In the final part of our five part interview with Jeff Dossett, Yahoo's senior VP of audience and head of the Santa Monica office, we talk about the biggest picture issues: The meaning of the Yahoo brand, the relevance of a portal with a home page, and whether digitally savvy audiences are still interested in what his company has to offer.
For more on Dossett, read the introduction to part one of our interview. Read part two here, part three here, and part four here.
Ben Fritz: Going forward, when you think about “What is Yahoo?” and/or “What is Yahoo content?” do you see the old portal model where people come to a homepage and you can shoot them all around as something that's becoming less and less important? The “I am a Yahoo user, I go to Yahoo.com, I go to Yahoo Mail, I go to Yahoo News,” versus “I come into it a million different ways?”
Jeff Dossett: Great question. I think the front page will continue for many years to be an essential experience for Yahoo users. It's where we get to reflect our understanding of a broad set of content and information and service needs and try to curate that experience. Try to find the best: try to make it easier for people to find the information and services and experiences that matter most to them.
I do think the front page or the homepage experience will evolve. I think it will evolve in two key ways. One is, I think that we'll improve our ability to present a more relevant front page experience as an essential starting point to Yahoo users. We'll be able to reflect what we know about you and your interests and your experience on the network, and tune the content experience to your particular needs. That's one thing. Sort of, again, the audience-segment-centric position to deliver the best, most relevant content experience to each and every user.
The other is that Yahoo has clearly, strongly embraced the power of openness. We want to make it easier for consumers to make sense of the Internet, for them, in a way that's relevant to them, and to the extent that there are information sources or services that are important to users that exist outside of the Yahoo network, we'd like to make it easier for them to bring them into the experience, as we've had traditionally in experiences like My Yahoo.
So I think you'll see the front page as a starting point evolve to be more personally relevant and more customizable, including the inclusion of experiences that are currently thought of as outside the Yahoo experience.
We have begun to communicate a little bit more broadly about our plans for the evolution of the Yahoo homepage. “More open, more social, and more relevant” are our three key themes, and I think it's an essential part, because with all of the world's information available online, the burden on a consumer to find and discover the information and services important to them, that complexity is actually increasing right now, and Yahoo has traditionally helped people discover and interact with the content and services that are most important to them. I think that will continue to be one of the key elements of differentiation and the value that we bring to online consumers, so we'll definitely do that.
At the same time, there are many different entry points into the network. There are some people who are news junkies, they just love the news, and that's really the right and most appropriate starting point for them, and we'll want to serve them as well. OMG for others. We think holistic, and we're not dependent on the front page, but we recognize the value it plays in helping simplify the complexity of the richness of the Internet.
BF: And that idea of Yahoo as an editor in a sense, as opposed to, for people who are very tech-savvy, the idea of “I get my RSS feeds, and I have everything, and nobody tells me what I want?” It sounds like you're saying there's still a lot of value, at least for some audiences, in that Yahoo's going to tell you “Here's ten things that you should see,” or otherwise present the user with information that they might not have asked for.
JD: Absolutely. I think different users want and need different things, and we will certainly make available an experience that's more customizable. My Yahoo has been a great example; it's the absolute leader in the customizable portal experience, and that's one approach. We'll make the main frontpage, Yahoo.com, more customizable for individuals. But we don't want to thrust the complexity of the Internet onto the user and say, “Hey, everything's available to you, you figure it out.”
We're a trusted consumer brand, and the foundation of that trust is the intelligent, insightful curation of all of the wealth of information and services that exist on the web. I think that's an essential element of our success to date, and will be going forward. It's a responsibility that we take very seriously, and we invest in the industry's top talent.
Technology can enable and assist in this task, but you need very special people.
BF: So there's still a big role for editors.
JD: Editorial and programmers are essential drivers of value to consumers from Yahoo's perspective.
But blending that with powerful tools, we have one particular technology, the content optimization knowledge engine. It's technology that makes it easier for the most engaging headlines or content to surface higher in the sort of discoverability or the list. But it's infused with the insights of the editors.
That technology was built only based on the insights of what real people are doing all day long. And now, they get to benefit from that. Some of the heavy lifting is done starting at the beginning of that experience and they add their value at a higher level of refinement. I see that being a very significant trend going forward: the blend of human editorial insight with the technology enabling a more efficient and effective personalization of the content experience by individuals.
BF: When you talk about the audience to go after, do you think Yahoo is, and needs to compete aggressively for the most digital-savvy, cutting-edge kind of audiences, the ones who are on top of every trend, who were Twittering last year? On the one hand, there are hundreds of millions of other people to get, but you might also say that if Yahoo doesn't stay relevant to those on the cutting edge, then does Yahoo in ten years become a much less relevant brand?
JD: I do think it's important for Yahoo to be relevant and add value to digitally savvy users. So we keep a very close tab on what people are doing online, and not just on the Yahoo network. You used a couple of examples there. The current user engagement and interest with something like Twitter, that's an important phenomenon that's taking place. Do we need to create a Twitter competitor? Or do we better serve our audience by figuring out how to bring the best of that experience into their Yahoo experience?
You'll see today, in sort of the current iteration of Yahoo Mail, and sort of the idea of infusing every environment with social: your connections, your Tweets, your Facebook updates can be brought into your experience. You sort of light up that existing audience that already engages in other aspects of Yahoo with some of those emerging capabilities.
We won't do it all: we won't be all things to all people. If we think we can add value and do it better than someone else who's doing it, we'll invest and compete to win, be a number one or number two. Otherwise, we'll advance our open strategy and help simplify the experience for the user by enabling them to pull together those experiences that are most relevant to them and make them part of their Yahoo experience.
BF: And what about the Yahoo brand: is the Yahoo brand always an important part of it? In some places, it's Yahoo Movies. OMG, you could have called it Yahoo Celebrities. I wonder, especially for that audience we were just talking about, is the Yahoo brand as cool? Whereas Flickr, I think, is a pretty cool brand with a lot of very digitally savvy people. Maybe Yahoo is not a cool a brand?
JD: I think the Yahoo brand is a great brand. It's a great consumer brand. The expectations that consumers have with respect to Yahoo include a tone and a personality and an approach to everything we do – fun, innovative, engaging – and so I think it's a strong consumer brand that gives us license and supports a very wide range of user experiences. In some cases, we've done research where it makes sense to name a particular experience “Yahoo _____”, That blank being a descriptor. Like “Yahoo Finance.”
In other cases, when you really look at the needs and expectations of the audience, there's a need to infuse the experience with an even more unique personality and it can make sense to apply a different experience brand. Like OMG – completely integrated to the psyche and expectations of the celebrity consumer. Shine is another great example. It's Shine on Yahoo. It's OMG on Yahoo. It adds value to the Yahoo brand, and it derives value from the Yahoo brand.
We'll continue to experiment and innovate, but I will say the Yahoo brand is a very strong consumer brand, and I believe we will continue to infuse it with fresh examples of what we believe Yahoo stands for and ought to stand for in terms of consumer-centric, fun, innovative, engaging experiences. The more we do that, the more it brings long-term life to the Yahoo brand.