt any future organization would spend such a great deal of money on this same goal again). As a researcher on Semantic Web and Web evolution, I rate the value of Yahoo! Directory to be no less than the value of Wikipedia when counting both on prompting the evolution of the Web.

Y!OS promises to provide users much freedom and many social services. Users can design fascinating products based on the Yahoo platform. Comparing to Facebook as a platform and Amazon as an online content provider, the Yahoo platform will be unquestionably larger than Facebook and contains richer data than Amazon. The success of the Facebook platform and the Amazon Web services thus suggest that Y!OS might have a bright future in front.

For readers who want to know more about Y!OS, here is a video that is worth of watching.

Y!OS, the negative side

Will Y!OS finally save Yahoo from its slide in recently years and put Yahoo back to the list of most competitive innovators? Maybe or maybe not. In order to achieve this goal, Yahoo needs to think of the following issues first.

A problem of Yahoo for many years is that the company often tries to design "big" projects that are too big to be well scaled. The original Yahoo! Directory is a typical example. Indexing the Web formally in a hierarchical structure is great, but could it be scaled with the technology at the meantime? In similar, Yahoo must try to avoid the same mistake again with this ambitious Y!OS project.

For example, the size of Yahoo platform will be greater than the size of Facebook platform. To the end, Facebook is only a social networking site. All the services based on Facebook platform are focused on prompting better social networking. This focused theme makes Facebook platform be efficient and effective and the scalability issue could be reasonably controlled. But what is Yahoo platform going to project? Very "broad", this is the only word I can say. Yahoo claims that the company is leading in at least seven major vertical realms. Hence I suppose all these seven vertical realms would certainly be included in the Yahoo platform; and I am quite sure that Yahoo would not just stop at the seven (by its tradition from the beginning Yahoo likes to claim everything). Does Yahoo have a well-designed plan on how to really manage all of these complicated issues of multiple realms and the cross-communication between the realms? The Yahoo platform could be a mess (as if the classic Yahoo! Directory) at the end.

On the other side, the complexity of Yahoo data is much greater than the complexity of Amazon data. Amazon focuses on selling products and hence the majority of its data is well formed and the semantics of data are narrowed in a few fields. In consequence, Amazon is able to process its services in huge scale efficiently. By contrast, Yahoo is originally a generic Web portal and thus it contains a mixture of data in various forms and to highly diverse aspects. This difference means that Yahoo services must be more complex than Amazon services in order to well process the underlying data. Yahoo may accomplish this duty, but unquestionably it is not an easy task to address in short time.

Final Address

By Y!OS, new Yahoo = Facebook + Amazon. This is a great proposal.

But is the project too ambitious to practice in real? We do not have an answer. By the history of the company, however, I feel a little bit pessimistic on the plan. This plan is too huge to be well executed. In comparison, Google's strategy to build individual products solidly one-by-one rather than designing generic open services upon a general platform might be a slow but more effective and convincing approach. But time will tell which strategy would indeed be the better.


Wayne Smallman said...

Some very sound arguments, which mesh well with the kind of thoughts I've been having regarding Yahoo! and their on-going relevance to the web.

Yahoo! are a crucible for great ideas, but terrible executors of those ideas.

Maybe they should become one of those firms that builds intellectual property to sell on or license to others. ;-)

Yihong Ding said...

Thank you, Wayne. ;-)