Marissa’s Choice

Posted by Adam Kleinberg on July 17th, 2012 at 5:25 am

The Twitterverse was abuzz yesterday with #marissamania and with good reason. Marissa Mayer is one of the most exciting personalities in tech who rose through the Google meritocracy not because she was a founder, but because she deserved it.

Marissa has the X Factor, and that's just what Yahoo! needs.

Marissa Mayer

For the Yahoo! board to choose a woman was terrific. For them not to care that she was pregnant should be a no-brainer, but it's terrific too. But it's hard to imagine the digerati so excited if the choice were a Meg Whitman or a Carly Fiorina.

No, Marissa has star quality. Clearly, it's the reason Google put her in front of a microphone so often. And after years of riding a roller coaster of CEO ineptitude, Yahoo! needs someone more than just competent.

Don't get me wrong. They need a competence. A friend in a prominent role at Yahoo! recently lamented to me that the place is filled with brilliant people, but that there is a cultural issue where every decision needs to be approved by 30 of those brilliant people and the result has been a lack of clear vision and a wealth of mediocre decisions.

They will need a competent executive to break that cycle. But they need more than that. They need a star.

And that star will have a choice.

A few years ago, another friend of mine was a senior engineering manager at Yahoo! (they're all over the place in San Francisco). I remembering him lamenting over beers at a preschool picnic, "The problem we have at Yahoo! is that everyone compares us to Google, but Google is a tech company. We are a media company. And we're really good at that."

And they are. Yahoo! is, first and foremost, content.

According to Alexa.com, Yahoo! is the #4 site on the web (after Google, Facebook and YouTube). Yahoo! News is the top news site. Yahoo! Finance is #2 in its category behind PayPal. Yahoo! Sports is #1. And on and on.

So, Marissa has a choice: Is Yahoo! to be a technology company or a media company?

Marissa's background as a preeminent Googler seems to indicate that the choice will be in the technology camp. But only the future can tell.

Perhaps the reality is that the distinction between media and technology, between content and function, is fading. Are all media companies technology companies today? Perhaps, we're looking through the wrong lens and all that really matters is who can garner the most traffic and monetize it.

Perhaps Marissa's choice will surprise us all. I hope so.

Good luck, Marissa.

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