Why Yahoo Is No Longer Good

Why Yahoo Is No Longer Good

“In 1998, usability guru Jakob Nielsen wrote a refreshingly straightforward column on 'Why Yahoo Is Good.' His reasoning was that Yahoo's original model – an easy-to-navigate directory of useful links – had maintained its integrity even as Yahoo grew beyond its humble origins. Other web sites, and particularly some portals, such as Excite, moved away from this simplicity, and got mired in cluttered designs and a delusionally premature embrace of bandwidth-sucking animation, even broadcast.

Yahoo was good in 1998. But for several reasons, it no longer is. Nielsen's column title actually ended in “(But May Get Worse).” Some of his most important predictions have come to pass, including growing clutter, low-clickthrough rates, and an unsustainable business model. The latter two, sadly, have always been very predictable outcomes of the clutter problem. Yahoo has added clutter bit by bit, adding services and links to every page. But worse, it has assaulted users with ever-more-annoying, ever-larger blinking ads that make it impossible to concentrate….

But what about the debate over design simplicity? Surely it becomes more of a challenge as you get more content, and surely it's boring to just stick with the old drab Yahoo HTML links approach? Some of my colleagues have opined over the years that Yahoo has fallen behind rivals from a design standpoint precisely because its own inertia has held it back from sprucing up Yahoo's look. I don't agree. Flashier, or even prettier, design won't help any portal win consumers' allegiance for any length of time. Heinz Ketchup is better (for me) when it comes out of a Heinz Ketchup bottle, with the same old label. It's fine if Heinz wants to come out with purple and green ketchups for the kids, just as long as they don't alienate all of us regular Heinz-loving consumers. Just make sure I can find a regular Heinz ketchup bottle on the shelf.

When I use Yahoo these days, by the end of my session it's as if I'm walking away spattered from head to toe in purple and green ketchup. (Yet, if I want to customize my start page, they never seem to have the shade of taupe ketchup I'm looking for.)…

Well, what kind of optics did Yahoo think it would create by letting it be known that it's “loosening up” its definition of spam? Spam, as Seth Godin writes in The Big Red Fez: How to Make Any Website Better , is not “like the plague, it is the plague.” End of story…..

Yahoo's increasing shortage of goodness now takes on a bigger meaning to its diehard fans. It's gotten beyond narrow issues of usability and into the realm of good and evil. Oops.

You know what it all means, of course. Yahoo's going to have to find itself a crop of users who are accustomed to this kind of treatment. Like other big, broadcast-model portal companies (AOL Time Warner, Microsoft), Yahoo is playing a big media game that only monopolists can win. The problem is, they're not quite big enough to pull it off. Neither was AOL, in its day. Financially, in spite of its growth, AOL was in real trouble until it merged with Time Warner. So you can see where I'm headed with this. Yahoo is being groomed for acquisition, nothing more. Let's hope it doesn't die trying.” [Traffick.com, via LucDesk]

I find myself using Yahoo less and less as well, but mainly because it doesn't have what I want. Yahoo had a good idea to let me personalize their content, but they didn't take it far enough. I can't add in my own feeds/sites, I can't get rid of the annoying ads, and I can't reconfigure the screen enough for my tastes. They could have partnered with companies to pioneer bringing customized RSS news feeds to mainstream users, but instead they let it pass them by. And the Librarians' Index to the Internet is far more reliable than Yahoo's directory. [The Shifted Librarian]

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