H4cked off: Work from home? Couldn't Yahoo just work on Ymail?

By Graeme Burton
26 Feb 2013 View Comments
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The predictable storm over the edict sent out by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer that, in future, staff will have to actually turn up to the office rather than work from home, masked some real growing problems at the web company.

Further reading

Couched in typical passive-aggressive corporate language, Mayer explained: "To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side... That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices."

If you can't - because you joined the company precisely because of its work-from-home policy, enabling you to work from your Hamilton, Montana bunker - then too bad.

But it's not that Mayer is wrong; she's not. While working from home strategically can be productive, it's also a charter for shirkers and a nightmare for managers to manage. At the same time, as Mayer rightly observes, all of the tools in the world can't replace real, person-to-person interaction, especially when teams are engaged on major complex projects.

Which brings me on to Ymail.

This is undoubtedly Yahoo's most popular application. It's what brings people back to Yahoo's web "estate" time and again, because it certainly isn't the search or whatever else the company does these days.

Unfortunately, even following a recent re-relaunch instigated by Mayer, it's terrible. People only come back because they are locked in (or too lazy to move) and if a self-selecting survey on the soon-to-be defunct Amplicate website is anything to go by, it's more hated than ever. Some 88 per cent of respondents - nine in 10 - claimed to "hate" Ymail. The figures for Microsoft's Outlook.com and Google Gmail are nothing like as bad.

The problem is that Mayer has continued to assert Yahoo's role as a "media company". Yet media is not simply ten-a-penny on the internet - it's much cheaper than that.

Coming from Google, Mayer ought to understand the value of the internet in providing services that offer genuine value to users, and becoming their one-stop-shop for a particular genre of needs.

Google offers a wide range of imaginative information services to keep people coming back time and again, which they cannot easily get anywhere else, especially not in the unified format that Google offers.

Indeed, Google has been very smart in building services that, in themselves are useful and fun, but which also provide Google with business value, especially when they are all sewn together.

When Streetview was first offered, for example, many people wondered why the company was messing about with such a rinky-dink service that was fun, but which did not seem to generate anything much more substantial than web traffic. But today, if you want to search for, say, a local business, Google will not just give you its website, but offer a map and a picture of the organisation's offices. Why go anywhere else?

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