Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Yahoo! Enigma: One User's Take

Disclaimer: I fucking hate Micro$oft (from here on out, M$). I'm not the biggest fan of Yahoo! for reasons I'll get into here in a bit. And as far as Google goes, right now, they're my heroes. So, this article is going to sound a bit biased. My hatred for M$ is like walking and breathing: something I won't unlearn until the day I die, so I don't think I'll ever be able to portray them in a positive light.

That is, unless the company pulls a Red Dwarf 180 and suddenly throws open the doors to its source code so the real geeks can fix the fucking thing. Of course, that's about as likely to happen as it is likely that the Biblical Book of Revelations is more a prophetic vision than a really bad hashish dream.

Anywho, so yeah. Recently, M$ made a play for Yahoo!, offering up ~$45B in a bid to take the two largest portals on the Internet and make them into one huge, heaping pile of suck. Let's take a look at some of the consequences of such a merger:

  • M$N and Yahoo! Messengers: First of all, anything from M$ is almost required to be either buggy, a resource hog, annoying and awkward to use, or any combination of the three, so already you can all guess that I don't even touch it. Yahoo!'s Messenger and chat systems can't seem to filter out spam bot traffic no matter how hard they try. Their Captcha Chat verification process? Reduced the spam bots by about 0%, while increasing user frustration nearly 10100%. There's also the still-festering sore that is boot codes, and Yahoo!'s seeming refusal to even try to plug such simple DoS holes. A blending of these two seriously-broken clients has already happened, as they now allow cross-client messaging and other select features. But to take the two, blend everything all together, and you have the potential for a while new level of user meltdown.
  • Flickr: Poor Flickr. Once a haven of image posting ease, now owned by Yahoo!. Yahoo! still has yet to fully intergrate Flickr's features into its site, as is evident by the still broken image capabilities in Yahoo! Profiles. M$ would love to get their hands on it to make it a part of the steaming bowl of liquid feces that is M$N, but probably more so the fact that they'd be able to change the photo licensing scheme. Flickr allows users to post photos under various Creative Commons licenses; CopyLeft, one thing M$ certainly doesn't jibe with, would risk losing a major bastion of creativity as M$ would almost certainly impose some sort of scheme to get their name all over our pictures. It's M$ that serves up Corbis images as well, so there's that to consider, too.
  • M$N Spaces and Yahoo! 360/Geocities: Let's face it, neither of these could even try to hold a candle to Facebook and MySpace. Yahoo!'s 360 services is big and clunky and limited, and I don't even care to try M$N's offering. I've viewed a few dozen Spaces pages, and boy, do they usher in a whole new level of blah. Since Spaces can also double as a sort of website space, there's also Geocities to consider. Once upon a time, I had a Geocities page, long-since defunct due to neglect. But that was before Yahoo! took it over and (as corporations often do) made it suck. With the number of free space providers these days, coupled with the younger generation's decision to stick more with just blogs and social networking pages anymore, Geocities has become something of a Web 1.0 relic. An M$/Yahoo! merger would likely see the fork put into it once and for all...
  • The Big Issue - FreEMail, Search and Portals: The core issues here are merging the two search engines and portals. M$ maintains that it would create one clear #2 to Google's search dominance (more on this later). In reality, though, it's not much to speak of search-wise. I'm a Google user (obviously), and when it comes to finding what I need, the simple answer is right up in the top right of my browser window. As far as portals are concerned, though, merging M$N and Yahoo! would create a serious imbalance in the Portal world. While Google has a decent number of good portals, most of it is devoted to user services (GMail, Blogger, Google Maps, etc.). And while GMail is hella awesome, there's little doubt that a merger of HoTMaiL and Yahoo! Mail would create a new beast that even Google would be hard-pressed to match.
So, that's really three strikes against M$, and all in core issues. The rest is just suck upon suck, so it's easy to ignore. Now, here are some potential consequences of what Fark yesterday dubbed "Yahoogle," (FT) and to be fair, I'll attack Google's major problem/roadblock first:
