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 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT