Yahoo vs. Google: An academics vs. in-the-trenches entrepreneurs showdown? Matt 15 Dec 2005

54 comments Latest by Anonymous Coward

Flickr, Upcoming,, revised mapping, etc…Yahoo’s maneuvers in the past year have been impressive (despite the occasional integration misstep). While noting the purchase, Kottke brought up a noteworthy point:

There’s an interesting story in here somewhere about how Yahoo! is hiring/buying the “alpha geeks” (hackers, tinkerers, accidental entrepreneurs) and Google seemingly isn’t (Ph.Ds, computer scientists) and what effect that could have on each company’s development.

So what do you think? An oversimplification or are the two companies involved in an academics vs. in-the-trenches entrepreneurs showdown? If so, wouldn’t you rather have the people who know how to make money over the people who know how to write research papers? Is Google slipping in comparison to Yahoo? Are Google’s acquisitions of companies like Pyra and Dodgeball being overlooked?

Also, where’s Microsoft in all this? Are they even a player? Do the Flickrs and del.icio.uses of the world even listen when MS knocks on the door? If not, will MS be able to compete as the software world migrates to a web-based model? And how about Apple…where do they fit in?

The shit’s going down and it’ll be interesting to see how the landscape shifts in the next few years.

54 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Bryce 15 Dec 05

Ah, we do love our easy-to-follow polarizations, don’t we? Yahoo-v-Google is just like this year’s Apprentice! It’s Book Smarts versus Street Smarts!

SU 15 Dec 05

The problem (for Yahoo, at least) is that Google is ridiculously good at marketing. They may be stocked to the gills with PhD research scientists, but that hasn’t stopped them from making very smart decisions from a marketing standpoint.

I think Google’s main problem will be how public perception of the company changes as it becomes increasingly “mainstream.” They’ve relied pretty heavily on their outsider image, but they can’t really make that claim any longer — they are search. And like the band you loved right up until their music was featured on a cheesy sitcom, Google will struggle to hold on to its “alt” persona as time goes by.

Mike 15 Dec 05

Interesting observation, but still grossly oversimplified I tend to think. Where’s Microsoft? Well, contrary to popular belief, there’s no lack of passionate alpha-geeks in Redmond. Still, as with everything, so much is culture, management climate, and perhaps most importantly: quantity of baggage. Agility and whatnot…

Mike 15 Dec 05

Again on baggage… I think it not coincidence that the amount of baggage from greatest to least (msn, yahoo, google) maps directly to their relevance, excellence, and popularity. And no, I can’t quantify these rating.

Matt Haughey 15 Dec 05

You know what’s funny? There wasn’t a PhD remotely involved with Blogger or Pyra when Google bought it. That was definitely a purchase of in-the-trenches coders and it’s worked out pretty well for them. Google shouldn’t fear the non-MIT grads with great ideas.

NathanB 15 Dec 05

Microsoft is stuck. They can’t fully embrace the new model of web services without cannibalizing their cash cows.

Yahoo kinda sucks too. If they can manage not to borg their acquisitions they might have a shot, but if Flickr is the test case, things don’t look so good. Not only does the new Flickr registration suck, but they’ve started disabling features (like seeing large image sizes) for non logged in users.

Also, when Yahoo sells people out to the Chinese secret police, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Bob 15 Dec 05

You mean like this:

I know “major internet search engines” includes Yahoo! but please don’t pretend Google would have behaved differently under the same circumstances.

RJB 15 Dec 05

I think what is quite humorous how each of these companies internally view themselves. Google, Yahoo, Apple and even Microsoft, surely all see themselves as the underdog.

Maybe it is more about capabilities than “academics vs. in-the-trenches entrepreneurs”. Each Co. may be after the same person, but possibly its just their filter process that differs.

What if each were identical? How then could each survive?

Jan 15 Dec 05

Why would I as a customer prefer an entrepreneur who knows how to make money, over an researcher who knows how to innovate?

As a customer I prefer the one that helps me kick ass. I don’t care *why* they help me kick ass. An entrepreneur does it because they want to make money, but honestly, I don’t care.
A researcher does it because they have an itch that they want to scratch. Lucky for me if I have a similar itch, but other than that I don’t really care why they do it. I just want to kick ass.

Don Wilson 15 Dec 05

Microsoft and Apple are software companies and not internet companies, which would take them out of the web battle.

