Yahoo! and the Identity of Things

I’ll admit that Yahoo!‘s purchase last year of Flickr and del.icio.us has long been a source of speculation and excitement for me. I wasn’t quite sure what they were doing, but I felt it had to be something pretty cool.

Now comes at least part of the answer:

If you like the Wii, you’ll love Yahoo’s new Wii portal, which aggregates Flickr photos, games, avatars with custom Wii gear, links from del.icio.us and MyWeb, stories from Yahoo’s Games section, Wii-related questions from Yahoo Answers and links to buy consoles and games on Yahoo Shopping. It’s the first of many sites in Yahoo’s “brand universe”, says Variety, and the plan is to roll out over 100 more of these fan sites during 2007, each one focused around a popular brand. They can then use these niches to sell targeted advertising. And while Yahoo isn’t seeking the approval of the brands themselves, they hope that these companies will play ball and provide them with some extra content in exchange for promoting the brand. Future portals could include “American Idol” and “The Lord of the Rings”, according to Yahoo. Just like the relaunch of Yahoo Food and Yahoo TV, these portals might help Yahoo to bring together some of their scattered social offerings. Since Flickr and del.icio.us have such unique identities, it wasn’t clear how they’d be integrated into other services: now it seems they’ll be treated as huge, free content repositories.

This is really exciting for a couple of reasons:

  • The focus is on user-centric identity and evaluation. By basing the content of each of these channels of the “brand universe” on Flickr and del.icio.us users’ content and assessment of products, the products become not about themselves but instead about how people use and talk about them, and how they’re important to their lives. In a recent column on the future of publishing, Cory Doctorow said the following:

“The thing about an e-book is that it’s a social object. It wants to be copied from friend to friend, beamed from a Palm device, pasted into a mailing list. It begs to be converted to witty signatures at the bottom of e-mails. It is so fluid and intangible that it can spread itself over your whole life. Nothing sells books like a personal recommendation…”

And that’s exactly right, but it’s true even beyond e-books. All cultural objects and phenomena are social. The Mona Lisa is a beautiful painting, but what makes it GREAT is all of the millions of words written about it; all of the millions of trips to the Louvre that people have taken – all of the many things that people do and say and create because of that one painting. The Nintendo Wii is no different, really: it’s just a bucket of wires in a cool case. What makes it worthwhile as a cultral object is the experiences that people have with it and what they say about those experiences, and this method of organization recognizes that central fact.

  • Yahoo! seems to understand the power of the second economy (aka, “(a) amateur economy, (b) sharing economy, (c) social production economy, (d) noncommercial economy, or (e) p2p economy”) and the potential for a hybrid economy. By making each of these channels in the “brand universe” more about those who are using and doing things with cultural objects, it enables those members of the second economy to gain greater exposure and, potentially, commercial viability of their own right in the first economy.

People identify themselves in many different ways, and one of those ways is through the things that they use and enjoy. There’s no shame in that, necessarily – after all, “things” are, in their inception, dreamed up by and created by other people. For as long as consumer products have existed, they have been adopted by people and often modified from their original purpose in ways that assert individual identity. This latest effort by Yahoo! acknowledges that central fact of consumer culture: that things become what people make of them, and that what people make of things is valuable, sometimes more valuable than the thing itself.

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One Response to Yahoo! and the Identity of Things

  1. Brady Meisenhelder says:

    Looks like restructuring is what they are up to.

    (wink)

    Much love to ya JKD.

    -Brady

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