Yahoo! is on it’s way back

I had pretty much written Yahoo off.  I thought they were dead.  They hadn’t done anything new and interesting for over 5 years.  Their webpages looked like crap.  They were just treading water.  That all changed lately.  Specifically in the past 6 months, they’ve done some things that really make me think they’ll be a player in the future.

First, let’s talk about Flickr.  I’ve always used it as my default photo service where i store all my photos online.  It used to be the best (in 2003-2006) and then it got abandoned.  I still kept putting my photos there because i was locked in, but i knew it was dead.  They added one small feature a year. I had seen that playbook at AOL.  It means it’s only a matter of time before it’s time to leave.  Then something magical happened.  They pushed out a new iPhone app for it that was actually decent.  Then they updated it to make it really slick.  Then they announced 1 terabyte of free storage.  Then they announced automatic iPhone uploads of photos.  Whoa.  All of the sudden, it was one of the best photo apps on my phone.  All in about a 6 month period.

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Second, they released a new News Digest app that is basically The Week magazine but a daily app.  It aggregates 8 to 10 recent news stories and sends them to you twice a day.  Once you’ve read the morning stories, you have to wait for the evening delivery. It’s beautifully made and is really easy to consume.  It’s not the main way I get mainstream news.

Finally, they launched a new Tech site that claims to be different than current tech sites.  The premise being that all tech sites today are focused on the top tier tech enthusiasts and people who care a lot about Silicon Valley.  Yahoo Tech will be focused on the other 90%. People who want to know what the best TV is, not which Palo Alto exec just changed jobs.  I think that’s a great idea.

So, it’s good to have another player back out there.  Someone is building new things and innovating.  I’m excited.  It seems that Yahoo! is indeed earning the exclamation point on their name.

 

Mobile World Congress wrapup

I spent the week at MWC in Barcelona this past week.  I made my way to a bunch of booths and companies.  It was a huge show.

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Here are some thoughts:

  • Phone Operating Systems
    • There were many new phones released at the show.  LG announced 50 phones, Samsung had 22 more, Sony/Ericcson announced a new suite of walkman phones, and even Acer announced new phones.  Which each new announcement, you saw that they are all using Windows Mobile.  Windows mobile is EVERYWHERE.  Regardless what you think about it, you can’t deny its traction in the marketplace.  It seems again that Apple will be the better device but Windows will be on more.
    • Windows Mobile is not a good OS for the phone.  It’s bloated and has way too many menus but there aren’t alot of options.  For this reason, i’m hopeful for Android.  Even the new 6.5 still uses 8-bit graphics.
    • There were barely any Android phones at the show and almost no coverage about it – if it’s the new phone of the future, you wouldn’t know it by this show. It seems that very few handset manufacturers are planning on using it. I was surprised
    • Nobody wanted to say it, but the iPhone still kicks the crap out of almost every phone at the show.  Only Blackberry is close. Nokia is getting there too.
  • Microsoft – I went to their booth to check out Live, Windows Mobile 6.5 and My Phone:
    • Microsoft Live – i aksked their expert to give me the demo and explain to me why i should care.  He showed me MSN messenger, Hotmail, their photo tool and i kept asking, “why should i care?” and he could never give me an answer.  There is nothing special here.  I think this suite is a good metaphor for the company itself.  Internet 1.0
    • Windows 6.5 – It is an improvement over 6.1 but it’s still worse than iPhone. They tried hard to make it like the iPhone but worked just as hard to make it not exactly like it.   Instead of a grid of applications, it’s a honeycomb layout.  My big disappointment is that 6.5 isn’t released until mid 2009.  That’s exactly 2 years after the iPhone launch and it’s still inferior.  I don’t think they’ll ever get it together.
    • The App Store – i was equally excited about this but the big problem is that this isn’t even scheduled to be ready untl late 2009.  They didn’t even have screenshots of it.  Even the MS rep joked that it was typical Microsoft vaporware.
    • My Phone – this is the one thing that i liked from Miscrosoft. It sends all your information from your phone up to the cloud.  You can access it online (numbers, calendar, messages).  You can even search your text messages online.  That’s cool. Of course it’s not tied into Live (see above) because that would make too much sense.
  • Yahoo!
    • they have an app for Blackberry and iPhone.   The app has a “Pulse” which can connect to other social networks and list your friends’ status and activity.  Very much like Plaxo Pulse – even the same name (although nobody in the Yahoo booth had heard of Plaxo).   it’s pretty cool but nothing revolutionary.
    • Remember the days when Yahoo was competing with Google? They are now so far behind that it’s not even funny – especially on mobile. Google has an mobile OS, location-aware apps, Maps on every device, and mobile sites for mail, docs, and tasks.  Yahoo! on the other hand has a huge booth to announce that they now have an application that displays news, mail and RSS feeds.  I’m not impressed.
  • Some other companies i saw:
    • ARM – this is a British company that makes processors.  They compete with Intel but on small devices like cell phones and mp3 players.  Among their typical devices, they also looking to get the chips into laptops.  Not as a replacement processor but as an addition.  The idea is that if you are only going to be surfing the web, you can switch to the ARM processor and get around 19 hours of power.  Whoa
    • Omnifone – this is a Rhapsody type service specifically for mobile phones. They have worldwide liceses from the labels and is working on all Sony/Ericcson phones.  They claim to have a US service at the end of ’09.  I was also amazed how uninformed they were about Rhapsody.
    • TruPhone – a great skype-like app.  It’s an app that that lets you make international calls from your  phone over the internet to get low rates.  It’s a good integration in that if you call someone’s TruPhone app, it rings your regular phone and if both people have the app, it’s completely free.  It’s like Skype but made specifically for phones rather than desktops.
    • Samsung.  They have a Blue Earth phone which is a very cool environment friendly phone.  It has solar panels on its back and is made out of recyleable materials.  I was excited to see it but was pretty disappointed to find that it was only a prototype and they haven’t actually made any of these phones.