Brandt 15 Dec 05

wouldn�t you rather have the people who know how to make money over the people who know how to write research papers?

startups-vs-degrees is not about what these people know, it’s about their motivations. the difference is that some people want to make money by building on existing technology, and other people want to create new technology (which just might make money).

so, in effect, yahoo vs google is a bet on today’s technology vs tomorrow’s technology. a less kind approach would say that yahoo’s just buying yesterday’s success stories and hoping to capitalize on them, while google is creating tomorrow’s success stories.

Kunal Anand 15 Dec 05

It looks like Yahoo! has been growing through acquisitions while Google has added new services from the 20% personal time. The fundamental question: are those products built in personal incubation more valuable than existing products (i.e., Flickr, etc.)?

MLS 15 Dec 05

People continue to point to Google’s innovation — they say the fact that Google gives their engineers 20% free time to innovate is wildly innovative.

Let’s look at Google’s efforts after search:


Google Maps — very cool

Google Earth — cool

AdWords — nearly as important as the search innovation

Picasa — iPhoto is 10x better, as are web-based options

Google Groups — sucks

Blogger — cool

Internal efforts:

Google Desktop — okay, but incomplete indexing; X1 is better

Google Mail — okay, UI is terrible but innovative on storage and use of AJAX

Google Talk — sucks, should have bought Skype

Google News — okay, but no innovation since it launched

Froogle — totally sucks

Google Base — sucks, but will hopefully improve over time

Orkut — totally sucks

Google Answers — sucks

Google Image Search — sucks

Perhaps Google should shelve its famed innovation days and buy more cool technology ;—)

Tracey 15 Dec 05

I would put my money on Google over Yahoo and Microsoft any day. Why? It’s simple: They get new products and services out of the door faster. Yahoo hasn’t done too much innovation, it seems they follow Google IMHO. Take Y! Mail for example. It took Gmail/GMaps to get them to hire more developers and make them better.

Microsoft, the real borg can’t seem to keep up with Google despite all of their recent offerings and Balmer’s stupid threats.

Innovate, release early and often or you lose.

Anonymous Coward 15 Dec 05

It does feel like Yahoo is playing catch-up, but that also makes them hungrier.

JohnO 15 Dec 05

I think Microsoft is irrelevant. They proved that they don’t understand that internet (as a company) when Netscape destroyed IE. They proved they know how to muscle marketshare when they killed Netscape, but not that they understand the internet. They haven’t shown anyone yet that they understand it.

I think Google is in an extraordinary position to deliver. Cringely’s three-part volume on Google’s possible plan (vol 6.46-48 @ ) is a good insight. And if that wasn’t their plan, it is still a damn good one.

Yahoo is buying innovation, they aren’t making innovation. That means they’ll stay profitable and relevant. It proves they have an eye for what works. I don’t think this means that Yahoo will define the future. They might own it, if startups begin to define the future.

But Google has a better chance of defining the future, because of all the eggheads they have in their labs. Entreprenuers execute well. They don’t have to be the sharpest tack in the drawer (read: In Search of Stupidity), but they have to minimize mistakes and execute. Google is the sharpest tack in the drawer. Barring a serious mistake, they’ll define the future of technology

DaleV 15 Dec 05

I agree. I think MS is a non-issue, and the scary part is they are just now beginning to realize it themselves. It is going to be interesting to see where the different parts of MS end up in the next 5 years.

The only reason it seems like Google is leaning towards the ‘smarts’ is that the ‘uber-uber-geeks’ are smart enough to already work there in the first place, instead of an also-ran like Yahoo. Yahoo gets the prime-scraps IMO. MS gets the nobodys.

Anonymous Coward 15 Dec 05


Are you sure Google Maps was an acquisition? I thought it was developed in-house (using, of course, map data from 3rd parties and satellite data from the Google-acquired Keyhole).

DaleV 15 Dec 05

By the way: Again, Don W. is months behind (sorry to stoop, but . . ) —

To say that Apple is “not an internet company” is bizarre — they absolutely are leveraging the web for more and more of their functionality all the time.

JF 15 Dec 05

Apple may actually have one of the most profitable web-based app suites around: .Mac at $99/year.

DaleV 15 Dec 05

And I absolutely consider iTunes a “web-app” in kind of a non-traditional way … it’s basically a dedicated browser stuffed with dynamic goodies.

