Yahoo Should Look Elsewhere for Ideas -- like the Huffington Post

Last Updated Aug 2, 2010 1:33 PM EDT

Yahoo (YHOO) recently spent time explaining that comScore underestimated its traffic for June -- by a few percent. It shouldn't have been a big deal, but anything to less the perceived traffic loss is a help. That was the good news. The bad? Yahoo Japan, of which Yahoo own 35 percent, decided to have Google (GOOG) provide its search services. More money for a major competitor. Great.

Yahoo can't seem to win for losing, and if it continues on the current track, you can bet on a lot more of the latter than the former. CEO Carol Bartz has shown that her strategy of "We should be the center of customers' online lives because it would be good for our stock" is weak. Success must come from what consumers want. However, with a little twist, there might be something for Yahoo. If you think about it, what Yahoo needs is to become more like the Huffington Post.

I know, Yahoo is way more than a news and blog aggregation site. Or is it? What does HuffPo focus on? News and information that people want, and the site delivers it with a particular political twist that appeals to a specific demographic.

I don't suggest that Yahoo become an official "progressive" site. But right now it's too fractured. People go to Yahoo to use the financial information, or to use mail, or maybe to read some news or check personals or shop or ... enough! There's too much without a coherent theme other than wanting page views for display ads. That's no reason for someone to stop at any of the sites.

Compare that to HuffPo, which currently wants to turn itself into an Internet newspaper by adding related lines, such as sports, technology, book, and, now, travel sections. This is cohesion that can lead people from one section to another.

It's not that Yahoo needs to become a "newspaper," although it does have news. What it badly needs is the courage to prune and spin off or even completely drop entire areas that aren't worth the effort they require. To realize that when you try to be all things to all people, you're not much of anything and to cut back in a disciplined way to a core that could again grow, like a fruit tree that has spread out too much. All the tree's energy goes into maintaining the growing mass of branches, not into fruit.

Not that this will happen yet at Yahoo. There's too much pressure to stay big, no matter what the price.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.