Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has made nearly two dozen acquisitions during her tenure, and now she's committing the company to nearly 50 more. This time, instead of companies, Yahoo is snapping up PhDs so it can reinvest in its research and development.
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Now that Yahoo's barrage of July acquisitions is complete, August kicks off with news the company has hired 30 researchers to help bolster its R&D division with plans to add 20 more by the end of the year, Bloomberg reported.
Research at Yahoo is done at Yahoo Labs, a part of the company that had been shrinking since its founding in 2005. Mayer's renewed focus on this part of the company, along with her mobile vision, and of course all the acquisitions she's overseen, are all meant to pull the company back into relevancy.
Whether that will ever actually happen may not even matter as long as the company's investors are happy. Stock prices are up since Mayer took over, but aside from her own hiring, and the billion dollar Tumblr buy, there doesn't seem to be much excitement around the company overall.
Perhaps by bringing in some added brain power, Yahoo can actually come up with something people want. Yahoo Labs is currently working on areas like media (obviously), computational advertising, human computer interaction, machine learning, mobile, personalization, system research and Web mining and search.
All of these research areas are interesting, but unless they produce something tangible they don't mean much. We're all for research, and similar departments at other companies also come up with plenty of ideas that don't go anywhere. Microsoft, for example, has a huge research division. It's much bigger than Yahoo, but the point is, no matter how much money Mayer throws at Yahoo Labs, at this point, it's just so much noise.
Like the rest of Yahoo's Web properties, the Yahoo Labs site is prosaic and uninspiring. There are lots of reports and publications coming out of there, but not much else. There are a couple of tools there people can try out, however. One is Yahoo Amoeba, a time based visualization tool that is sort of nifty to look at for a second, but a still a bit clunky to operate.
Amoeba takes comments from Yahoo's Signal blog on Yahoo News and allows people to explore related topics that take the shape of an amoeba. Another tool is called Glimmer, and it's an open source search engine for querying structured data on webpages. This actually could be kind of useful, but it's buried on a demo page within something called the Sandbox inside the Yahoo Labs page.
The point is, for Yahoo at least, R&D is all well and good if it can come up with just one good idea in 2013. The problem is, then what? How will Yahoo get people excited about that idea? It's hard to see exactly where Mayer is going with this, but that could be strategic as well. If she plays a long term kind of game, perhaps she really could be Yahoo's savior. It's survived this long, after all.
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