Why an Verizon and Yahoo merger would be like Microsoft snapping up CompuServe

Cultures collide, it happens. But this one is a bad idea.

Wait, what?

If this rumor about Verizon buying Yahoo for US$5B is true, we have an honest to goodness schadenfreude moment for me as someone who remembers the days of the Buddy List, giant banner ads (which is actually still common at Yahoo Mail for some reason), and those plastic discs they might still sell at Walmart for gaining “high-speed Internet” access.

As you may know, Verizon also owns AOL. Those three letter, combined with the Yahoo exclamation mark, create some vivid memories. Few of them are good ones. I remember having to wait for my modem to connect to AOL back in the day, and for the banner ads at Yahoo.com to finish loading. It’s a curious development, but it makes about as much sense as other luminous icons of tech combining into an ungodly entity driven by brand dominance.

As much fun as it is to make fun of AOL, it has become more of a publisher of content than anything. They own Engadget, The Huffington Post, and TechCrunch among other things. Yet, if you asked anyone on a street corner about AOL, they’d laugh at you. “Wait, is that company still around? Do they still do dial-up?” What you may not realize even if you follow tech closely is that AOL has become more of an investment arm. It says that right on their Wikipedia page.

It means, if they are “investing” in the brand of Yahoo, we have some serious problems. Yahoo doesn’t have a brand. They have a tightly managed business operation without any creative ideas, which is exactly the opposite of a brand. If you’re going to go after something that is a brand, pick a company that delights people, that causes warm feelings, that generates incredibly creative products and services that change lives. Don’t snap up a company that still shows huge banner ads in their mail program or has a homepage that looks like someone puked a food truck. (Better yet, don’t buy a company that still emphasized their homepage.)

What is a homepage anyway? Most of us don’t go to Yahoo.com to finds the news, we click links on Facebook and on Twitter. We find them at Google News. If you’re still going to Yahoo.com to “discover” things, you probably also wear tan Dockers. I know of a few companies that have decided to put a static image on their homepage. It doesn’t matter anymore. Content is shared on social, end of story.

Here’s the other infuriating part of Verizon and AOL “purchasing” Yahoo assets. What assets? I know the one-time competitor to Google has some of the highest traffic on the planet, what with all of their weather apps and such. But even Google has figured out how to break free from the old “click my banner” trick so popular in 2007. Major companies like eyeballs, consumer like innovation. That’s the problem with investors who still use a BlackBerry. They want to buy a logo. They see brand acquisition as a conquest, not a business strategy.

Yahoo is in a freefall. They don’t need a turnaround specialist, they don’t need more money. What they need is for someone to lead the company. They don’t need highly detailed reporting structures and massive 14GB spreadsheets in Excel. Where is the Yahoo driverless car? Where are the planes that deliver internet access to people in remote areas? The last thing we need is one archaic brand famous for free Walmart discs buying another archaic brand famous for banner ads that will then merge into one archaic brand that’s famous for absolutely nothing.

I still like Engadget, though. Cool site.

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John Brandon

Computerworld (US)
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