Can Yahoo Find Its Inner 'Wow'?

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I hope you're sitting down while reading this, because I have quite a shocker for you. Ready? Here goes: Yahoo is going to reintroduce the "wow" to computing.

Yes, you read that correctly. Speaking at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco yesterday, Yahoo chief product officer Blake Irving invoked the "w" word, apparently with a straight face. Per the International Business Times:

Yahoo is investing in products that make people go, "Wow! From Yahoo?" ... People will see more rolling thunder and a drumbeat of constant innovation from us.

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Wow ... from Yahoo? No, he was was not talking about World of Warcraft or Wendy O. Williams.

The "wow" factor hasn't been applied to anything high tech since Microsoft essentially killed it with its Vista "The Wow is Now" campaign back in 2007, capped by the so-awful-it-was-great "Show us your WOW" website -- nice to see it making another comeback.

For Yahoo, the wow has been mostly then, and by "then," I mean the late 1990s, back when it was still Jerry and Dave's bookmarks list on steroids. There's been very little to wow about since.

This is what happens when you outgrow the category you set off to conquer. You find new categories. And still newer ones. You buy up companies based entirely on their name (, anyone?) making gazillionaires out of their founders, then melting them down into nothing. You overreach. (See also Monday's "You've got Facemail! Now what?" post -- overreaching appears to be this week's theme.) And then you forget how you got there in the first place.

Yahoo the search engine is no more. It's now Yahoo the content accumulator that uses Microsoft Bing to power its searches. In fact, back in August 2009, Carol Bartz told the New York Times Yahoo never was a search company.

Also: Bill Clinton never inhaled and Michael Jackson never was black.

Bartz certainly hasn't been sitting still or wasting an entire year playing "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" with Microsoft. Yahoo has inked a deal with Zynga, allowing the world's Yahoos to annoy their friends with boasts about the crops they just sowed in Farmville, just like the Facebookers do. It signed on with Groupon, a Web-based coupon service that connects users with deals from local merchants. It's planning to offer "content optimization" services to other publishers so that a site like this one can show you a different home page than it shows to your colleagues across the cube farm.

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