Why did Yahoo fail to eat the media for breakfast?

Kudos to Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt, who admitted this week on US television that Google was spurning “some number of billions of dollars” by not running ads on its search engine home page.

“People wouldn’t like it. We prioritize the end user over the advertiser,” said Schmidt.

He’s right. But Google enjoys the luxury of making decisions like this because of its extreme success.

By contrast, look at Yahoo. One commenter here points out that the company’s homepage is “cluttered with useless crap”.

The vulture investor Carl Icahn has probably said something similar about Yahoo’s board in recent months, as he has wheedled and pressurized to “unlock the value” inside the company.

Now Icahn has got what he wanted, installing two henchmen alongside himself on the 11-person board.

And boy, oh boy, are his chosen ones corporate. One is a former telecoms executive. The other comes from the cable industry. Fat cats rarely come fatter (or more tainted by monopoly) than this.

Yahoo’s prospects as an independent company diminished to near-zero a while ago. This year, a vast number of talented employees have simply walked away from the company. Now that the suits have arrived in earnest, presumably Yahoo’s once-freewheeling culture will be dismantled, too.

This induces a twinge of nostalgia. A decade ago, I can recall an expensive internet guru pitching up at the magazine company that employed me. He told us that Yahoo — specifically — was going to eat us alive.

The idea of a media company that didn’t generate any content demolishing our business seemed novel at the time. We listened politely enough, felt a tiny gust of dot.com fear in our souls. . . and went back to trimming our quarterly spreadsheets.

Recently, I’ve noted that Sly Bailey has taken to describing a long list of challenges that print has weathered in the past — including World War II, various recessions, the rise of commercial television and so on.

Very Churchillian. Clearly, the performance will become even more impressive once Yahoo is added to the long line of failed threats. . .

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