Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

A visit to Yahoo and the human touch

Posted by Tom Foremski - July 26, 2005

. . . bloggers are big in Japan

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I popped down to Yahoo on Monday and Linda Kozlowski (great name btw :-) from Text 100 introduced me to Christine Castro, chief comms officer and snr VP at Yahoo, and some of her comms team, Mary Osako, senior director, and Linda Du, who manages international PR.

Yahoo is a lot different now from my first experience with the company. That was when Yahoo was located in a small building in Palo Alto that had clearly seen better days. I interviewed co-founder Jerry Yang as we sat on old plastic chairs and the Yahoo server sat in an adjoining room.

Now Yahoo has a thoroughly modern campus that is overflowing with hordes of attractive twenty to thirtysomethings. There are cute cafes and eating places throughout the campus, and the distinctive purple and yellow Yahoo colors are seen in the flower beds, and in the Memphis style furniture inside the building.

The visit to Yahoo was an opportunity for me to continue an exploration of the different approaches taken by Yahoo and Google. The two companies have similar roots and similar products, but there is a big difference in their approach to business.

Google is a media company yet it is run by engineers from head to toe, there is not a single media professional in its top echelons.

Contrast that with Yahoo, which has seasoned media professionals in nearly all of its senior ranks. Terry Semel, ex-Warner Bros, John Marcom, ex-Financial Times US, and Christine Castro, ex-Disney, to name just three.

My question about Google has been: can engineers build a media company?

Well, so far, they have proved that they can, because they have focused on engineering a rock solid computing platform.

And Yahoo has proved over the past few years that it can build a big business with smart engineers and media professionals. The winner is not yet evident.

But the difference between Google and Yahoo is one of humanity. Or as Mary Osako says, we "value the human touch. For example, when we put together Yahoo news, there are people helping to make the choices."

At Google News, however, Google proudly states that no human was involved in the collection and display of the news stories, it's all done by machines.

Well, servers and software are easier to scale than people and cubicles. That can be seen at the Yahoo campus which is bursting at the seams with people (how about a northern campus near San Francisco?).

So is the human touch going to be the key differentiator between the two companies? That's what I'm going to be watching for over the next couple of years.

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BTW, Yahoo's top blogger Jeremy Zawodny is big in Japan. A group of visiting Japanese journalists taking a tour of the Yahoo campus were very eager to meet Jeremy, saying he is famous in Japan. Jeremy cheerfully posed for photos dressed in California casual: shorts and T-shirt, and eating a big cheeseburger.

It's another reason why you should not wait to become a blogger ;-)

http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog/

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