Does Yahoo still matter?

A new facelift for Yahoo - but does anyone really care?

Yahoo! logo

Yahoo! logo

For a while there, I kinda forgot Yahoo existed. This week's news brings the company back with a vengeance.

On Monday Yahoo unveiled a spiffy new home page, its eighth face-lift in 15 years. Silicon Alley Insider has a slideshow displaying how Yahoo's home page has evolved. Talk about your blasts from the past. It's like going through your old high school yearbook; you can't believe how incredibly dorky everyone looked.

[ And Yahoo makes three -- a three-front search engine war, as Google and Bing duke it out. Get Cringely's take on that other battle. | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

The new Yahoo is a significant improvement -- and vastly better than the horrible cluttered mess of the mid-2000s, when Yahoo seemed to be channeling the worst of AOL. I get migraines just looking at those old pages. It's no coincidence that this was when Google started kicking its heinie.

The most significant change, IMHO, besides the cosmetic improvements: the acknowledgement that the world does not begin and end with Yahoo content, in particular the integration with Facebook, Twitter, eBay, and so on. It's like Yahoo suddenly woke up after a two-year coma and realized the world had changed while it was snoozing.

(On a side note: Do you think maybe Yahoo is kicking itself just a little for blowing the Facebook acquisition in 2006? At the time it seemed almost silly to drop $1 billion on a social network aimed mostly at self-obsessed undergrads; now of course, that sounds like a bargain. Terry Semel, wherever you are, please come back home: There are people who'd really would like to pummel you with a sockful of fresh manure.)

Some folks have suggested the redesign is just Yahoo putting on rouge, a pushup bra, and fishnet stockings, and otherwise tarting itself up in an effort to seduce Microsoft, which is -- stop me if you've heard this one -- in negotiations yet again with Yahoo for some kind of ad/revenue sharing deal.

More likely, though, the timing of the new look has to do with Yahoo's quarterly earnings call. (For those keeping score at home, YHOO revenues are down approximately 13 percent to $1.15 billion, but profits are up 8 percent to about $140 million, thanks to the pink slips that have been flying about Sunnyvale headquarters like confetti on New Years Eve. Not bad for the middle of a recession, but not good enough for Wall Street, which called the results "mixed.")

This is about public perception. Yahoo wants to push the idea there's a new sheriff in town, and she's making progress -- slow, painful progress, but better than sliding completely into the cesspool. So far, nobody's howling for Carol Bartz's scalp they way they did for Jerry Yang's or Terry Semel's -- and if they did, she'd probably rip them a new orifice or two.

Will a new home page be enough to restore whatever luster Yahoo once had? In a word, no. But it may keep it from sliding off the map entirely.

As for the on/off/on/off deal with Microsoft, that's a different story. Once you get in bed with Ballmer, there's no telling what might happen next. They may have to call in the team from "CSI: Silicon Valley" the next morning to locate what's left of Yahoo's DNA.

Or to quote the ancient philosopher Woody Allen: The lion may lay down with the lamb, but the lamb won't get much sleep. Sweet dreams, Yahoo.

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Robert X. Cringely

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