Yahoo's straight-talking CEO Carol Bartz said Tuesday she prefers Google Maps to Yahoo Maps, and disclosed that she told Steve Ballmer that any future negotiations between Yahoo and Microsoft must remain strictly confidential.
Bartz also said it's a "no brainer" for Yahoo to consider acquiring "distressed" Internet companies whose technologies it can incorporate into its portfolio, given its cash position, and that she instituted a "wall of shame" for underperforming Yahoo products.
End-users want a "wow experience" from Yahoo services, so that they feel compelled to check Yahoo throughout the day. "We want to be their home on the Web," she said at the Morgan Stanley Technology Conference in San Francisco, where she answered questions from a financial analyst and from attendees.
"We owe them a fun, easy experience, that is also non-frustrating," she said, criticizing the company for having products that have been neglected and abandoned "floating like debris in space."
Meanwhile, advertisers want creativity from Yahoo, a willingness to experiment and find out what ad services work best, as well as increasingly precise ad targeting, she said at the conference, which was webcast.
Regarding the possibility of new negotiations with Microsoft, Bartz said that a precondition she made clear in a conversation with Ballmer is for the process to be completely private. When and if negotiations yield any concrete agreements, then announcements will be made, she said, closing the door on any further comments about the topic.
Bartz also expressed confidence that the reorganization Yahoo unveiled last week will help improve employee morale, because employees in any organization want clear direction and to know that they're working for a winning company. The reorganization, which was designed to simplify the company's structure, will make Yahoo nimbler, especially in the ability to make decisions, she said.
After admitting that she uses Google Maps, Bartz said Yahoo Maps isn't as good as it should be because "we haven't paid any attention" to it. CFO Blake Jorgensen, who resigned last week but is still on board, added that an online mapping service is very expensive to maintain, and that he doesn't foresee Yahoo pouring significant additional investments into Yahoo Maps in the near future.
A different story is Yahoo Mail, which Bartz considers a core property. She recently ordered all ads removed from Yahoo Mail in countries where most users connect using low-bandwidth connections. She's open to removing or reducing ads from wherever it's determined that they detract or get in the way of the user experience, she said. This is something that Yahoo hasn't considered doing in years, Jorgensen said.
As she has done repeatedly since being appointed CEO in mid-January, Bartz reiterated her belief that it's key for Yahoo to offer its advertisers both display and search ads. Last year, Yahoo's board rejected not only Microsoft's attempt to buy the entire company, but also its attempt to acquire Yahoo's search advertising business. A more limited search ad partnership with Google collapsed after the U.S. government made it clear it would challenge it in court over antitrust concerns.
Bartz acknowledged Yahoo has to do a better job of opening up its services so that they will interface seamlessly with popular, non-Yahoo services, which is something that end-users increasingly expect. To this end, she said she's excited about a new redesign of the Yahoo home page still being tested, which offers more integration with third-party services, she said. "We need to let people do what they want to do every day," she said.
"Our home page is very old-fashioned," she added.