Phil 15 Dec 05

_Apple may actually have one of the most profitable web-based app suites around: .Mac at $99/year._

With prices like that, how could you not be profitable?

David M. 15 Dec 05

Wouldn’t you rather have the people who know how to make money over the people who know how to write research papers?

As a description of ‘in-the-trenches entrepreneurs’ vs academics, I think that misses the point on both sides. For instance, how was making money? And it’s a bit unfair to suggest that academics only know how to write research papers: those papers do lead to the development of useful skills, after all.

Andy 15 Dec 05

Isn’t another way to draw out the polarities is to say that Yahoo is at heart at media company, whilst Google and MSFT are software companies?

Whilst they all want to deliver similar stuff to the desktop in similar way, they are thinking about it in a different way.

I have this view that Google look at the web like the Matrix, watching all the information flow around it, whereas Yahoo look at it terms of audience and how information is delivered

It’s a subtle, but meaningful difference that I’ve described in a reasonably useless way.

Not sure what you can draw from this, other than as a consequence Yahoo might be more likely to be attracted to stuff with buzz and hype (Flickr and, whilst some of Google’s stuff is intellectually awesome, but sucks on the front end (Google Base, Froogle)..

mm 15 Dec 05


Google groups sucks? Put down the crack pipe. Tech Operations people still rely on that poo daily for odd technical issues (why don’t the tulip drivers work with this kernel version? I’m getting an odd python threading issue and it’s only on a couple mailing lists…where to get more information? newgroups yo). Maybe you have no use for it, but you can’t say it sucks when it definitely fills a niche for certain people. That’s like be saying bitwise and iconfactory suck because i don’t care about / use icons.

Chad 15 Dec 05

I’m rooting for the street smarts team on this season of Yahoo! vs. Google.


Stephen 15 Dec 05

Microsoft and Apple are software companies

I was under the impression that Apple makes its real money from hardware, and always has done, even before the iPod.

Jeff L 15 Dec 05

I think one of the major distinctions between Yahoo and Google is not who they hire, but what they are trying to accomplish.

Both started with search - but Google has become an advertising company. I don’t think there is much they have done as a company that can’t be directly related to earning more advertising revenue.

Yahoo only just jumped on the advertising bandwagon after seeing the success of AdWords - but I don’t think they want to be an advertising company. I don’t know that they want to be a software company either - which is where Microsoft obviously still fits in. Microsoft is only jumping on the web bandwagon because they have too - they’d be perfectly happy to keep licensing Windows and Office for unbelievable prices. Apple will keep being a hardware comany/media company. But I just can’t tell exactly where Yahoo wants to fit in, and how they want to make their money.

Szymon 15 Dec 05

I think these online battles are just getting started. I think that Google has had a huge head start advantage with their innovations. But I don’t think it makes sense to say “oh, just because Yahoo and Microsoft are behind or buying companies and not publicly releasing any new products, it means they’re not working on anything and can’t innovate”. That’s a close-minded view.

All three companies are actively hiring all over the map. And where do you think those resources are going? Negotiating on how to buy companies? By acquiring companies like Flickr, Yahoo is sending a signal that they understand the phenomenon. I am sure that Yahoo is putting a lot of resources on projecets that can compete with Google. Same with Microsoft. Although it took Microsoft a while to “get it”, they are starting to move on the internet issue. Their initiative is the incarnation of this. looks really slick in my opinion, and those bird’s eye pics make Google look kinda backwards. There’s a lot of potential all over, and not only at Google.

And I think we should all be excited about this. If Google is the only player in the internet product business, then it would be going directly into Microsoft-style monopoly, but based on the Internet. But if we get three big companies making moves in this new battleground, we will see more innovation and products being delievered, even if that means everything being marked as Beta (as is the case of GMail, Google News, Google Groups, … come to think of it, almost all of Google’s products are in constant Beta). Competition can be a great catalyst. And, hopefully, this will result in a much better experience for us, the end users.

eh 15 Dec 05

“If so, wouldn�t you rather have the people who know how to make money over the people who know how to write research papers?”

without the people who know to ‘write research papers’ (implying there’s none of that at yahoo) there wouldn’t be anything to “make money” over.

recall for a moment where the WWW was invented - at a physics research lab.

recall where tcp/ip was created - berkeley.

recall where guido van rossum was when he created Python - at a university.

who created the model-view-controller pattern/paradigm central to ruby on rails, your flagship technological offering? xerox parc, a research lab.

i guess 37 signals is so busy being ‘entrepreneurial’ and ‘simple’ they’ve forgotten whose shoulders they’re standing on - the people who write research papers.

you morons.

