Monday, June 01, 2009

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz on personalization

Interesting tidbit on personalization in a Q&A with Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz:
Yahoo! is the place where millions of people come every day to see what is happening with the people and the things that matter most to them.

That could mean what's happening in the world -- like breaking news, sports scores, stock quotes, last night's TV highlights -- and your world -- like your email, photos, groups, fantasy leagues.

Based on what we know about you ... we can bring you both those worlds. So I think our clear strength is "relevance" -- whether that means knowing what weather to give you or serving up headlines you'll be interested in. It's all about really getting you.
So Yahoo wants to filter and recommend relevant content based on what it knows about you. Is this a new goal for Yahoo?

Two years ago, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang spoke about "better tailoring Yahoo's iconic Web portal to individual users, with the help of technology that predicts what they want."

Four years ago, Yahoo CEO Terry Semel said that one of the "four pillars" of Yahoo was "personalization technology to help users sort through vast choices to find what interests them" and Yahoo executive Lloyd Braun called it one of Yahoo's "secret weapons".

Five years ago, Yahoo CEO Terry Semel said, "Personalization will also play more of a role on the Yahoo home page in the coming months" and "painted a picture in which users could tailor the Yahoo home page to suit their particular interests," adding, "We want the home page to be totally personalized."

Making Yahoo content more relevant and useful to people would be fantastic. Personalization is a way to make the site more relevant and useful. But this idea clearly has been around the halls of Yahoo for some time. The key is going to be executing on it quickly.

Please see also my May 2006 post, "Yahoo home page cries out for personalization".

Update: Three weeks later, Forbes Magazine quotes Carol Bartz as admitting that Yahoo's troubles have been "an execution problem ... we are really working on (moving) from 'we can do this, we can do this' to 'we did do this.'"

She also has several other quotes in that same article that seem quite promising for the future of Yahoo, including that "none of us hate ads ... we just hate crappy ads" and that we should see Yahoo doing personalization and recommendations of news and other home page content soon. Great to hear it.

Update: Seven months later, Carol Bartz pumps personalization but admits that "we have been letting great data ... fall to the floor."

Update: One year later, Carol Bartz says, "Tomorrow's Yahoo is going to be really tailored" and "I want it to learn about me ... and cull through the massive amount of information that's out there to find exactly what I want." But, as ex-Yahoo Jeremy Zawodny comments, "The problem is that Yahoo execs have been saying this for literally years now. When will it come true?"


Mike said...

I'm not sure that Yahoo! does "quickly" any more. I was involved in a small way with personalization there for a while, specifically for music. It was always a challenge to get the necessary data. For example, they had to collect information on play history to report back to the labels for royalty purposes, but getting that data for recommendations was difficult (and never happened before they scrapped music).

Mike said...

As a former Yahoo employee, I agree that nothing happens quickly there. It's such a huge company with so many layers that there's always _something_ blocking any quickness from happening. At least, I personally never saw anything quickly make it into production.

It's a shame, too. There's a ton a really smart, creative, talented engineers there.

(This is a different Mike from the one above.)

Unknown said...

I'm also a former Yahoo employee and one thing your post reminds me is that talk is cheap. Whenever Terry Semel or Jerry Yang had to say something "cool" during earnings calls they would always say some pie in the sky B.S. such as "we could take all the data we know about our users and provide personalized experiences".

I'll always be a loyal Yahoo and I hope the company does better in the future. But I'm tired of lip service.

There is one thing related to personalization that was created in my division during my employment there. It was an advanced behavioral targeting system for display ads. Using information based on your browsing and search history, certain ads will be shown that are relevant to your behavior.