Yahoo's Carol Bartz on privacy, partnerships, and spam
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>> Molly Wood: Hi, everyone. I'm Molly Wood. Welcome to another edition of CNET Conversations. I'm very excited to be joined by Tom Krait, staff writer at CNET News, and by the CEO of Yahoo, Carol Bart. Thank you so much for joining us today.
>> Carol Bartz: I'm pleased to be here.
>> Molly Wood: And let's dive right in actually. I want to talk a little bit about your content strategy, some of your recent moves. Obviously, the Face book partnership, Associated Content, the Huffing ton Post. What can you broadly, just to start off, tell us about your content plans?
>> Carol Bartz: Well, Yahoo's a place where people come to find out what's going on the world. What's going on with their friends, like Face book and so forth. So, content's really important. We have a three-legged strategy. One is our own editorial voice, which is about ten percent of our voice. And then, of course, content we license like through Reuters and AP, and now crowd, crowd source and content, like with Associated, because folks are right there in their hometowns and where things are going on, and there's something like 350,000 writers with Associated of that, you know, third leg. So we think we can sort of cover the entire map of what people are interested in.
>> Tom Krazit: So where does a place like the Huffington Post fit in to that, if I can try to pin you down a little bit on some of the comments that Arianna Huffington made earlier this week regarding the departnership that your two companies are, are about to be engaged in or are currently engaged in. So could you explain a little bit about what is going on there?
>> Carol Bartz: Well, HuffPo is a great partner of ours. Sort of content for traffic. So -
>> Tom Krazit: What do you mean by that?
>> Carol Bartz: Content for traffic means we get the source, their great content, their writers, and for that, they get traffic back from Yahoo. In fact, I think we're probably their biggest source of traffic to their site. So it's mutually good for both of our users and advertisers on both sites. So it's, it's, it's, it, you know, it kind of takes away this problem that publications have, which is, you know, I'm doing all the work, and you're getting all the, the, the advertising money or the glory. This is, we're both sharing in it. So, Huffington is a great example of that.
>> Tom Krazit: Well, how would you expect to see that within your site, though? Would their articles appear within Yahoo News, for example, -
>> Carol Bartz: Yeah, they do now.
>> Tom Krazit: OK.
>> Carol Bartz: They do now.
>> Molly Wood: So, is there any possibility that you would buy the Huffington Post? That's obviously been a hot rumor this week, and I, I have to ask you.
>> Carol Bartz: You know, what wonderful rumors fly around in this, in this small place, but first of all, we wouldn't comment, but, you know, we, we already have a great relationship.
>> Molly Wood: So speaking of that content strategy, how, that seems to be something that a lot of people are pursuing. CNN just announced a big content network. AOL, obviously, is now looking at you as a content competitor, and there are reports that people are spending less time on Yahoo specifically. How are you going to make yourself into this kind of biggest, baddest content provider?
>> Carol Bartz: Well, we still, at least for awhile, are the, the biggest site as far as user engagement on the Internet. So they, they definitely are the big three. It's, it's also Google and Facebook, and we all do very different things. We really are rich and broad in content news, finance, sports, entertainment, health, and of course, we know what Google is, we know what Facebook is. So, I think there's, there's, we have 78 percent of the U.S. Internet population comes to our site. So, it's not much to worry about as long as we keep really great information on our sites people are looking for. Personalization, so we're not wasting any of your pixels, especially if you're on a mobile device, and a place to follow your family and friends. So that's what Yahoo is about.
>> Tom Krazit: In, in, in light of that with the Associated Content deal, I mean, how is that something that's going to increase user engagement? I mean, you think of Associated Content and some of the types of content that they produce, and I couldn't but think of a conversation I think you had at last year's annual meeting or investor day with one of your investors who was either annoyed or frustrated at some of the stories that were appearing on the Yahoo home page, and you sympathized with, with that person saying yeah, I wish we could sometimes service better things on the, on the home page, and then you go out, and you have, you know, content from places like Associated Content and the Huffington Post. Is that, does that fit into that sort of strategy of improving engagement?
>> Carol Bartz: Yeah. That's a, that's a very nice question because I have a lot to report since last year. Last year we served up basically the same home page to everyone. This year, in the last couple of months, we're serving up in the U.S. alone a million different versions of the home page because we know what, we know, for instance, you don't click on Britney Spears, or actually you do. But I don't.
