Yahoo, Microsoft, and drowning puppies

The phrase "drowning puppies" applies to Yahoo's inability to focus its business. This needs to change whether or not Microsoft acquires the company.

On a radio program this morning about the possible Microsoft/Yahoo merger, CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos argued that one of Yahoo's problems has been its inability to kill off unsuccessful properties.

Citing Google as a counter-example, he discussed how Google has been able to pull out of less-than-successful businesses, such as its own social-networking tool and Google Video. (I would throw Froogle onto the list as well.)

To be fair to Yahoo, it recently yanked Yahoo photos in favor of Flickr, and just announced it is dropping its music service and transferring subscribers to Rhapsody .

But it's also fair to say that Yahoo has gone beyond being a "one-stop shop" (1990s portal thinking) to a company that neither employees nor customers really know what it's about. I would tend to agree with Kanellos that an unwillingness to draw boundaries around what's in and what's out has a good deal to do with Yahoo's problems. (Full disclosure: both Yahoo and Microsoft are clients of frog design, where I work, though I have no inside knowledge of the merger at all.)

In the book Code Name Ginger, which chronicled the development of the Segway Transporter, there was a great phrase--"drowning puppies"--that describes the mindset necessary when tackling innovative products and services.

The challenge is this: you'll have lots of great ideas, but you will only be able to expend finite resources to bring a small number of them to market. If you try to spread resources across them all, they will all be starved and unhealthy. So you have to prioritize and not fund some of them. This is very difficult because, just like puppies, these ideas bounce around joyfully and are so shiny and perfect and full of future growth and promise. But the sad fact is you have to drown some of your puppies. It's a harsh phrase, but accurate.

Yahoo has continued adding property on property, service on service, but has not done enough puppy drowning to allow for shifting away from less successful areas. Regardless of whether the merger happens, let's hope Yahoo can regain some of its focus both for employees and customers.

Tags:
Tech Culture
About the author

    Adam Richardson is the director of product strategy at frog design, where he guides strategy engagements for frog's international roster of clients, envisioning and creating new products, consumer electronics, and digital experiences. Adam combines a background in industrial design, interaction design, and sociology, and spends most of his time on convergent designs that combine hardware, software, service, brand, and retail. He writes and speaks extensively on design, business, culture, and technology, and runs his own Richardsona blog.

     

    Join the discussion

    Conversation powered by Livefyre

    Don't Miss
    Hot Products
    Trending on CNET

    HOT ON CNET

    Up for a challenge?

    Put yourself to the real tech test by building your own virtual-reality headset with a few household items.