At a memorable point in the first Godfather movie, Clemenza inadvertently demonstrated his talent for Wall Street deal-making when he offered this sage advice to Michael Corleone:
"You know you got to stop them at the beginning, like they should have stopped Hitler at Munich. They should never've let him get away with that. They were just asking for big trouble."
In the Yahoo drama, the stand-ins for Clemenza, Tessio, Sonny, Michael, and Tom Hagen feature Jerry Yang, Steve Ballmer, Rupert Murdoch, and Eric Schmidt. The common motive in both? How to screw the other guy before he screws you.
The latest twist--but hey, it's only mid-morning on the West Coast so who knows where we'll be by lunch hour?--has AOL and Yahoo discussing a hookup where they would merge their respective Internet operations. At the same time, Microsoft is said to beabout making a joint bid. The upshot: Microsoft's MSN and News Corp.'s Fox Interactive Media unit, which oversees MySpace, would wind up under the same roof as Yahoo. Don't forget Google's Schmidt, sending a steady stream of "we've got your back" e-mails to Yang. On Tuesday, the companies announced a of Google advertisements on some Yahoo search pages.
If you understood all that, you're doing better than most.
What should we make of all of these hyperventilating suits running around as if their pants were on fire? In a way, I'm impressed by their energy. It's been a while since Yahoo's brass appeared so engaged. And now we know how much Schmidt resents Microsoft for making his life miserable at Sun and Novell.
Fred Wilson had an interesting piece up earlier in the day where he offers the delish observation that "all these machinations" are making him ill. But Wilson is coming at this novella from the perspective of a venture capitalist, arguing that the tech industry needs "a new path for liquidity."
Maybe he's right about that, though I'm more interested in a different question. While Yahoo's hire-wire drama plays out to its final end, what's in it for the user? Nobody seems ready to seriously talk about that one. Nobody in a position of management authority at any of the companies figuring in the Yahoo sweepstakes has fully articulated why any of the proposed (or rumored) combinations will enrich our computing lives.
Will this improve the user experience on Flickr, MSN, or any of the various e-mail clients operated by the respective companies? The same question applies to any of the me-too services that attract millions of people to the respective Web portals each day. Could be there are solid benefits but I still don't have a clue how the user is going to make out. And that leaves me suspicious about how this all is going to end up.
In the end, it may turn out that it was Barzini all along.