>> Tom Krazit: You had me pegged.
>> Carol Bartz: There you go. So it's, it's about, it's about, it's about engaging and letting machine learning do personalization. Now, back to your question about, you know, 350,000 writers, something's going to be there that, that somebody doesn't want to see. We actually did tests in I think it was Detroit and Cleveland for a couple of months where we ran Associated's content, and engagement went up because it was more local, more relevant, and, and interesting form of news. So as long as we have, we have a lot of great technical filters and so forth. So we have more technology to make sure we're serving up the kind of articles people want to see.
>> Tom Krazit: We were sort of wondering if that was an SEO play, you know, where you have this type of content that you can get that will be discoverable in search engines and, therefore, bring more people in that way as opposed to necessarily through the home page or, or mail or -
>> Carol Bartz: It's both. It's absolutely both because it is a long tail of content. I mean, that's the, that's the beauty. It's, it's not the oil spill that is on everybody's front page. It's perhaps how, how the oil spill's affecting, you know, fishermen in Biloxi or something, and that's much more relevant, more personal, and, and, and the list just goes on from there.
>> Molly Wood: And so who do you see as your content competition? Is it someone like eHow, that has that, obviously, long-tailed giant, very searchable index, or is it CNN, is it AOL?
>> Carol Bartz: Well, our, our content competitors tend to be the very unique sites, like an ESPN or, or a CNN, although we, we lead in all these areas. For instance, this is one of my favorite ones, OMG is our celebrity-entertainment site. We have twice the traffic as TMZ, but everybody thinks it's the opposite. I mean, we just have great scale, and, and great technology that allows us to make sure the, the content stays fresh, that the ads are more personalize so they're enjoyable, not annoying. That's all important when you, when you come onto a page.
>> Tom Krazit: I wanted to ask you about Facebook. You know, you, you've announced that several, you know, partnerships and content deals with them. I mean, that's obviously a different kind of content that you're coming to, you know, Yahoo or Facebook to see and stuff that's produced by your friends or your family or whoever. So how much further do you see this partnership going with Facebook?
>> Carol Bartz: Well, actually it's much more than that. We, we certainly want our users to be able to source their Facebook friends right inside their mail sessions on the home page. Ultimately, in Messenger, that sort of thing, but we also want them to refer Yahoo content back into their social network. So Yahoo content will spread into, you know, that weave of, of, of the social graph that Facebook has. So, it is very beneficiary not only to our users but to their friends and their friends and so forth. So our content will move out over the Web.
>> Tom Krazit: Are these, are these partnership deals an admission that your homegrown social strategies have failed?
>> Carol Bartz: Well, sure, if you want to go that broad. I mean, social, all of a sudden social has only one definition, that's called Facebook. You know, there's a lot of ways people socially interact. They interact through our, our groups property, our answers property, mail, Messenger. There's a lot of, of ways people engage socially on and off line, and Facebook is one of those ways, and, and they're, obviously, you know, have one part of it nailed down. So that's why we're partnering. I mean, we're not silly about it.
>> Molly Wood: Are you concerned about Facebook's privacy foibles? Obviously, some of your users might feel exposed, and I know that, you know, obviously, you just announced a new privacy page on Pulse and the Flickr connect thing was full of reassurances that it would only be for public feeds, but do you think your users are going to feel comfortable?
>> Carol Bartz: Well, we feel quite fortunate. We're, we're actually in a, in a recent study, the most trusted technical brand on the Web and actually most trusted technical brand period. So we feel really good about that. Yahoo has taken privacy very seriously for a long time. We've also, not only privacy, but we also take very seriously the neighborhood. So making sure we really can watch what's coming onto the page and cut spam and phishing and nudity and all those things that people just keep shoving at you. So, we have a lot of technology that does that, we have a lot of people watching that technology, and we've worked really, really hard on having our privacy policies be extremely simple. Because it's important to people.
>> Molly Wood: It, yeah, definitely. And what is your personal approach to privacy? Certainly, Mark Zucherburg seems to have a, a, a strongly-held belief that the more information out there, the better about people. Do you agree with that?
>> Carol Bartz: I think it, that, that's a, that's a totally personal issue. Some people really like to be right out there. I don't. I don't think it has anything to do with, with what I think. It's that every person gets to have a choice, and, and it should be very clear to them how to dial in those choices.
