In part four of our five part interview, Yahoo's audience group senior VP Jeff Dossett, who runs the Santa Monica office, talks about whether having an L.A. office still makes sense, his view on infusing social media into the portal experience, and how Yahoo can compete against Google in search.
For more on Dossett, read the introduction to part one of our interview. Reads part two here and part three here.
Ben Fritz: You mentioned the value of being here in Santa Monica. Obviously this office was started when the Media Group was a more separate entity and was being headed by someone who came from the more traditional media business trying to do something more Hollywood in terms of programming.
Now, you're heading the audience group that includes the stuff in Santa Monica, and includes some stuff up in Sunnyvale – Is there still much value in being in Santa Monica? If this were all to move to Sunnyvale right now, would it make a big difference?
Jeff Dossett: I think there's tremendous value being here in Santa Monica. First of all, as I mentioned earlier, this is an incredible market of creativity and innovation in and around consumer content and media experiences. From a partnering perspective, from a talent pool to attract to Yahoo, to our ability to interface and interact face to face, day in and day out, with movie studies for premieres or showings, or even just developing relationships with the key, influential leaders in the media and entertainment business. You asked right at the beginning about the things that sort of attracted me to Yahoo; being in this environment, in this office, close to this industry is a strong attractor.
I do think that if you step back and look at all user behavior online, and you think from a multi-decade perspective – try to think out five, ten, twenty years – one of the most significant trends will be the willingness of users to consume more entertainment in total online, and certainly more content which is traditionally best created in this community and this marketplace. I think there's a great collaboration to be had as that user behavior changes over time.
BF: Who do you see your competitors as, now? We talked about the media companies, but you're a portal, and there's a traditional portal experience in which MSN and AOL are obviously still there competing, and have their own problems, but do you see your competition more broadly than Yahoo's competition may have been three years ago? Whether it's social media, whether it's the old media companies we talked about a little bit before, whether it's online service companies, who do you think about your main competitors as being?
JD: Well, one of the things we do is we think a lot about what online consumers do with us, interacting with the Yahoo network, but we also look back and see how they're spending their time in general online, and look for opportunities. “Where are we serving the breadth and depth of those needs well today, and where do we see opportunities to better serve needs that we're not currently in as strong a leadership position?” and if we think we can do so uniquely well, that's where we'll make an investment. We do want to be relevant to the vast majority of online consumers every day, and so we think about what online consumers do. What do they do with us today, what do they do outside of their experience with Yahoo, and of the things they do outside of their experience with Yahoo, which ones do we think we can do uniquely well?
We think holistically about the audience experience and behavior. If you take something like social networking, from an audience perspective – long term – is it a separate experience, or is it part of every experience? I think our point of view is that we should infuse all online consumer media experiences or content experiences with a social element. Make it easier for people to engage with the content, to share the content, to discover content through friends and colleagues and connections, or the other way around: discover content through friends, or friends through content, and sort of infuse social in everything we do. I think that's how Yahoo competes more effectively with regard to what today, some people are doing outside their Yahoo experience. We bring that in, and sort of embrace that behavior, infuse all of our experiences with those social experiences, and then better serve the more holistic view of what users are doing.
It's the same way we think about search: search is another way of finding and discovering content. Generally, with clear intent, rather than serendipitous discovery of content. “I need something, I want to find something,” go to search. We learn a lot about what people do when they interact with Yahoo search, and it's just another entry point, another expression of want or need, and we're looking at all opportunities to blend the power of search into every experience. As opposed to being an experience where you sort of exit your content experience, move over here, open up a new browser instance and then do searching, let's infuse every experience with social, with search, and open – to the extent that there's things people do outside of the Yahoo network, help bring them together.
I think if we take an audience perspective and try to make it easier for audience members to discover and consume those services and experiences, we'll maintain a leadership position.
BF: Let's talk about search for a minute then, because you brought it up. I'm sure you're not going to give me any profound insights on the never ending drama with your former employer and current employer.
JD: Oh, I was going to give it all up for a second. Now, I take it back... (laughs)
BF: You were? Dammit. Now, you won't tell me?
JD: No, no, I'm just kidding.
BF: Well maybe taking the perspective you said of figuring out what Yahoo does best and how you add value, how do you see it in search? In particular, do you see that there's a certain way that Yahoo can do search as opposed to just saying you compete with Google, get a better algorithm and have everybody think you have a better search engine?
JD: My personal perspective on this, and I think it's in direct alignment with the corporate perspective, is that there is so much opportunity to innovate in the user experiences associated with search. We've only just begun. If you step back and take a look at the typical search engine result page, it's not a very compelling, innovative, engaging experience. It does provide value. You'll look at all the links, and you find, “Oh, that looks like something.” But the overall experience is fairly flat, it's fairly unengaging today, and I think we can bring much of what we've learned from creating consumer online media experiences to the search experience, and innovate on top of the core algorithmic search capabilities. They're a very powerful tool, but they're the starting point, an opportunity on which you can serve the real need, want or intent of the consumer, and I think that's where you'll see Yahoo focus its expertise.
BF: So on the way the results are presented?
JD: Understand audience needs, better serve them in a compelling, engaging and innovative user experience.
Tomorrow: Are portals still relevant? Do digitally savvy youngsters still care about Yahoo? Has the Yahoo brand lost its luster?