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Extend or Die, Yahoo!

Is it too late for Yahoo! to beat back the Google giant?

I contemplated this month whether or not I should comment on Microsoft’s mega-ginormous 44.6 billion dollar rejected bid for Yahoo!, but by that time, it would be very old news and no longer relevant. Unfortunately, that’s the downside of writing for a monthly print publication with a three-month lead time. Frankly, by the time you read this column, everyone else would have commented on it, so whatever little I could add would only be a futile attempt at being ostentatious.

Still, whether Yahoo is gobbled up by Microsoft or another company, or if Yahoo! continues to trundle along on its own, one thing is certain — it needs a major mojo injection. From a services perspective, Google has surpassed it in almost every respect. The core search engine capabilities aside, Google has made a tremendous effort to add indispensable hooks into our electronic lifestyle, whether it’s through GMail, Google Maps, Google Office, Google Calendar, Google Earth, Google Talk, Blogger, Google Feed Reader, Froogle, Picasa, and definitely not least of all, YouTube and Google Video.

This is not to say that Yahoo! doesn’t have some pretty damn good core services either, some of which I would argue are superior to Google’s, such as their Flickr photo-sharing service which is absolutely second to none. (Note, however, that Yahoo! bought Flickr, rather than inventing it…) I have more than 6,000 photos on Flickr for my food blog, Off The Broiler: but I use Google’s Picasa to do my photo edits, and I prefer GMail and Google Calendar to Yahoo’s offerings — although I know many people who are staunch supporters of Yahoo’s versions.

Yahoo’s news service is more sophisticated and personalized than Google’s, with its integrated video content feeds, which is why I have it set as my home page. Yahoo! Finance is also an extremely powerful tool if you do armchair investing. Google also has a Finance site, but it’s decidedly minimalist and its portfolio management tools aren’t as good.

However, Yahoo! has failed where Google has succeeded, by extending services to literally everywhere. It’s no secret why nearly every Apple iPhone commercial features Google Maps, Google Search and Youtube to showcase its capabilities, because these are services that are fundamental to our Internet lifestyle. While not as well advertised, Google also recently rolled out a comprehensive suite of programs for the Blackberry. Where are the equivalent service extenders on mobile devices from Yahoo? Sure, they have a Yahoo Mobile client for Blackberry, but it only supports Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Messenger. On iPhone, they have Search, Mail, Finance, and Weather. Compared to Google, it’s not even close.

Google’s support of open source doesn’t hurt, either. The three-year-old Summer of Code program, has produced cool applications, and also created a great deal of goodwill from the FOSS community, and this has spurred a lot of interest in hooking in and extending their published APIs in places like Web applications and blogging.

Case in point, Google Maps and its geolocation services are plugged into a lot of popular blog sites, like Slice, which uses Google’s API to create a “thumbtack map” of pizza parlors that it reviews over New York City, complete with integrated links to content on the SliceNY.com site.

The Google Maps API is also used by BlogSoop, a meta-index restaurant site that collects restaurant reviews by food bloggers, and displays a corresponding map location with every restaurant database entry. These are just two examples of where Google’s technology has been used, largely due to their “Open Kimono” policy of publishing their API’s and creating services that people want to use.

Is it too late for Yahoo! to beat back the Google giant? In a word, no. But they need to get on the Open Kimono cluetrain and do something pretty drastic to get their services extended all over the place. Perhaps they should consider heading Android off at the pass, and forming an alliance with Nokia and/or Motorola to produce a Y! Phone platform — an integrated Linux smartphone with camera, Wi-Fi and 3G data service that multimedia enabled and is hooked up to Flickr, Yahoo! Calendar, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Finance, and with an integrated Yahoo!-flavored Opera browser on steroids, with built-in VPN capabilities and plugins for corporate Exchange and Notes systems in addition to IMAP/POP3 capabilities in a native Yahoo! Mail client. Make the whole platform open source instead of Android’s proprietary OS, and you’ll start to see the geeks jump on it like crazy and porting code to other platforms as well. That’s the smartphone that everyone really wants, and it’s easily within their reach.

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