Yahoo’s Goober Peas

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“A peanut sat on a railroad track, His heart was all a-flutter, Round the bend came number ten. Toot! Toot! Peanut butter!” –children’s song

The industry’s heart was all a’flutter over Yahoo’s goober peas only a few short months ago. Then came the now-famous Semel/Decker guidance warning in September, closely followed by a NY Times smackdown about the company’s lagging efforts in technology, media deals and talent retention.

And now it’s come to this: A leaked internal memo, written by “Communities and Front Doors” SVP Brad Garlinghouse to top Yahoo management, comparing the company’s sprawling services and revenue streams to thinly-spread peanut butter. And, in case the metaphor isn’t clear, Garlinghouse writes, “I hate peanut butter.” See Paul Kedrosky for the full memo.

Another day, another exhortative internal communiqué from a big-three Web giant. It was only last month that Sergey Brin issued his mandate that Google engineers should improve existing products before developing new ones. Yahoo’s call to action hasn’t been received as nicely as Brin’s however.

There are a couple points missing the analysis I’ve seen this morning. One is that this memo is fully a month old, since it references “last Thursday’s” NY Times article,” actually published on October 11. So it should really be thought of as a self-inflicted lash added to the week long flogging the company took then, rather than a recent continuation of it. The other is that Garlinghouse is clearly not a top insider (e.g. “I imagine there’s much discussion amongst the Company’s senior most leadership around the challenges we face.”) So why are we so eager to hear his plea, which was clearly directed skyward? Maybe because it’s a memo, and memos are only written by top executives. The rest of us just send e-mail.

I’m not saying Garlinghouse doesn’t make good points — “sculpt the strategy” and “lose non-core and redundant assets” both seem sage pieces of advice — or that Yahoo isn’t struggling. There’s clearly a consensus that the company has been blindsided by the sheer number of new sites and channels where automotive and financial advertisers can divvy up their ad spend. But those sectors are the only places where it’s admittedly seen weakness, discounting its ongoing search woe. And the heavily critical response to the “peanut butter manifesto” seems to me out of proportion to the proof of crisis that spawned the memo. We shouldn’t forget the company’s successful acquisitions of many start-ups (take flickr, stewarded much more skillfully than Google’s Blogger). The company’s talent for acquisition was expressed well this morning on the blog of start-up Tabblo, in a post called “Screw all of this Yahoo bashing”:

Yahoo is indeed facing a formidable set of challenges, but we should all take a moment to be clear on the fact that it would be a much worse world for all of us little startups if the big purple giant was to disappear.

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