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技术

雅虎险中求胜

Kevin Kelleher 2012年03月22日

我们好像已经很久没有看到雅虎在互联网行业有过什么引人关注的举动了。但现在,首席执行官司考特•汤普森正在充分展示他折腾的本领,雅虎也由此重新成为了业界的焦点。

    雅虎公司(Yahoo)推崇的核心价值观包括“乐趣”、“社区”,“卓越”(也就是该公司所称的“诚信制胜”)。很遗憾,其中没有包括“挑衅”、“对抗”和“疏远”这类字眼,否则,今年堪称首席执行官司考特•汤普森浓墨重彩的一年。

    汤普森于今年一月初加入雅虎,之前为购物网站易趣(eBay)在线支付平台贝宝(PayPal)的业务负责人。他表示,为了扭转这家互联网公司的局面,他已经感受到了“真真切切的紧迫感”。他是雅虎五年来的第五任首席执行官。这五年里,雅虎经历了拒绝微软公司(Microsoft)收购要约之后的股价暴跌;此外,由于公司在日益发展的社交网络领域逐渐被边缘化,股价已持续数年在每股15美元左右震荡。

    为了兑现自己的诺言,汤普森在接手雅虎的头三个月内就采取了一系列大胆的行动。在这个过程中,他的裁员之说震动了雅虎上上下下;同时,他还准备与董事会进行代理权争夺战;此外,他对社交网站Facebook发起的专利诉讼也激怒了很多硅谷的电子技术公司同行。这些举措能否帮助雅虎脱离困境目前尚不明朗,倒是提升了外界对公司的关注度。

    我们好像已经很久没有看到雅虎在互联网行业有过什么引人关注的举动了。早前,雅虎熬过了互联网发展初期的动荡岁月,成为至今依然硕果仅存的一家所谓的“门户网站”,并因此而声名远播。雅虎广受欢迎的网站特色已成为当今网络的主流,用户能够简单便捷地获取包括电子邮件、各类新闻、时尚运动以及财经数据等方面的信息。

    然而,互联网发展日新月异,到了2005年,社交网络已毫无疑问地成为未来的发展趋势。雅虎再次将自己定位为早期领导者,并收购了网络相簿公司Flickr的照片共享业务和社交书签网站del.icio.us。从此,网络巨头雅虎转变成了社交网络领域的先行者。雅虎还通过其开发人员网络培养了一大批程序员。

    但由于雅虎内部存在着严重的官僚主义问题,没过不久,这些本来很有发展前景的计划全部夭折。雅虎也因为与微软公司之间旷日持久的收购战而变得心浮气躁。此后,谷歌(Google)以及后来的Facebook相继成为了网络创新的引领者,而雅虎似乎并未展开什么行动。过去的三到四年中,除了雅虎前首席执行官卡罗尔•巴尔茨曾对公司发表的坦率而富有争议的评论之外,实际上,雅虎就像是一朵正在迅速凋零的玫瑰。

    然而,情况在本月发生了变化。汤普森正在展现他折腾的本领。首先,有报告表明,汤普森的重组计划可能导致雅虎14,000名员工中的数千人被裁员。之后,他出人意料地取消了将于佛罗里达举办的1,300名销售人员大会。接下来,他又发布了一份备忘,鼓励员工更加努力和高效地工作,试图缓解弥漫于公司内部的紧张情绪。

    上周,雅虎与Facebook协商许可费用短短半个月之后,突然对后者提起了诉讼,指责对方侵犯了包括广告、隐私权、信息传送和社交网络在内的十项专利。雅虎在一夜之间成为互联网业最受诟病的专利流氓,人们谴责雅虎企图用“可悲的”、“孤注一掷的”手段来阻挠比它更加灵活、机敏的竞争对手。

    Yahoo's core values include "fun," "community" and "excellence" (which the company defines as "winning with integrity"). It's too bad they don't include "provocation," "confrontation" and "alienation" - because then CEO Scott Thompson would be having a banner year.

    Thompson left eBay (EBAY) as head of PayPal to lead Yahoo (YHOO) in early January, saying he felt a "real sense of urgency" to turn things around at the web company. He was the company's fifth CEO in five years, a period that saw Yahoo's stock plunge after rejecting a takeover bid by Microsoft (MSFT) and vacillate around the $15 a share level for years as the company grew more marginal in an increasingly social web.

    True to his word, Thompson began a series of bold initiatives less than three months into the job. In the process, he's roiled the ranks inside Yahoo with talks of layoffs, set the stage for a proxy battle with the board and angered many peers in Silicon Valley with a patent lawsuit against Facebook. It's far from clear that these moves will help turn Yahoo around. But they've already made the company a lot more interesting.

    It seems like years since Yahoo has done anything to capture the web industry's interest. Early on, Yahoo was notable as the only so-called "web portal" that survived the first, volatile years of the web. It succeeded with popular features that have become mainstays of the web today: web mail, news aggregation, fantasy sports and financial data – all of them simple and easy to access.

    But the web evolves quickly and by 2005, social networking was clearly the future. Here again, Yahoo positioned itself as an early leader, buying Flickr's photo-sharing and del.icio.us's social bookmarking site, turning the web giant into an early leader in social networking. And it cultivated a community of coders with its Developers Network.

    But soon enough, all of these promising initiatives seemed to suffocate inside Yahoo's bureaucratic miasma, and the company became distracted by the high drama of a protracted takeover battle with Microsoft. Since then, Yahoo has seemed adrift as Google (GOOG) and then Facebook set the agenda for web innovation. For the past three or four years, barring some frank and controversial comments by ex-CEO Carol Bartz, Yahoo has been as exciting as a rose losing its bloom.

    But that has changed this month. Thompson is showing himself to be a CEO with a talent for tipping over apple carts. First came reports that Thompson's restructuring could cost thousands of Yahoo's 14,000 employees their jobs. He abruptly cancelled a Florida meeting for 1,300 Yahoo sales employees. Then he tried to soothe workplace tension with a memo hectoring employees into working harder and faster.

    Last week, Yahoo sued Facebook for infringement of 10 patents – including advertising, privacy, messaging and social networking – just two weeks after sitting down with Facebook to discuss licensing fees. Overnight, Yahoo became the web's most reviled patent troll, bilking a more nimble rival in a move decried as "pathetic," "desperate" or worse.

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