Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Secret Behind the Popularity of Yahoo's Homepage

Recently, I was down in LA and met with a really smart guy working on his fifth company. In passing, he explained why Yahoo's homepage was so popular with the 95% of the country that are not techies (who generally prefer Google). Here's the insight:

Yahoo starts the conversation, Google leaves it up to you.

I'll explain, via metaphor. Imagine you're at a party. Someone comes up to you and starts telling you about the last headlines or their trip to Brazil. That's Yahoo. They offer up a bunch of content and you choose what interests you.

Now imagine you're at a different party, this time everyone is standing around looking awkward as they wait for someone to talk to them. You need to go up to them and think up some question to get the conversation started. That's Google.

If you're looking for information, then the second party is great. You can ask questions without being distracted.

But if you're looking to be entertained, then you'd much rather be at the first party. That's where I'd rather be.

Most people are looking to be entertained by the Internet. They want to waste time. They don't know what they're looking for. They browse content.

Silicon Valley is Not Normal

Sometimes it seems like Silicon Valley is obsessed with more efficient ways to deliver the "right" content to the audience. That's because most people in Silicon Valley is obsessed with acquiring information. They're knowledge whores. It's a culture of smart, well-read information junkies who have more work than time.

That's not normal. Lots of brilliant people are wasting their time building products for less than 1% of the population. Because they're building it for themselves. It makes me sad.

That is not to say creating games is somehow a more honorable profession. The majority of people I talk to have never played a game on Facebook. And I ask everyone I meet. If they have, they've tried Scrabulous. Yet millions of people play games everyday. Some games get over 100,000 players daily. What startup in the Valley wouldn't kill for that kind of audience?

Facebook continuously pushes the application development community to build more useful applications. Underlying that desire is the notion that tools have more value than pasttimes. It's a very Silicon Valley notion. And completely in opposition to what normal people value. Which is fun. Excitement. Anything to kill time. But I don't expect you to believe me, just count how many useful apps are in the top 200 apps on Facebook. You can use one hand.

Good games kill time. If you're really smart, you'll figure out that giving people something to enjoy can have just as much impact as giving them a better way to solve a problem. Here's a problem for you: everyone wants to be happy. Yet, most of the time, they aren't.

Games help with that. Does your startup?