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Why did Flickr stop innovating?

Image representing Flickr as depicted in Crunc...
Why aren’t you better?

I’ve been a big flickr fan for years.  I take a lot of photos and that’s always been my favorite spot to put them.  Flickr‘s been great at pioneering the 2.0 photo experience. They were the first to have a photostream view – not just albums. And they were the first to have tags which allow you to organize your photos in a better way.  However, they haven’t done much lately.  Sure, they added videos which is GREAT but that’s about it.  The look hasn’t changed, there aren’t many new features and i feel that they are getting out developed by facebook’s photo experience and Google‘s Picasa.   Sure those sites have different goals for their photo experience but at least they are moving forward. What’s Flickr done for me lately? Nothing.

Both Facebok and Picasa allow you to specifically name who is in each photo. Facebook does this by “tagging” a photo with a user and Picasa does this by analyzing the faces in the photos.  Both are brain dead simple to use and are really slick.  I’ve always used Flickr’s tags to do this with thier photos but i’d like to more specifically associate a photo with a user.

I also think that Flickr could make the “editing” of photo metadata easier.  The order a picture shows up in your photostream is effectively the date you took it – but if you upload a photo much later, you have to go back and manually adjust the dates so it appears in the right spot. Flickr has always made title and description editing amazingly simply by keeping it in-line but adjusting the date and privacy of a photo still takes you to another page.  Why can’t they make that easier? Same thing with setting a group of photos to a later date. This is too hard to do.

The bottom line is that i still love Flickr but i feel that it’s getting stagnant.  i’m starting to think that Flickr has officially become a Yahoo company and not a nimble startup.  And i don’t want to hitch my wagon to something that is in maintenance mode.  I knew this day would come and i think the day might finally be here. I think i could say the same about delicious too.  That site could have been much bigger than it is.

I’m wondering now – where should my photos go? What’s going to be be even better.  I don’t like how Picasa is only albums but i do like how they are at least getting better and better.  Is there a 3.0 photo experience that i can use?

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AOL mail crushes Gmail

Not in terms of functionality or ease of use but check this out:

Yahoo dominates e-mail with 88.4 million users in the United States in August, according to comScore. That is far more than Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail at 45.2 million and AOL at 44.8 million, not to mention Gmail at 26.0 million.

When you look at how much time people spend reading their e-mail, Yahoo mail users spend the most time (286 minutes a month), Gmail users the least (82 minutes), with AOL and Microsoft in the middle (229 and 204 minutes, respectively).

Wow. As a Gmail-lover, i would have never thought that was the case. You read the whole article here.

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Where's Yahoo's RSS Reader?

Isn’t Yahoo! supposed to compete with Google and other consumer properties? I mean, even AOL has an RSS reader (here). People are using RSS readers more and more and Google’s making it social. I now get feeds shared to me every day and they’re usually the most interesting ones. For instance the image below was from a post that was shared to me by Julian and i also think it does a good job representing Yahoo’s efforts in the Reader space. MyYahoo is so 90’s, get with the program Y!

It's All About the Product – Yahoo! Makes a Change

Yahoo! announced a change of CEO yesterday.  I love some of Yahoo! products like Flickr, MyBlogLog, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Maps, and Delicious.   When they bought Delicious, Google and Yahoo were neck in neck in terms of who had better products and a better vision.  Delicious opted to sell to Yahoo as they were better in social applications at the time.  Since then – for about a year now –  they’ve been getting their ass handed to them by Google on every front: Mail, Search, Calendar, Maps, etc.. They are just getting dusted.  Their products are no longer innovative nor even best of class.  I see this move as general frustration about this fact.  Jason Calacanis, an entrepreneur who speaks it like it is and is generally correct has a similar statement, saying:

“What this move shows is that–like Facebook, Apple, and Google–the founders are often times the best folks to run the business. Wall Street and investors are too caught up in the ‘professional CEO’ who knows how to ‘talk to Wall Street’ and get deals done. The fact is our business is about one thing: product.”

