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Yahoo showing signs of life, albeit too late

There's word of a Flickr face-lift. Great, but why has it taken forever?

Earlier last week, we broke news of the thaw in merger negotiations between Yahoo and Microsoft. If two sides ultimately decide to tie the knot, get ready for months--maybe years--of furious debate about the wisdom of this deal. But the latest rumblings concerning Flickr speaks volumes about the problems Microsoft may be about to inherit.

Jerry Yang

My partner-in-crime Dan Farber was clubbing with assorted Yahoos Saturday night at a celebration of Flickr's fourth anniversary. That's where he got word that a Flickr video beta will debut next month. (Here's more from TechCrunch. )

Fantastic idea. Makes all the sense in the world. But where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio, or in this case, Jerry Yang? Flickr fans around the world--yours truly, included--will welcome word of a Flickr face-lift. Great, but why has it taken forever?

After Yahoo bought Flickr three years ago (this month, actually), management was rightly enamored of its new crown jewel. Flickr was a terrific property. Unfortunately for Yahoo, it blew a big opportunity. When Google bought YouTube in October 2006, the concept of video sharing was about to go viral. I don't know if that qualifies as one of Clayton Christensen's "disruptive technologies," but it comes close. While Yahoo's own video site was going nowhere fast, Yahoo decided to leave Flickr as a pure photo site.

Big mistake. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I'm sure Yang and the rest of Yahoo management wished they had a do-over. Flickr was always the more valuable franchise. But Yahoo's made no secret about its intentions to gussy it up with a video makeover. Now it's apparently about to happen. (If the Microsoft deal goes through, Flickr would be one heck of a brand. Let's remember that if YouTube has 34 percent of the market, then that leaves 66 percent up for grabs. The challenge is that time's a wasting and YouTube has a huge lead.) Too bad for Yahoo that their developers failed to pull this off sooner. Kakul Srivastava, director of product management at Flickr, explained to Dan that the company wanted to guarantee that any move into video would be received as "authentic" by the community.

Move carefully, I can understand. But move at a snail's pace? Come on.