Scott Thompson: Yahoo’s Competitive Advantage Is Its Data

Is Yahoo a technology company or a media company? Newly appointed CEO Scott Thompson tried to answer that age-old question in his first conference call with Wall Street analysts this morning. It’s both “excellent technology and content, not one or the other,” he says. “Yahoo’s core business,” he continues, is to provide experiences that “engages our users. Everything flows from that.”

Thompson points out that Yahoo still has a strong brand trusted and visited by more than 700 million people around the world. Sometimes they come for news and other content. Sometimes they come for communications and other web-based software. To Thompson, who was PayPal’s CTO before he became its president, it’s all data and Yahoo generates a ton of it.”I feel that this data will be exploitable,” he says. He adds that he has “a lot to learn, but my instinct says that down in that data we will find ways to compete and innovate that the world hasn’t seen yet.”

Thompson also emphasized the need to keep and attract great talent to once again build innovative and even “disruptive products.” (I don’t know that I’d call PayPal innovative over the past few years on the product front, but that is a different discussion). He plans on talking to both employees and customers before deciding what to do with Yahoo. But he kept coming back to this point of data as a competitive weapon.

“Data is a very hard concept to understand unless you are in the middle of it,” he explains. “There is tremendous value if you can organize and interrogate data at the scale Yahoo has it.” Inside all of that usage data from 700 million users he expects to find the answers to building better products and delivering more value to advertisers as well.

Like any new CEO, Thompson is asking investors and observers to “give me some time on this.” The always-impatient market didn’t find much solace in his words (the stock is still down around 2 percent as of this writing, and dipped down even further during the conference call).

But the message was load and clear. Yahoo is no longer for sale, it will proceed to sell off its Asian assets, and it will be up to Thompson to rebuild Yahoo as a premier destination on the Internet. Part media company, part technology company—it’s all about turning data into useful, compelling, and entertaining information. If he can do that, he will prove all the Yahoos wrong about the future of Yahoo, or its lack thereof.