A Noonie Moose 15 Dec 05

Okay, aside from a slight ninja-recognition (which is wearing *very* thin), what has Google done with Pyra? Have I missed it? I was around when they bought it. I was also around when Big G went public. Also, I remember the bittersweet introduction of Gmail. So did the Pyra integratrion slip by my radar? Did I miss the revolution on social networking? Certainly if they’ve done anything with it we would’ve heard about it going, heh…, beta.
(see how I didn’t even mention Orkut?)

Google’s about fast cash. Yahoo!’s about investment.

Here’s a great article from Wired

And Apple’s going to devices (good for them) so they’re not part of the discussion (and if you think otherwise, remember the Apple server revolution? Yea, didn’t think so.)

And Microsoft…well, Microsoft’s going to keep on keeping on and what they don’t buy, they’ll just build better (settle down you antiestablishment freaks. I’m talkin’ business-wise)

Don Wilson 15 Dec 05

If you consider iTunes a web-app, do you consider Napster a web-app? What about Rhapsody?

Google’s Search isn’t a web-app either, merely an interface. The real work behind that is what you don’t see — the spider.

Stephen M. 16 Dec 05

Jeff L, didn’t Yahoo start as a human-edited directory, with Internet search coming later?

I recently wrote about Yahoo’s eagerness to buy socially-oriented sites (, Flickr, Upcoming) and how it’s possible that Yahoo is looking to add more human interaction with their sites. For instance, how readers can rate Yahoo news articles. It seems that Yahoo tends to rely on social intelligence rather than achieving similar results with artificial intelligence as with the news rankings on Google.

In the end, Yahoo and Google (and obviously Microsoft) want to make money. And as much as everyone likes Flickr, how many times have you clicked on their ads? Compared with the text ads next to Google/Yahoo search results? I think Google will end up doing better in the long run because they really want their users to search for everything using Google.

Tim Almond 16 Dec 05

I still wonder if Microsoft simply don’t see the threat of web applications, or just want to hold on as long as they can.

The long term is away from installed applications to the web. Microsoft are going to have to stop fighting this at some point, and move towards it.

Jeff L 16 Dec 05

Stephen M,

I believe you are correct - and I agree. Yahoo trends towards more user interaction and social intelligence than the others. But where is it going to get them? I don’t see them being as good at advertising as google.

I will say though, I recently ended up on Yahoo Local and was pleasantly surprised to see that you can rate and review just about everything - I was looking for dentists, and it was the only place I had seen any reviews of them. I loved it.

Niko 16 Dec 05

Emphasizing a different part of the original quote, I would question is this an academics vs. bright tinkerers showdown?

The accidental enterpreneurs don’t necessarily have any clue as to how to make money, while the academics by notion do know how to write research papers…

zimbabwe 16 Dec 05

Well said eh. This (“If so, wouldn�t you rather have the people who know how to make money over the people who know how to write research papers?”) has to be about the most idiotic comment I have read today.

It is amazing how people confuse PhDs and academics with the exclusive ability to churn out research papers. Most PhD’s I’ve met, however, have very good insight into the realm of application and spend their time thinking about what’s next.

ML 16 Dec 05

Well said eh. This (�If so, wouldn�t you rather have the people who know how to make money over the people who know how to write research papers?�) has to be about the most idiotic comment I have read today.

First off, I was speaking from the point of view of a company trying to grow revenue (not what’s best for consumers or who has the most insight or who develops the neatest technology). Second, since it was phrased as a question it’s possible the answer could be “no.”

i guess 37 signals is so busy being �entrepreneurial� and �simple� they�ve forgotten whose shoulders they�re standing on - the people who write research papers. you morons.

See above. Nonetheless, thanks for the thoughtful, insightful tone!

8500 16 Dec 05

Research papers written by Google employees:

The topics covered in the user interface section, the only one I feel qualifed to comment on, seem out-of-date or of marginal import.

zimbabwe 16 Dec 05

Well 8500… your observation is consistent with what I would expect from Google. They would not publish anything patentable (ie. of commercial value) unless it has already been patented. That would probably explain the out-of-datedness.

zimbabwe 16 Dec 05


Innovation and revenue growth are not mutually exclusive.

