Yahoo's mobile content strategy: A good idea, too late

Troubled Internet pioneer struggles to change perceptions, reverse revenue slide

If the date of Sunday's New York Times article on Yahoo's mobile content apps strategy said Feb. 6, 2009, there might be something to get excited about here. Unfortunately, it's 2011, and Yahoo's plans to develop "a publishing platform for applications that would let users get personalized content on their phones and other mobile devices" are about as groundbreaking as live-tweeting an Apple media event. (Also see: Is the Verizon iPhone deal a disaster for AT&T?) Which isn't to say that Yahoo's not doing the right thing. It is. But as the NYT's Evelyn Rusli writes: The move is part of a larger trend toward custom content. As news streams and Twitter feeds multiply on the Web, there is a flurry of new programs trying to help users cut through the noise. For instance, the iPad app Flipboard finds content from a user’s social networking feeds and displays it in a magazine-like layout of photos and text blocks that can be flipped through. AOL recently announced that it would release Editions, its own personalized iPad magazine application. The tagline is “The magazine that reads you.” In other words, Yahoo is taking steps to keep up with the mobile and custom content trends. Being a "me too" company isn't going to help change perceptions that Yahoo is a lumbering Internet graybeard with no particular identity and no compelling strategy that would help it increase revenues and shareholder value. Yes, Yahoo already offers personalized content on its home page, but this is much more about mobile. That's why Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz reportedly is expected to announce the company's plans at next month's Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona. Rusli notes that "several crucial members of the mobile team have left in the last six months," including two top executives. You have to wonder if that's because they didn't think Yahoo had a compelling mobile strategy. It certainly didn't have a compelling enough mobile strategy to keep them around. My sense is that Yahoo's mobile content project, even if successful, will do no better than keep it in the game. Unfortunately, what the company needs is a strategy to keep it ahead of the game. There doesn't appear to be one of those in sight.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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