>> Tom Krazit: We'll, that's kind of exactly the opposite of how Facebook has operated over the last six months -
>> Carol Bartz: But people, yeah, but that's not, I'm not here, I'm not here to say they have or haven't. I mean, I mean, I would admit a lot of their policies are pretty confusing, but I think they're learn, they're a young company. They're going to learn from this.
>> Tom Krazit: In terms of partnerships and things like that that we've been talking about a little bit, I'd like to hear more about how you and your team decide the whole build versus buy versus partner decision. Like, how do you, strategically, how do you think about that?
>> Carol Bartz: Well, actually, build versus buy is, is pretty straightforward. Does somebody else have great technology or great content or great audience? Are there special people in that company that would, we would love to have join the Yahoo network of, of employees? And/or do we have a slightly different idea that we could do fast enough? I mean, it, it's, it's actually not all that complicated, and a lot of times it really does revolve around attracting the talent here.
>> Tom Krazit: OK.
>> Molly Wood: So we asked our users what questions they might want to ask you, and their questions ranged from, you know, content, spam, and Yahoo answers to stock quotes and Yahoo Finance to Yahoo Travel and -
>> Carol Bartz: Good.
>> Molly Wood: [crosstalk] One person said -
>> Carol Bartz: I love those questions -
>> Molly Wood: You know, what's up with Yahoo [crosstalk] Personals, yeah. It was really, but so it was really all over the place, and it made me wonder when you look at that long list of properties, what are, say, the top two or three that you think are the most crucial to your brand and your business?
>> Carol Bartz: Well, the most crucial is the home page, the coms products mail. We're the largest mail Internet system in the world, and we take that very seriously. Finance is, you know, I think a lot of people would go crazy if Yahoo Finance wasn't around. And our, our search results page. I mean, we're doing a lot of work on that, and then, and then I, you know, you can't, like, drop your children. I mean, then, we got news, and we got sports. We just announced this partnership with Dav, David Beckham for soccer. I talked about entertainment. That's what happens. We're, we're, we are have such great coverage on, you know, people want to be informed, they want to be entertained, they want to be educated, they want to communicate, and, and that's, that's what Yahoo really is all about. And so we have to be good, we want to have that breath.
>> Molly Wood: So the breath is, do you think the breath is more important than focus? I think that has been the, you know, the, the question that naturally leads out of that is do you need to pick something and focus on it, or is, is it OK to, to be everywhere -
>> Carol Bartz: Well, the good news is -
>> Molly Wood: I think everyone -
>> Carol Bartz: We're big enough that we can have enough people focusing on each area. When you're, when you're a, a smaller company, indeed, you need to focus. You need to be just sports related or finance is a little hard to get into as a small company because of the feeds and that sort of thing, but or you focus on, on women of child-bearing age and, and things that they might be interested in. But we're, you know, we're a large company, and we have 15 years of experience, and in the Internet time, you know, that's really useful.
>> Molly Wood: And this is, I'll admit, this is a question that we have asked ourselves here at CNET, but do you consider yourselves a, a tech company or a media company?
>> Carol Bartz: You know, I still, after 18 months on the job, am fascinated by why that is such an interesting question. We are a media company powered by amazing technology. I mean, we serve up 10 billion ads a day. Ten billion ads a day on the fly. On the fly. And to do that, you have to have amazing technology. To be able to do machine learning and, and literally every five minutes 32,000 different home pages serve up, that's a lot of technology. So -
>> Molly Wood: So do you think it's a weird Silicon Valley kind of obsession that we're -
>> Carol Bartz: I guess it's -
>> Molly Wood: You know, because I think we, there's a focus on innovation when you talk to Silicon Valley media, certainly, and maybe it -
>> Carol Bartz: Yeah.
>> Molly Wood: That's where it's coming from.
>> Tom Krazit: You mean, the question is are you a tech company that makes tech products and services versus -
>> Carol Bartz: Of course not.
>> Tom Krazit: A media company that uses technology to power. Well, but what's mail, what's Messenger?
>> Carol Bartz: But think, but think about it. What is eBay? Is it an auction company or a tech company? Is Amazon a book company or tech company? Is Apple a phone company or. I mean, you, everybody wants these sort of simplistic little boxes to put people in, and so, I, I put our technology up against anybody's technology.
