TECHNOLOGY

Marissa Mayer Shows Off Yahoo's Startup Darlings at CES

Yahoo's CEO gave her keynote presentation at CES today. The gist? She's betting all those startup acquisitions will play a key role in the company's future.
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On Tuesday afternoon, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer took to the stage in Las Vegas to give her first keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show. 

The hour-long presentation in the Hilton Theater included celebrity appearances, including Yahoo's new global anchor Katie Couric and two Saturday Night Live cast members Cecily Strong and Keenan Thompson, as well as the obligatory musical act--John Legend on piano. 

Although Mayer didn't unveil anything terribly earth-shattering, there were a few announcements that were notable as they show how Yahoo is putting to work some of the roughly two dozen startups that make up her acquisition spree since she was hired in July 2012. 

If her keynote had one overarching theme, it was this: Yahoo is all about content--and finding better ways to organize and find that content. That last part is where the startups come in. 

Making Your Homescreen Smarter  

First up, was the news that Yahoo has acquired yet another company. "The future of search is contextual knowledge," Mayer said. "We're investing in that future." Mayer announced that Yahoo has acquired a tiny Palo Alto-based company called Aviate. It's an Android app that serves up relevant information, when you want it, to make your smartphone's home screen smarter. So, imagine for example, that you get in the car and your phone suggests music apps. Or, you wake up in the morning, and you automatically have your schedule plus the weather report. The app is supposed to make sense of all the content you use daily, which, of course, Mayer hopes will be increasingly Yahoo content. 

Yahoo's News Digest 

Remember Summly? 17-year-old founder Nick D'Aloisio sold his news aggregating service to Yahoo last March for a reported $30 million. Well, D'Aloisio made an appearance alongside Mayer to unveil what he's been working on since the acquisition: morphing his service into Yahoo News Digest, an app that sends you a twice-daily digest of news stories. The stories are "algorithmically produced and editor-curated," D'Aloisio said, explaining that the goal is "eliminate information overload." In practice that means you get a short list of stories pieced together from difference sources and designed to be read quickly.

Yahoo's Digital Magazines 

Mayer also announced Yahoo's focus on long-form content in the form of digital magazines. "We want to create beautiful, immersive experiences in topics we love," Mayer said. Today, two such magazines launched: Yahoo Tech and Yahoo Food.  

The technology underpinning these magazines, again, comes thanks to the startup Yahoo acquired for $1.1 billion last May: Tumblr. Founder David Karp made an appearance on stage as well, mostly to talk about how the heck Yahoo is going to make money off of Tumblr. The answer: Tumblr Sponsored Posts, which will have Yahoo's targeting technology behind them so advertisers can personalize content for users. (Karp claims the average sponsored post gets reflagged 10,000 times.) 

Where Yahoo Goes From Here 

At the very end of her keynote, Mayer extended the theme of content and simple organization to advertising, the area of the business she most needs to grow. To do that, she said she wants to simplify it, starting by organizing all of it within a new ad buying platform, designed specifically with small and medium sized publishers in mind.

Mayer seemed to want to convey to the press and to the marketers who come to CES that the new Yahoo is beauitful and hip, and the business is getting stronger as it gets more simple.

Although she didn't say anything about continuing her buying spree as part of that strategy, critics assume it will continue to play a role. The question is, is that really the route to simplicty? Who knows? What it does accomplish, as seen today in her keynote, is that she is amassing a ton of startup talent. If these engineers' original products thrive within Yahoo, great. If not, well, she's got a bunch of hackers at her disposal to cook up new Yahoo products.

 

Last updated: Jan 7, 2014

LINDSAY BLAKELY | Staff Writer | Senior Editor, Inc.

Lindsay Blakely is a senior editor at Inc., based in Los Angeles.




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