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Reimagining Yahoo!: Chief Product Officer Blake Irving

By - June 01, 2011

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Yahoo! It’s our industry’s favorite puzzle. On the one hand, it’s one of the largest sites on the web, on the same size and scale as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. On the other hand, it’s not growing very quickly, revenues are flat, and investors have been calling for CEO Carol Bartz’s head with increasing regularity. The company has failed to find a “hit” that redefines its value proposition in a world driven by hits like Twitter, Foursquare, and Flipboard. What’s a nearly two-decade old industry legend to do?

Well, bring in fresh blood, for one. The company recently hired Ross Levinsohn, formerly of Fox, to lead North America. Prior to that, it hired Blake Irving, formerly of Microsoft, to lead product. I’ve spent time with both in the past month, and one thing is for sure: They’re singing from the same song sheet. Both men are energized by the chance to leverage the Yahoo platform, and both are realistic as well – it won’t be easy, and it won’t come fast.

The subject of a recent NYT profile, Irving will be joining me onstage next week at the CM Summit, and I’ll be asking him about all of this and more. In particular, I’ll be asking about one of his central initiatives: Livestand.

Blake will be showing Livestand, due later this year, at the Summit, and we’ll be discussing its potential. The new service, which is focused on a tablet media experience, is aimed directly at several weaknesses and opportunities in Yahoo’s portfolio.

First and foremost, Yahoo is a top publisher on the web, but until recently its publishing platform was inconsistent from region to region and segment to segment. In addition, Yahoo has massive amounts of content engagement data (what many call an “interest graph”), and hundreds of scientists and engineers analyzing that data. These folks are creating systems that inform which content to show Yahoo users at a particular moment in time (think of it as similar to what advertisers are trying to do with data-driven ad systems). Irving had a lot of clean up to do before he could roll out something as ambitious as Livestand on top of all that tech, but he claims he’s close.

Second, Livestand is a mobile play, in particular, a tablet app that creates a personalized media experience based on a user’s implicit and explicit content preferences. Yahoo is the ultimate PC-web company, and Livestand is its first major attempt at moving into the mobile world. Third, Livestand is a platform for other publishers outside of Yahoo, publishers looking to hook into Yahoo’s massive audience and technology assets. Yahoo has always held the promise of becoming a true platform for smaller publishers, but Livestand marks a commitment to that space. In short, Yahoo wants to make Livestand a channel for all publishers who want a “tablet edition” of their wares to be available to the public.

So with Livestand, Irving is attempting to leverage Yahoo’s technological publishing platform to create a service that gives Yahoo a foothold in a key new market (tablet) with a key new media experience (the Livestand app) leveraging key new partners (the creation of an outside publishing ecosystem).

Ambitious? Yes. But it’s about time Yahoo started innovating again, no?

Oh, and by the way, Livestand is just one of the many issues and products upon which Irving must focus. He’s got to integrate social into Yahoo, which means Facebook, in the main (Yahoo has deeply partnered with the leading social service). He’s got to continue to innovate in search user interface and experience, even as he leverages Yahoo’s decision to partner with Microsoft on core technology. And he’s got to keep up morale, which has been battered by constant bad news over the past few years.

Somehow, the man keeps a smile on his face. So what does he know that we don’t? I intend to find out. What would you like to hear from Irving onstage next week?

The CM Summit is less than one week away, and nearly 450 folks have registered, we can only take 500….so register today before we sell out.

Special thanks to our sponsors: Blackberry, AT&T, Google, Quantcast, Demand Media, Facebook, Outbrain, Pandora, Pixazza, R2integrated, Slideshare, Yahoo!, AOL, American Express OPEN, Balloon, BriefLogic, Evidon, Marketing Evolution/Telmar, Mobile Roadie, Spiceworks, and Ustream. And a shout out to our partners at IAB, Mashable, paidContent, ReadWriteWeb, SMAC, and TechZulu.


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