Mark 16 Dec 05

Where’s Microsoft in all this? According to the following article from Fast Company, it looks like they’re right in the thick of it, with an unexpected partner, to boot -

“Keep Your Friends Close…”

Fred Faulkner 16 Dec 05

Ok, I’ve read the comments and heard the battle between which we think it better on innovation, PhD vs. Street smarts, who wants to make money, who doesn’t, etc.

While Yahoo! hasn’t “marketed” their products as much as Google (who’s products seem to be infinitely in “beta”) Yahoo! has positioned itself differently in the sense that it started as a content company, and still is a content company. I agree Google is a Search company (maybe an ad agency now too) but where is the “total package?”

If I wanted to have a one-stop-shop for an on-line community or share inforamtion with family and friends, Yahoo! is it—-Google and/or Microsoft is not.

So Google pumps out new products and MS tries to figure out what it wants to do in the “live” world, Yahoo! is building a product line which, when marketed correctly, will beat Google hands down.

Jamie 16 Dec 05

I think what’s interesting is not necessarily the innovations but the intentions. Sure web apps are great, especially when they’re useful. But for Google and Yahoo the objective is to create “stickiness” on their sites to attract “eyeballs” for advertisers. Those that dismiss Google as being an Advertising platform should be looking at Yahoo the same way. How do you think they get their revenue? It’s all Web 1.0 economics pimped with “Web 2.0” web apps. Have the services, attract users, get money from advertisers.

Brian 16 Dec 05

Google does better with AdWords and AdSense. But I thought it was Overture, now Yahoo! Search Marketing, that pioneered targeted keyword ads. Didn’t Yahoo! file a suit about this against Google within the last year or so? Yahoo! is just now pushing its Publisher Network to fight against AdSense. MSN is stil ironing out the kinks in AdCenter.

I think Semel admitted Google has search now, but Yahoo! is positioned better for what’s next.

I just got the Yahoo! Mail Beta today. It’s so smooth. Full blown app usability. Beautiful.

I’m a Yahoo! guy, obviously.

Stewart Butterfield 17 Dec 05

“but if Flickr is the test case, things don�t look so good. Not only does the new Flickr registration suck, but they�ve started disabling features (like seeing large image sizes) for non logged in users.”

The first part is true (the reg process sucks) but the second part isn’t.

(SvN, I rembmer when you weren’t like Slashdot ;)

www 17 Dec 05


Stephen M. 17 Dec 05

Jamie, I have to disagree with Google being concerned about “stickiness.” In my opinion, Google runs one of the least sticky pages on the web. When you do a Google search, how long do you stay on their site? Google seems much more concerned with making the search experience so quick and simple, you’ll come back to their site again and again, not stay on it.

8500 19 Dec 05

“I just got the Yahoo! Mail Beta today. It�s so smooth. Full blown app usability. Beautiful.”

Yahoo! Mail beta is huge disappointment to me. I’ve been using Oddpost for over a year and the difference between the two is startling. They are not even using the tab metaphor correctly. If you think the changes that Yahoo! has made to Flickr are bad, this makeover was worse.

Terence Jay Gordon 15 Jan 06

What it do tristin this yo cuz Terence or TJ anywayz what you been you to me and you haven’t talk in a while your starting to become a stranger. Well i jus wanted to say hi so hi call me some time you know my phone # oh tell RED is said hi. and i miss her you too bye!!!!!!!!!! Iove ya

Terence Jay Gordon 15 Jan 06

What it do tristin this yo cuz Terence or TJ anywayz what you been you to me and you haven’t talk in a while your starting to become a stranger. Well i jus wanted to say hi so hi call me some time you know my phone # oh tell RED is said hi. and i miss her you too bye!!!!!!!!!! Iove ya

Pier 08 May 06

Most persons “missed it” when they perceived to be “an online bookseller”.

Google isn’t competing with Yahoo!. Google is building a “operating system” (a system that operates) piece-by-piece.

What are these pieces? Picasa, Talk, Video player, Google Desktop search and Desktop Sidebar …

When it makes sense, Google leverages the browser and when it makes sense, Google leverages TCP/IP and local in-memory processing.

It’s not Google vs Yahoo!, It’s Google vs Microsoft.

Anonymous Coward 29 Aug 06

wow Pier, that is so profound. i idolize you.