>> Tom Krazit: I think a lot of the reason that question often comes up, too, is because Yahoo over the past 15 years has vacillated one way or another towards what they think is going to be the focus of the company at any given time. Search was the priority at one point, then content became the priority, then search became the priority again, and then under you, it seems like things are shifting back more towards the content side. So I, I think, we sort of wonder, you know, among our audience and among the people we talk to is, you know, are you searching for a relevance beyond this little 100, 100 square mile area that we call Silicon Valley?
>> Carol Bartz: Actually, what's interesting is [laughs] we have amazing relevance. I mean, you, I don't, I don't walk through a, an airport line or passport line or something and, and, you know, I'm Yahooing, yahoo. I mean, it is, if you get outside the boundary of sort of New York, especially when all the Microsoft stuff was going on in Silicon Valley, people are not confused about what Yahoo is, and don't spend this time pondering, oh, my gosh. I don't know. Should I go to Yahoo site wondering what they are? They know exactly, they know exactly. That's where they go to find out what's happening, and so. Silicon Valley, I've been here almost 30 years. It's a fantastic place, and it always will be. It loves the shiny new penny. But it's also anchored by important companies like Yahoo and Cisco and Intel and HP and Google and Apple and so on and so forth, and we're one of those.
>> Molly Wood: One of the things that seems to be happening lately is, is in some ways you're getting battered possibly by that sort of Silicon Valley attitude that there has to be constant innovation and constant technological, you know, wowy gizmos. So what, what's going right? What's happening at Yahoo right now that's right?
>> Carol Bartz: Well, first of all, I, I don't really think we're getting battered by that. I, I mean, to the extent that people think innovation is a handset or something, but you know, I can sit down ten minutes with someone and convince them we have a lot of innovation. You don't do what we're doing without innovation. So, I, I don't spend a whole lot of time worrying about that. What Yahoo is doing right is that 600 million people are coming to us every month, communicating, learning, there, there's a lot right about that, but that, there's no other companies that, that can say that.
>> Tom Krazit: Well, why haven't investors not responded then? I mean, do they no longer see you as a growth company?
>> Carol Bartz: I think investors will. I mean, if you look at, this is one of the most interesting things that I, I'm trying to explain to people. Jobs went back to Apple in '97. He had flat market cap 'til 2005 basically. It was eight years, flat. And just go look at the charts. And that, he came back to a company he knew well. So, you're not going to, unless, unless you're in some kind of wild market, because let's face it, the last 18 months we, arguably had one of the most amazing financial times. Everybody agrees to that. So, people are, are wary anyway. So a., companies need time and b., it's a tough time. So, I don't worry about that either. You, you don't wake up every morning saying, I think I'm going to be graded today exactly on what the stock price is. It, it just can't work that way. That's not actually in the best interests of the shareholders.
>> Molly Wood: So is it part of your strategy, because in, in all of my dealings with Yahoo, I have, I have definitely noticed one resounding theme, and that theme is we're huge, and we have a ton of traffic, and we have a ton of users. And there's no question about that, but it doesn't seem to have translated into dominance. Is it part of your goal to sort of rethink how you use those users?
>> Carol Bartz: Well, I beg to differ. First of all, we talk about science, art, and scale. Scale's just one of the things we talked about. Art is how people paint the canvas. So, if you talk about brand advertising, emotional advertising, Yahoo, nobody should use that dominant word, but, but Yahoo is the leader. We're definitely the leader. And you can ask any CML out there, and they would tell you that. We're not the leader in search. We have 18, in fact, we gained this month. A, a com score just came out. We gained 60 basis points. But it's half our business. It's a really important part of our business. So, I think, and then we add our science to it, which, again, is a little too much to explain in just a, in a few minutes, but it's, it really is how do you target. How do you monetize? How do you deliver up a very personalized experience? That's a lot of technology, and small companies aren't equipped to handle it like we are. We just, we just got the award, by the way, for the, the least spam and mail of anybody. Google, Hotmail, anybody. I mean, that's, there's a lot of work. I mean, it's something like half a trillion spams hit our e-mail system every month. It's crazy.
>> Tom Krazit: That was actually one of our reader questions was about spam and spam control and, and -
>> Molly Wood: That and messaging, too.
>> Tom Krazit: Yes, yeah.
>> Molly Wood: People said that there were, that was their big complaint was that there was spam and messaging, spam and bots in the messaging.
>> Carol Bartz: Yeah. I mean, listen, you -
>> Molly Wood: If you can do that next.
