Yahoo needs a "Save" button

By Adam Rifkin , written on July 20, 2013

From The News Desk

You know what Yahoo should do with Tumblr, after forking over more than $1 billion for it and turning its hoodie-wearing young founder into a hoodie-wearing young rich dude?


I’m tempted to leave it at that, but then this would be one of the shortest posts in PandoDaily history (and Yahoo just de-searchified porn on Tumblr so it's already begun to monkey, but I digress...) At any rate, there is one thing Yahoo should do to improve integration and in the process massively improve Yahoo's engagement among its core audience.

Yahoo needs a social button for the open Web.

The open Web consists of blogs and other content and commerce web sites that are not walled gardens, whose pages already contain social buttons such as Facebook's "Like," Twitter's "tweet," Pinterest's "pin," and Google's "+1 button." The reason open Web content providers and commerce sites happily put buttons on their pages is so that humans can spread their content. If Yahoo offered a button, it would benefit from the exponential growth of sharing trend of which Mark Zuckerberg talks fondly.

The reason Yahoo needs to get in this game is to keep itself front of mind with its audience, while they're on other websites and thinking about where to save the great stuff they've found. Doing so would re-establish Yahoo’s formerly commanding position with consumer brands. I'm not just talking about people sharing from Yahoo properties such as OMG! and Flickr. I'm also referring to people sharing to Yahoo properties, with Tumblr being a new great place on Yahoo to share things.

A complete social button solution would involve many Yahoo properties. Tumblr could be both a place to save from and a place to save to, inspiring Yahoo users to create new Tumblrs like Pinterest users create new boards. Yahoo’s other properties, including OMG! and Flickr, would also benefit by inviting users to share their content on Yahoo's networks.

The question is not if Yahoo should have a social button of its own. The question is what the best button strategy would be.

Now, social buttons are not new. Buttons were embraced by early adopters back in 2005 when twin pioneers Digg and Delicious let thousands of buttons bloom around the Web. Their legacy was to provide functionality -- "Like" and "Save" buttons, respectively -- that exploded once social networks adopted their strategy a few years later.

When Facebook announced its API platform, few could have predicted that its most long-lasting success would actually be the little thumbs-up "Like" buttons we see on content all over the Web. (Like and Share were originally separate buttons, but the functionality has since been merged.) Soon every other social network had to have their own button scattered across the Web, too: tweet it, Reddit, Pin it, and even Google+ buttons are everywhere now.

"How do you get to be a long-standing durable network and define a new set of behaviors or verbs?" asks Josh Elman in a recent Medium post offering advice to consumer Internet entrepreneurs for how to build products that can appeal to more than 100 million consumers. The same advice is good food for thought for Yahoo: Where are the verbs?

Yahoo is the only major site that lacks its own Like, Share, or Save button. But remember that saving is not necessarily sharing. The primary point of saving, as Pinterest has shown, is to collect pictures of vintage wedding dresses, not to announce to your entire Facebook friend list that you collect pictures of vintage wedding dresses. Therefore, Yahoo would only need to compete with Pinterest and its clones, rather than with the sharing-oriented social networks (Facebook, Google+, etc.).

But Yahoo has two strong advantages in winning the sharing battle: It controls a tremendous amount of content, and has a tremendous amount of experience in monetization.

Pinterest’s user base saves precious little content from the web. Fewer than 20 percent of Pinterest content is pinned, whereas over 80 percent is re-pinned by users who see the fresh content and want it for themselves. The site is cranking up the bizdev machine to inject more save-worthy content into its system, but it still relies largely on lead generation rather than brand advertising. The lead gen can also be a little bit shaky, since it relies heavily on “quirky” marketplaces like Etsy and Modcloth, which don’t necessarily have the strongest of supply-chains.

Yahoo, on the other hand, already owns properties such as OMG! and Flickr, which would lend themselves to multiple monetization channels via attractive content. A photo of Jennifer Lawrence in her Oscar dress, or one of a Hawaiian resort -- both with strong metadata attached -- lends itself easily to lead-gen via a technology such as Stipple, because great metadata allows for specific age, gender, location, and keyword targeting.

And let us not forget that Yahoo still controls one of the strongest ad sales forces in the world, with pre-established relationships to top consumer brands worldwide.