  • Search: Let's face it: Google Rules Search. Hell, to "google" is actually a verb in the English language now. You don't search for something online, you Google it. Friend asks for a phone number or some such stupid public info and you want to encourage them to be self-sufficient? Tell them to Google it. Need directions? Google it. Google it. Google it. A Yahoogle merger would indeed create a search titan, one that M$ and their piece-of-years-old-dog-shit M$N Search would piss their collective pants in envy over. And while it would give Google quite the monopoly over search, there's no way you could even come close to calling them The Next Micro$oft (FT). That's just bullshit, and here come the reasons why...
  • Portals: An acquisition of Yahoo! by Google wouldn't give them much of an edge in portals, since M$N is well-established (despite its suckitude), Google itself isn't intensely portal-driven, and there are a few other portals still out there with market share. In all reality, Yahoogle could actually create competition for M$, something that Billy Boy and the flakes in Redmond obviously have a history of disliking and trying (and often failing) to quash. So, no monopoly for Google here.
  • FreEMail: Yahoogle Mail would be a nightmare for M$, since it would take Yahoo's crappy yet heavily used system and (hopefully) crossfade it gently into GMail's hawesome fold, thereby creating an instant army of people suddenly completely happy with their email service. GMail's spam filters are awesome, the interface is nice and clean, and let's face it: folding Yahoo! Mail into it, creating a mostly GMail-driven system, would be a serious improvement. Ask anyone with a Yahoo! account, they'll tell you what kind of hell it is. The only problems this would create? Well, bumping all them Yahoo! Mail users up to the space already available to GMail users would be quite the feat. On the good side, Google has the resources available to them, so it's possible. It would also force M$ to make some serious improvements to HoTMaiL, that's what. Innovation through competition: who knew, right? That's not a problem... For Google, but M$... Yeah, problem.
  • Residual Stuff: The remaining chunks of Yahoo pose no serious threat to M$, even if folded into a Yahoogle banner. 360 and Geocities have already proven themselves to be both useless and sad, with the latter also having the distinction of being a senior citizen in Internet years. Google might be able to breathe new life into the former free hosting giant, blending it together somehow with Blogger and iGoogle, but it would also have to bump up the space limit for each user. With Geocities' still rather large user base, that'd be quite the bump. Again, Google most likely would have the resources to make that rollout a reality. But as for 360, no, even Google couldn't save that pile of junk. They'd be better off developing iGoogle into a mix of personal portal page and social networking page and axing the 360 arm all together.
There's even been talk of Yapple (FT), a move by still-extant upstart Apple to shield Yahoo! from The Borg (M$). Merger? Unlikely, since Apple is still behind the "different platform all together" wall that is BSD. Besides, it'd be like a liberal hippie marrying a prudish neo-conservative and concieving a child while they're both hopped up on PCP. Scary.

Yahoo employees themselves aren't too happy about the merger idea, calling it "the frosting on a double-layer suck cake." (FT)

BoingBoing has a link to a release from GoogleBlog, including the following nugget of joy:
Could the acquisition of Yahoo! allow Microsoft -- despite its legacy of serious legal and regulatory offenses -- to extend unfair practices from browsers and operating systems to the Internet? In addition, Microsoft plus Yahoo! equals an overwhelming share of instant messaging and web email accounts. And between them, the two companies operate the two most heavily trafficked portals on the Internet. Could a combination of the two take advantage of a PC software monopoly to unfairly limit the ability of consumers to freely access competitors' email, IM, and web-based services? Policymakers around the world need to ask these questions -- and consumers deserve satisfying answers.
As for me? I say split it. Let Google take the good stuff, minus Search, and M$ can deal with the rest of the mess. Let the mergers finish, technologies intergrate, and see what kind of bastard children we get from the three parents. I use a combination of Yahoo! and Google services, so Yahoogle would pretty much be my all-encompassing happy Internet tool if it happened the right way.

Until then, though, I think I might actually kind of enjoy sitting back and watching this bus fly off the highway. Who knows, might get rather interesting in the near future...

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