>> Carol Bartz: You [inaudible], no, I mean, -
>> Molly Wood: [laughs] It's, like, [crosstalk] -
>> Carol Bartz: Listen. We're doing everything every day. I mean, you can't imagine how tricky people get. But we have the cleanest system out there. That's, that's how bad it is. So, it, it's like anything else. If you only use one system, you go, oh. And so, you know, whoever that, that user is, we're working hard on it. Always are.
>> Molly Wood: Great. I think we have time for just one more. So, I'll give you the last question, Tom.
>> Tom Krazit: Oh, sure. Well, we have to ask you about, in the 18th months you've been running the company, there's been a lot of turnover in the executive ranks. A lot of people have decided to move on for whatever reason, and so I was wondering if you could address that. You know, maybe give us a sense of why you think that's happening, and also a sense of how you attract talent to Yahoo, which you, I'm sure, would agree is very important towards building out a good company.
>> Carol Bartz: Yeah. Actually, my team is pretty new. So there's not turnover. [inaudible] left for, for very personal reasons, not that fake personal reason. His daughter is ill. And so, I, you know, I, I, I find this one fascinating, too. First of all, Yahoo alumni are all over in the young Internet companies, and that's going to continue to be because people were trained at Yahoo. Some people like the old Yahoo and want to move on. Sometimes we don't like them in the new Yahoo, and we want them to move on. Sometimes people are self-proclaimed executives. My favorite is, I go, executive Johnny Ray Smith left today, and I go, "Who's that guy?" and I go look him up. Yeah, I go, he was an executive? I mean, I don't, you know, I never even heard the name. So, there's a lot. It, it, you know, I, I think movement of people is good. It's good to, to, you know, if, if you don't feel comfortable at Yahoo, you should leave, and we invite those folks in who want to be part of our team. So, I, I don't, I actually don't find any issue with that.
>> Tom Krazit: It's a tough market out there, though, for, for, you know, talent in, in Silicon Valley when you look at companies like Google and that, what they offer, and then the smaller companies.
>> Carol Bartz: You'd be amazed at how many Google people we hire, and there's more, there's more -
>> Tom Krazit: How many Yahoo people are at Google?
>> Carol Bartz: Yeah, same. I mean, it goes both ways. I mean, it, you, [laughs] you can't find, we have Apple people, they get Yahoo people. We have, I mean, it just, it just, that's what the Valley's always been about. And I don't know why it's just so fascinating about, I mean, I, I feel like sort of announcing every time we hire somebody from another tech company, we should announce it for you so you get all excited about that.
>> Molly Wood: Maybe you should. We only hear the bad news.
>> Carol Bartz: There you go. So, but I don't worry about that one either.
>> Tom Krazit: Well, how specifically do you attract talent, though? Like, what kinds of things do you try to get across when you're out there looking for good people -
>> Carol Bartz: Talent, listen, the ability to work at a property like Yahoo. I mean, our, I, I met with two of our Ph.D.'s yesterday. One, one actually is a, one of the early researchers of network effect and so forth. He was a tenured professor at Columbia, and he dropped the tenure to stay at Yahoo, and he said, "There's no place in the world that I could do what I'm doing now except at a company like Yahoo." You know, it's, there's a lot of things that attract people to Yahoo. It's a, it's a wonderful brand. It's a chance to hone your skills in a content area or a technical area, to be a good manager. You know, we have 14,000 people. So somebody's finding it fine.
>> Molly Wood: [laughs] I think that's a pretty good place to wrap. Is there anything else you want us to know about Yahoo? I want to give you, obviously, the fine word on your subject.
>> Carol Bartz: Yeah. I think what you should know about Yahoo is we're having fun. We think we're making a difference. When we do things like Yahoo Cares and, and invite people into, again, the network effect for, for helping, whether it's Haiti, whether it's just having fun like with World Cup, people really respond. And so again, perhaps outside of the cynicism of, of the small valley here, and I don't, to be honest, I don't even think there's that much cynicism about. [music] I, I really don't. I think people are rooting for Yahoo, and we're really rooting for ourselves. So, thank you.
>> Molly Wood: Great. Thank you so much for joining us. And that is it for today's interview. You can find the full text and, of course, a little analysis from Tom and myself at cent dot com slash conversation, and please feel free to join the conversation yourselves in the comment.
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