Thursday, February 09, 2006

Yahoo to search users: roll d%'s Elinor Mills has the scoop on the latest innovation from Yahoo: rewarding users for making Yahoo their primary search engine. 10 different kinds of rewards are listed, under a program which is being "considered". Looking at the list, it reminds me of nothing more than random magic item generation tables from Dungeons & Dragons. Yet another example of what I've been banging on about from time to time about what MMOGs, or in this case ancestral RPGs, can teach us about compelling Web site features. Let's break down the Yahoo rewards and their D&D equivalents:

Yahoo: No Yahoo Mail ads.
D&D: Absorbing Shield.

Unlimited Yahoo Mail storage, versus the one gigabyte now provided for free.
Bag of Holding.

Outlook Access to Yahoo Mail. Users could use Outlook or Outlook Express to manage their Yahoo Mail as well as download and read it while offline. This is not currently offered.
Crystal Ball.

Five free music downloads a month for playing on a PC or portable MP3 player.
Dancing short sword +5.

Discounted music subscriptions. Users would pay nothing for the first month of unlimited access to Yahoo Music Unlimited and $3.99 a month thereafter, rather than $6.99 a month for unlimited access.
Boots of Dancing.

Donations to charity. Yahoo would give a percentage of revenues generated from user searches to nonprofit organizations of the users' choice.
Well of Many Worlds.

PC-to-phone calling credit. Users could receive $5 in calling credit per month for PC-to-phone calls over Yahoo Messenger with Voice, which costs 15 cents a minute.
Scroll of "Speak with dead".

Netflix discount. Users could receive one month free Netflix DVD rentals and pay $10.99 thereafter, rather than $17.99 a month.
Deck of Illusions.

Discounted Yahoo Personals subscription. Users could receive the first month free for joining Yahoo Personals and pay $19.95 thereafter, compared to the current cost of $24.95 a month.
Eyes of Charming.

Frequent flyer miles. Users could earn 250 frequent flyer miles each month that could be transferred to most major airline mileage programs.
Wings of Flying.

But oh dear, Umair Haque doesn't like it. Or at least, he thinks he knows how to do it better. It's certainly easy to criticise, especially since the D&D equivalents are much more valuable in terms of gold pieces than the handful-of-coppers Yahoo is actually doling out. I can see what Umair means too, but it's a question of what is valuable to Yahoo: is it making a better search product, or fighting Google for market share? To Yahoo, the former is only a stepping stone on the way to the latter, notwithstanding what their CFO said recently. At this point quality is not that much of an issue IMO anyway since most search engines are tending to look the same, so making a better product may not affect things in any case. Why not cut to the chase?

What Umair is talking about is paying users for performing actions that search engines can recognise and feed into their algorithms. (I refuse to use the words "attention" and "gesture" in this context because I think they lack additive meaning beyond using plain English.) But isn't it better for search engines to watch what users do in their natural element in the wild Web, rather than enclosing them in a sandbox with the meter ticking? It's like the difference in the moofie business between box office receipts and focus groups. Personally, I think focus groups suck in comparison to bums on seats.

But hey, I wouldn't begrudge Umair a nice fat consulting fee.


Anonymous Chunkstyle said...

This would make a good forum topic. Still, I'd rather continue to pay for some of the services (like expanded mail) and use Google for me searches. It's betterer.

2:12 am, February 10, 2006  

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