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AVOIDING TROUBLE. The Yahoo! way

Microsoft competes with Yahoo!, on the one hand while partnering with it on the other, writes Deepak Mankar.

business Updated: Dec 17, 2005 19:23 IST

Christmas is around the corner. It makes me think of all those friends who never forget to send me their good wishes for the festive season and the New Year and then don't get in touch with me for the rest of the year. One such person is the mother of a team member on Microsoft's Project SNARF about which more later. "My mother, I'm sorry to say, just never replies to my e-mail," he complains and then hastily adds that it's no reflection on the quality of his relationship with her. So the SNARF team has been looking at ways to make SNARF understand that the number of contacts is no indication of the importance of a relationship. Letting users to 'tag' e-mails in various ways may be one way. Also, another useful thing would be a move onto cell phones. As the SNARF spokesperson put it: "If you are not at your computer to do triage, having 150 e-mails can be daunting. It would be nice to have the seven e-mails from colleagues in a separate folder." Don't miss the SNARF saga in this issue of QuiteATake.com.

AVOIDING TROUBLE. The Yahoo! way.

The Wharton Professors have expert views to offer on how Yahoo! has managed to stay out of the Google-Microsoft war. By defining itself as "a leading global Internet communications, commerce and media company" and behaving accordingly, in short. "There is a lot to be said for positioning yourself in a way that you are not encroaching on Microsoft's turf," says Kendall Whitehouse, senior director of information technology at Wharton. "Google is on Microsoft's radar right now like no other company." According to Xavier Dreze, marketing professor, Yahoo!'s approach permits it to fly under the radar and still vie with multiple players across many Internet markets. Microsoft competes with Yahoo!, on the one hand while partnering with it on the other. "Microsoft is just more comfortable with Yahoo," opines Dreze. He cites how Microsoft and Yahoo! teamed up recently to make their instant messaging software compatible. Maybe Microsoft is underestimating Yahoo! to some extent. "Although Yahoo also has significant communications assets that combine software and services, they are more of a media company and -- with the notable exception of their advertising platform - they seem to be utilizing their platform capabilities largely as an internal asset," wrote Microsoft's Chief Technology Officer Ray Ozzie in a widely published memo, citing Google as the company's biggest threat to its dominant desktop software position. "His dismissal of the potential threat from Yahoo is premature in my opinion," says Don Huesman, senior director of information technology at Wharton "Yahoo still gets almost half of its revenues from search and it remains the premier Internet portal for hundreds of millions of people. But is Yahoo happy to remain on the sidelines while Microsoft and Google go after each other? You bet." Also: "Google is more threatening to Microsoft today because of the breadth of its ambition, but ultimately Yahoo represents a similar challenge in moving the center of gravity away from the desktop to the web," argues Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Kevin Werbach. Yahoo! is also a relatively quiet player is the development of the next-generation of the world wide web, often labeled 'Web 2.0'. Apropos of Yahoo!'s 'Media Company Blueprint', Wharton management professor Keith Weigelt points to the company's preparations for the convergence of television and the Internet by building a search engine for video, forging partnerships with producers such as Mark Burnett, who created 'The Apprentice' and 'Survivor', and building facilities in Santa Monica, just outside Hollywood. "Yahoo has a good plan," he says. knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu.

WICKI'S WICKED, WICKED WAYS. Two scandals in a row.

First, it was the brouhaha kicked up by a 29 November op-ed piece in USA Today. In it, a former administrative assistant to Robert Kennedy objected to an article on the free online reference work for implying by suggestion of his involvement in the assassinations of both Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy. Then, there was the uproar when the "former MTV VJ and podcasting pioneer Adam Curry was accused of anonymously editing out references to other people's seminal podcasting work in an article about the hot new digital medium". The two-in-a-row fiascos have forced the hand of Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder, to make meaningful changes to the ground rules of the "anyone-can-contribute encyclopedia". Now only registered users can write articles, though "anonymous users will still be able to edit existing entries". Wales feels this is okay "because changes are frequently vetted by members who keep watch lists of articles they want to ensure remain accurate - perhaps even articles they've written themselves". About the Curry episode, Dave Winer, the blogging and podcasting pioneer, wrote in his blog: "Wikipedia is so often considered authoritative. That must stop now, surely. Every fact in there must be considered partisan, written by someone with a conflict of interest. Further, we need to determine what authority means in the age of Internet scholarship." techrepublic.com.

BREAKING NEWS OR RUMOUR? Wikipedia's the next Google.

Hey, this isn't my opinion. Steve Rubel, who calls himself an "Expert Author" and "a PR strategist with nearly 15 years of public relations, marketing, journalism and communications experience" and is working as Vice President, Client Services at CooperKatz & Company, a mid-size PR firm in midtown New York City, makes this prediction: "A successor to Google's throne is waiting in the wings - it's Wikipedia, King Disruptor III. Like its predecessors, Wikipedia is powerful because it provides access to largely accurate information …. This king, however, is unlike any other because it operates in a completely democratic way. It's run by the people, without any grand financial ambitions." Take it for what it's worth. With a large pinch of salt. webpronews.com.

SNARF! Do it for free too.

Microsoft's just-released free utility has a very 60s-sounding, crude-meaning name, SNARF, true. But what's it's intended to do for you is very now and quite socially useful if you're go for that sort of stuff. SNARF stands for nothing more than Social Network And Relationship Finder. It's an e-mail sorter, to put it simply. "You don't respond to everybody, and not everybody responds to you," explains Marc Smith, a Microsoft research team member on Project SNARF. "If my dog can tell who strangers are, apart from friends...my e-mail reader should be able to do the same." Also: "Social relationships are countable." So, this is what SNARF does. The software looks at and analyzes how often people correspond with particular content in the body of a message and how often they reply to one another's correspondence, among other things. It indexes e-mail messages on initial launch. Once done indexing, it shows a window with three panes. The top pane lists people who have sent recent unread e-mail addressed or cc'd to the mailbox owner. The middle pane lists people who have sent recent, unread e-mail addressed to anyone. Last but not the least, the bottom pane shows all those mentioned in any e-mail the mailbox owner has received in the past week. A configuration panel lets the user users to change the types of messages displayed and to sort them in different ways. A user can choose to double-click on a contact's name and see a list of all recent e-mail from that person. The tool also works with mailing lists: You can sort messages by threads and in chronological order. techrepublic.com.

That's all for now though there's plenty more out there. Join me again next week, same place.

First Published: Dec 13, 2005 18:21 IST