Features for Google Reader

I love my Google Reader.  I like being able to stay in one “web inbox” and cruise through a stream of web clips.

One thing I don’t like is hassle of placing a comment on a blog.  To leave a comment, i have to leave Google Reader and go to the blog, then type in the comment (usually have to signMyBlogLog Image-in first).  i’d like to have is a universal comment field that’s part of Google Reader and interfaces with many different types of blogs.  It has all the necessary fields and the Reader communicates with the blog.  That’d be helpful.

Another thing i’d like is to get MyBlogLog working with the reader.  MyBlogLog is a great little service that puts you into communities if you travel to those blogs frequently.  However it only works if you actually visit the site.  I rarely go to the site but rather visit all my sites via the Reader.  It’d be good if they could work together.

Those are my 2 little suggestions.  Get going Google.

Holy Crap the iPhone is AMAZING

Granted, i haven’t seen it in person or used it, but i watched the Macworld speech by Steve Jobs about it and let me tell you – the phone looks incredible.  The phone looks awesome but more than that, it is over-delivering.  Again, Apple is taking everyone’s expectations, throwing them out the window and giving us something that we didn’t even dream about.  There were months of speculation and NONE of them were even close to this.   It was never a question of whether or not mobile phones would replace iPods, but rather a question of when.  Apple knew this and made the most rockin’ mobile phone one could imagine.  Here’s what it’s got….

  • Thin as hell. While it is somewhat large which is nice for watching videos, it is really thin and pretty sleek.
  • Touch screen. While i’ve not a big fan of them in the past, it looks like they’ve thought about all the screwups that usually happen and made this screen really sizzle. The mouse on MacBooks are really good with recognizing multiple finger scrolling and supposedly the iPhone is too.  Also, touch screens can change when you add in applications or change functionality so this phone is forward-compatible.
  • A super-high-resolution screen. This makes videos, photos, and web browsing really a fun (or non-painful) experience. Putting only 1/5 of a browser on a screen, which is what most phones do, sucks. The iPhone screen is much better so that a whole browser screen can fit and it makes regular photos and desktop images gorgeous.
  • It’s also an iPod. Having it be an iPod too is the way to go. I can imagine a day when all iPods are cell phones.  Synergy, got to love it.
  • Sycnhing contacts and photos and music, which is really painful for most phones as their computer software sucks.  Apple does this really well with iTunes and iPods and this phone will synch with iTunes too which makes lots of sense.
  • Wi-fi capabilities. Cell networks sometime suck, so it’s nice to be able to jump onto a wireless connection if it is available.  Browing the web on this thing will be fast too.
  • Google Maps built in. My current phone has Blackberry maps built in and it’s a great feature to have on a phone. Google Maps are even better (Double True!) so that’s a big plus.  I’ve yet to see any phone have this feature.  It shows that bringing Google’s CEO onto the Apple board was good for something.
  • Voicemail browsing similar to email browsing.  Don’t know why this hasn’t been done before but it’s awesome.
  • Even the bluetooth accessories look slick

Some other specifics: $499 (4GB) or $599 (8GB) avaialble in June with 2 commitment from Cingular.

 

Le Web 3: Day 1

After visiting Romania, i attended the Le Web 3 conference in Paris. While i won’t get into what went on the second day (kinda lame), i wanted to post my notes on the first day of speakers. Here goes:

10-10:30: Real World and why it matters: Hans Rosling
This was a fantastic presentation of describing why we need to change our perspective from being Us vs. Them when describing the global social/economic nations to being a low-middle-high income view as almost all countries have exactly the same birth rate and life expectancy. Hans is a great speaker and his company gapminder.com is worth checking out. I wish i took more notes on this one. He did have a great visual view of how the countries of the world have progressed so that almost all of them today are 2 children homes with a life expectancy of 70 years. That’s right almost every country is there. There are no more large family, short life expectancy countries – the world will stabalize at 9 billion people.

11-11:40: Giants Outlook on Web 2.0 (Yahoo, Orange, Nokia, Windows Live)
While the first was amazing, this was quite the opposite. It was too generic of a presentation. Questions were posed like “does size matter?” and they all said, “well ‘yes’ and ‘no'” and expain why size might be good and the negatives of being big which the generalities were just useless. This was more a pitch of why these companies are awesome and less about what they’re working on. They all said that user-generated content is the key to their success. The questions were all soft-balls, like “do communities matter?” to which they all responded an obvious “yes” – the Nokia presenter was the worst. He would say blanket statements like “communities aren’t about technologies,” to which the moderater would ask, “what are they about?” and he would answer blankly, “they’re about people.” Worthless. I saw much more innovation and better presentations as the Startup place.

