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Peanut Butter Isn’t Yahoo’s Problem November 20, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.
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I’m puzzled by the Peanut Butter manifesto. Apparently, the notorious memo that criticizes Yahoo of lacking vision, discipline, and accountability was leaked quite widely. I’m not paranoid enough to say it was leaked from the top — either to run up a flag and see who salutes, or to manipulate media and Wall Street opinion into thinking heads are about to roll. But what is being leaked?

I’m sure Yahoo has redundancies and some conflicting chains of command, or places where everyone can veto, but no one can champion effectively. Ever seen a big company that didn’t? Ever seen former entrepreneurs not bitch about it? And what bureaucracy couldn’t cut 15% of its fat?

But is the core problem really peanut butter?

    We lack a focused, cohesive vision for our company. We want to do everything and be everything — to everyone. We’ve known this for years, talk about it incessantly, but do nothing to fundamentally address it. We are scared to be left out. We are reactive instead of charting an unwavering course…I’ve heard our strategy described as spreading peanut butter across the myriad opportunities that continue to evolve in the online world. The result: a thin layer of investment spread across everything we do and thus we focus on nothing in particular.

“We want to do everything and be everything — to everyone.” Heck, that’s what the Number One Internet portal should do. A portal aggregates a lot of content and services for a big audience. It sells that audience to advertisers. The bigger and broader it is, the more power the portal has to slice and dice that audience across a richer variety of contexts. That makes for a great advertising platform.

That seems like a vision to me. Peanut butter isn’t the problem. Too many redundant products that don’t necessarily work together, yeah, that’s a problem. Not having a search engine that converts click throughs as well as Google’s, yeah, that’s problem. Being an Internet-only media company, yeah that’s a problem (being worked on.) Not being able to convince Wall Street that you’ve got a better audience and a richer ad platform than Google, yeah, that’s a problem. But being the Number One Portal? Hurt me with that one, even if it is a little old-school.

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