The press sometimes depicts Google and Yahoo as head to head competitors, but if you work closely with the two companies you’ll notice substantial differences between them. These differences affect the sorts of partnerships you can create with them, and the sorts of competition you can expect if you end up competing with them.
Google: The Infrastructure Kings
Google is a hybrid between a research lab and a traditional Silicon Valley company. It has a policy of hiring the most skilled graduates from the technical schools every year, if for no other reason than to keep them from going to a competitor. It has a very flat organizational structure, and takes on a huge number of projects. This means it’s often possible to find a project on which you can engage Google, but it’s sometimes hard to judge how serious the company is about the project.
Google’s engineering culture is also contemptuous of marketing. The quality of the services it creates, and in particular their fit and finish, varies enormously. Google Maps is a slick and beautiful tool; Google Video is a half-baked experiment that has attracted scorn from the online community.
Although Google’s awareness of marketing issues is limited, it’s very aware of online infrastructure trends and is positioning itself very carefully to take control of emerging choke points. It’s useful to think of Google as a web infrastructure company first and a consumer products company second.
Yahoo: The Internet Media Company
In contract, you should think of Yahoo as a divisionalized online media company (although media in this case means online services, not just music and video). Yahoo is intensely marketing-aware, and often spends much more time thinking through the details of user experiences for its products. Although Yahoo’s products are often infested with ads, it’s hard to picture them issuing a new service as poorly developed as Google Video.
Yahoo is much more open than Google to working with existing infrastructure companies. So you’ll see Yahoo partnering with ISPs and cable companies to provide services with them, whereas Google is more likely to try to destroy those companies and commoditize their markets, capturing a new control point along the way. So Yahoo partners with SBC, while Google tries to use WiFi to destroy the cable companies.
Yahoo is probably an easier company to partner with because it’s more methodical. But it’s not as fast-moving as Google, and doesn’t have the same brand buzz today. If you’re partnering with Google, you can’t always count on them to do all the heavy lifting on marketing and turning a cool idea into a fully thought-out deliverable for customers. Make sure you understand how important a project is to the company’s management team, and exactly what Google will be delivering.