Does Microsoft bing + Yahoo = MicroWho?

Microsoft and Yahoo finally announce a deal that should have taken place 18 months ago and won’t be complete for another 24 months. Even then, it probably still won’t be a game changing move for any of the players.

Today’s big news is the Microsoft/Yahoo deal that will finally give Microsoft access to a much larger audience for its new bing search engine and give Yahoo some breathing room to focus on what it does best (I’m not sure what that is, and personally, I found the announcement of Kodak’s 1080p, Image-Stabilized HD Pocket Camcorder just as interesting as this announcement).

That said, this deal is still significant for a number of reasons:

  • It isn’t costing Microsoft anything (consider that they were willing to pay $9B for the same type of deal just a year ago),
  • Microsoft is hungry for bing-driven advertising dollars and user information, not to mention a way to improve their struggling image (let’s face it, Microsoft is not exactly a “loved” company outside of their employees), and
  • Yahoo has been going exactly nowhere since adopting a strategy of confusing its audience with a “we can do anything you want, oh, and we also still have a search engine” approach.

But realistically, this deal will take at least 12 months to begin to take shape and at least 24 months for the full bing integration and value proposition to begin to appear (check out CNN’s take for market-share and the potential financial impact). Unfortunately, it is also a deal that will likely not have a significant impact on the dynamic duo’s arch rival Google any time soon. For while this is a business-oriented deal, the market that they are targeting is driven not by business needs but by emotions and that is a war that Google is in a much stronger position to win.

Why? Yahoo has adopted what can best be described as the old AOL approach of being the window to the world, with every type of content – and advertising – known to mankind on its front page. Search is clearly a second seat to everything else available (just take a look at the next generation of Yahoo’s home page for a better example – a layout, btw, that I think is a clear step forward for their type of business). Unfortunately, the number of people that are comfortable with Yahoo’s current image strategy is not that large (granted, it is larger than Microsoft’s, with less than 10% of the search engine segment). In fact, many people bypass the Yahoo main/search page to get to the real value of Yahoo – pages like finance.yahoo.com, which is actually a decent site.

Google, on the other hand, has always kept their image clean, search-focused and fun. There isn’t much on the front page to distract from the fact that they are all about providing the best search experience possible (a point not lost on bing‘s marketing team as demonstrated by their zen-like home page at bing.com). Sure, Google offers a slew of apps (some of which should really scare Microsoft), but they treat those as secondary “opt in” value-adds (even though that is where the real value lies in Google’s future). The fact that more people emotionally connect to this approach when it comes to searching the web is shown in Google’s overwhelming control of the search engine market.

So while many people fear Microsoft as Big Brother, even though Google is much closer to Orwell’s vision of 1984 as smashed by Apple’s famous Macintosh ad, emotions and “comfort” will likely remain significant factors in how the new Microsoft/Yahoo partnership plays out over the next few years – a period during which Google will continue to:

  • expand their search capabilities (both through internal development and potential acquisitions of firms like Topsy and Collecta that are pushing the state of social network and real-time searching),
  • enhance their direct access to social media networks, and
  • improve their inroads into Microsoft’s application domination through increased “open” and “cloud-based” software tools.

What do you think? Is this deal really that significant? Is it too early to call a winner? Or is it likely to be more of a move that will keep Google in check without any significant long-term impact? My guess is that it is the latter.