2-2:20: State of the Blogosphere (David Sifry, CEO of Technorati)
Some stats he showed (which is pretty much all he did):
– The blogosphere doubles in size every 150-200 days
– 60 million blogs, 7 million update once a week or more
– I was surprised to see that while english is the largest in the blogosphere, it’s not over 50% (i’m a dumb american). The US is at 39% and i was surprised to see japanese blogs at 33% (france was at 2%)

2:40-3: Future of Business (Reid Hoffman – LinkedIn)
This was a short but interesting talk. He believes all people will eventually have a public facing web page. He comments that MySpace won the wars over Geocities and others b/c your home page is a social page and customizable. LinkedIn will do the same. He sees the technology of resumes as migrating from a list of assertions of where you’ve been and what you’ve done to being much more accurate and informative. Current resumes are “very 1.0, sometimes lack information, and they lack metadata.” They should be demonstration of expertise which they currently aren’t. LinkedIn is trying to become the next version of that resume. He also sees Business 2.0 right around the corner and what are the new set of business applications. So many professionals are online, there will be increased collaboration

3:20-3:30: Jamendo startup preso
Largest aggregator of indie music in Europe. Users can stream the music from the Jamendo site or download the entire album using bittorrent. Our service (Qloud) links into AmieStreet and i’d like to get Jamendo content in there too. Hopefully we can make that happen.

5:20-5:30: Viral Growth (Netvibes CEO)
This was one of my favorite talks. He spoke of when he first started with 4 guys and they had no idea what to do. Lukily they had Wiki and API’s which turned out to be a critical piece of their growth. They allowed others to translate the widgets and make useful plugins that the users wanted.

Continue reading Le Web 3: Day 1

What I Would do to Fix AOL

I saw the annoucement last week (and news stories) of the new AOL CEO, Randy Falco, and got to wondering, if I’m in charge of running AOL which is now in the business of monetizing traffic to AOL.com and other pages, how would i do it? A few thoughts came to mind….

First, i would buy the best, more user-friendly and one of hte most popular social networks around – Facebook. With facebook, you not only get a great social network, but you also get one of the best photo-sharing applications on the internet. Then i would merge it with AIM, change all AIM-pages to be facebook pages, and place the mini-feed on every users home AOL.com page. That would drive traffic. Granted, it would take a long time to get everything on the same platform (calendar, aim, mail, etc.) but facebook’s interface and features are much, much better than AOL’s. Everyone’s speculating about Yahoo buying facebook, why not AOL? AOL has just as much cash and just enough desire to monetize their traffic. It’s almost as if everyone assumes AOL is dying and isn’t going to invest in their future.

Buy Meebo
AIM is one of the most precious assets AOL has and it is being threatened by Meebo. I would buy it immediately and make all meebo-me widgets become AIM widgets and place them all over the web and inside the recently purchased AOL-facebook pages.

Streaming Music Locker

Subscription streaming. AOL should abandon the WMA format and go for only streaming. In an iPod world, the only way to play is to make your server compatible with iTunes and that means abandoning DRM and/or simply abandoning any local download. A service like last.fm + mp3tunes would go a long way.

Video
Go all-flash as DRM instead of Windows Media so mac users can play. Have it all hosted so you can access anywhere and watch anywhere.

Mail
Build, Buy or do whatever it takes to do a SERIOUS upgrade to your mail application. Mail is the largest driver of ad inventory and if you’re service is completely ad-based, this should be your #1 priority. It’s been over 2 years since Gmail launched, you would think someone at AOL would have noticed how to please mail users. Where is unlimited storage, where are ajax-features to reduce latency, where? AOL mail is by far the worst webmail application on the internet. It needs to be fixed.

Voice
AOL bought 3 voice companies between 2000 and 2003: eVoice, Quack, and another one from Canada (i’m forgetting the name). AOL made serious investment in voicemail, voice recognition and other voice services. From what i can tell, all that has been completely abandoned. I would restart this effort and do more click-to-talk services, similar to Google’s. However, all of AOL’s services are tied into mail and AIM making them more attractive. For instance, it would be easy to do click-to-talk and then save to mp3 which would be put into your music streaming locker.

These are just a few of the things i’d do. What do you all think? I think Randy’s in for a tough job and i’m not bullish on AOL’s chances. I think the most successful internet companies are run by those who understand the technology and can see the trends coming. Google embraces technology and let’s it unlock new opportunities and i don’t see somewhat who’s entire background is in TV and TV ad-sales pushing AOL into new models and opportunities. That’s just my initial reaction. Then again, Terry Semel’s done a good job at Yahoo, so who knows.