I got the above email from Yahoo early this morning regarding my Flickr account. I’ve had an account there for what feels like decades. For ages, anyway. And my pro subscription has lapsed.
I have been meaning to upgrade it but I haven’t felt I needed to do so — much like the vast majority of others who once had a pro account. It’s only when I actually want to use my Flickr photos — and login — that I’m then reminded to upgrade.
And over the years like a slow plodding donkey, I have occasionally looked up at Yahoo and given them a bit of cash.
It all went to pot for me when I subscribed to the premium version of Yahoo Mail a few years back. I sent about 300,000 Mobile Industry Review emails there over the space of a few months (I get *a lot* of press releases and newsletters) and aimed at using the account as a convenient backup for my Google Apps account. Unfortunately the account became unusable very quickly. It simply couldn’t handle any volume whatsoever. That pained me a lot as the Yahoo marketing hadn’t indicated it was such a lame service. Yahoo Mail used to be seriously hot. It used to be the pinnacle. Years ago as a dotcom entrepreneur, I remember pointing at Yahoo Mail and saying, “I want that for our website — that’s the best”.
Reality cracked through the curtains for me then.
When it comes to mobile though, the ‘next big move’ for everyone else, Yahoo is a seriously sad story.
Do you recall Yahoo Go? It was perhaps one of the most visionary strategies out there. It was astonishingly smart. The team there built a system to deliver all of Yahoo’s core services (mail, photo management, file storage, bookmarks) on mobile. This was years — YEARS — before the iPhone, way before Android.
The company crafted a strategy that would more or less ‘connect’ your Nokia N70 to all of these cool services. If you took a photo, it would be uploaded to Yahoo’s photo storage service. Your email would be easily accessible and ‘synched’. Your contacts and calendar would sychronise. It was highly cool. I managed to get it to work a few times on my various Nokia 3G devices.
Yahoo Go sat on top of the Symbian architecture and delivered all these exciting services. It wasn’t entirely reliable, certainly not in the first instances. It began to improve as they released upgrades and bug fixes — but it is important to remember that “3G” at this point was incredibly new and not at all reliable either.
The strategy put Yahoo front and centre in the mobile world though. Their warm embrace of the technology helped convince me to use more of their products. For a time, I even swapped my contacts, calendar and email to the company so I could benefit from Yahoo Go. If I recall correctly, I’m not sure BlackBerry was easily available at that time, so being able to effortlessly get at your “PIM” data via mobile was very exciting.
For a company accustomed to seeing millions of people adopt their services overnight, the painful reality of mobile at that point would have been rather difficult to deal with. I doubt the services had many users. The basic infrastructure wasn’t really there to support everything Yahoo was trying to do. Instead of staying the course, though — which would have put them in an incredibly powerful first mover position in this new world, the senior executives got out their pencils. Sod the client software. Sod the synchronisation. Sod the connectivity. Just make Yahoo Go a web based portal. That’ll be cheaper.
That was their strategy. It was rubbish. I used it a few times and — like everybody else — took my attention elsewhere.
And at some point the concept of Yahoo Go died; along with the company’s mobile prospects.
I’m encouraged by the email I received from the Flickr team though. As you can see they’re offering me 3 months worth of ‘pro’ services on my account as a Christmas gift. Good strategy. It’s had me peering about the service again thinking carefully as to whether I should be storing the family photos there or on Picasa (where they are currently).
The first step to on-going relevance is attention. The Flickr team have my attention now. I’m still rather annoyed that they’re limiting video uploads to 90 seconds. As any parent will know, photos are one thing but videos… that’s what the grandparents want to see. And I don’t like the idea of being limited to 90 seconds. So that’ll probably prevent me from bothering to switch.
The ingenuity required to come up with this “Merry Flickr” concept points, I hope, to a renewed vigour at Yahoo. It’s the sort of attention strategy that would have — I’m sure — been killed in committee in recent times.
I hope we see more innovation, more excitement, more market leading enthusiasm from Yahoo, in a mobile context.