Skip to main content

Marissa Mayer can revive Yahoo, and the Web

By Douglas Rushkoff, CNN Contributor
updated 2:47 PM EDT, Thu July 19, 2012
Yahoo's hiring of Google's Web visionary Marissa Mayer is a smart move, says Douglas Rushkoff.
Yahoo's hiring of Google's Web visionary Marissa Mayer is a smart move, says Douglas Rushkoff.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yahoo has hired away Google executive Marissa Mayer as its new CEO
  • Douglas Rushkoff: Mayer could breathe life into Yahoo and the World Wide Web
  • He says the Web has gone out of favor in Silicon Valley, where "social" is the only mantra
  • Rushkoff: Yahoo is poised to become the dominant player again

Editor's note: Douglas Rushkoff writes a regular column for CNN.com. He is a media theorist and the author of "Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age" and "Life Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World and How We Can Take It Back."

(CNN) -- This week's announcement that Yahoo is hiring away Google executive Marissa Mayer as its latest CEO has been met by both Wall Street and the tech industry with yawns or worse.

Yawners cite the fact that Yahoo -- by all measures, a company that has been in decline for some time -- has hired five CEOs in as many years. The fanfare with which they are brought in is matched only by the size of the failure they leave in their wake. Those who are excited about the new appointment seem to care less about what it means for Yahoo or the Internet than the fact that Mayer is a woman, pregnant, and a former girlfriend of Google chief Larry Page.

Tech: Know Yahoo's Marissa Mayer in 11 facts

But the real story here, the part that no one seems to want to talk about, is that Mayer could breathe life not just into this failing company, but into the World Wide Web itself, which seems to have gone out of favor in Silicon Valley, where "social" is the only mantra.

Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

In fact, the very morning I learned that Mayer had been snatched from Google to Yahoo, I got a special notice on my iGoogle screen: iGoogle, the Google Web portal I had been using for the past two years, was going to be retired. A Web portal is simply a starting screen -- a customizable dashboard from which one gets the gist of what's going on elsewhere on the Internet, such as summaries of news headlines, weather forecast, stock quotes, sports scores, e-mail headers, and so on. For many of us who use our Web browsers to peruse and pursue information, it's a very convenient "place" to use as a starting page.

Tech: How can Yahoo be saved?

Mayer was largely responsible for the iGoogle page and the ease with which users could install or even create "modules" for it. The Web was her turf at the company, and she developed tools such as Gmail and Google maps -- the kinds of Web-based technologies that successfully competed with and overtook the once dominant Yahoo in that space.

Marissa Mayer takes over at Yahoo!
Yahoo! gets Google exec. as new CEO

But as Google struggles to compete with Facebook, Twitter and the iPhone, the Web no longer seems to be where the action is. True enough, when we're using our smartphones we're much less likely to be thumbing through a tiny browser than to be engaging with people and information through individual apps like Yelp or Instagram. The whole notion of "places" online has given way to streams and flows of information that follow us (sometimes even through GPS) wherever we happen to be.

Opinion: What signal is Marissa Mayer giving to Yahoo employees?

So it's not surprising that in its desperate efforts to beat the iPhone with Android, Facebook with Google+, and Twitter with, well, something to come, Google would look back on the Web and its portal as last decade's war. Companies usually fail by sticking with obsolete technologies (like landlines and photographic film) instead of moving into the future.

In an effort to focus on the future and please shareholders, Google is shedding what it sees as obsolete technologies.

In doing so, however, Google is leaving the Web open for Yahoo to reclaim. Yahoo already has Web-dominant properties in YahooFinance and YahooSports, which both exceed Google's offerings in breadth and usage. YahooFinance's message boards are brimming with activity. Google's are ghost towns.

MyYahoo.com, the original all-purpose Web portal, has always been more functional and user-friendly than Google's. On iGoogle, The New York Times looks generic; on MyYahoo, it retains its characteristic masthead and typeface. In spite of all this, however, Google was able to overtake Yahoo's Web presence -- largely due to the proliferation of Google apps and the overwhelming popularity of its Web search tool.

Tech: Six life lessons from Yahoo CEO

I believe Google is abandoning the Web at its own peril, and in a misguided effort to compete on the much more ephemeral playing fields of social media and handheld gadgets. The Web is not over yet, not by a long shot.

On the other hand, by hiring Google's Web visionary -- the very executive who beat them at their own game -- Yahoo is double-downing on the Web. The company may even figure out how to bring the Web to smartphones and social media before these newer technologies render browsing obsolete.

I, for one, am glad Yahoo somehow stuck this out. No matter how pervasive and ubiquitous computing gets, most of us still need locations and frameworks to orient ourselves in cyberspace.

Living: If Mayer can have it all, can you?

Yahoo was the first and best at creating this sense of place, and now it stands on the brink of becoming the dominant player once again, simply by staying put.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

Working moms: Do you have any tips maintaining your career and raising a child? Share your story with CNN iReport.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Douglas Rushkoff.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT