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Paralysis! will! save! Yahoo! CEO's! job!

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Opinion Terry Semel's worst quality may just save his job at Yahoo!. That's because the real winners to emerge from the mini-boom haunting Silicon Valley will be those with the most paralytic management styles. And, when it comes to paralysis, Yahoo! is king.

Conventional wisdom has Yahoo! hoping to buy college networking site Facebook at an outrageous sum. The pundits portray the acquisition as crucial to Yahoo!'s future, if it hopes to make up for the loss of MySpace to News Corp. and the loss of YouTube to Google, in addition to losing the advertising rights on Facebook to Microsoft.

Buying Facebook, however, would be yet another me too move by Yahoo! that fails to address the company's real problem - one that has haunted it for years. It doesn't know exactly what it wants to be and can't come up with novel ways to make real money off its enormous army of users.

Semel, who arrived in May of 2001, was saddled with Yahoo!'s greatest mistake: handing over the site's search duties to Google. Yahoo! sort of recovered from that catastrophe via Overture. But let's face it. Yahoo! will never really live down that move.

Since 2001, Yahoo! has wasted its time on a number of fronts. The site, for example, employs a large team of journalists to pad out its technology, sports and politics sections. You can likely blame Semel and his big media Warner Bros. roots for thinking the Fourth Estate play makes sense.

The rational observer has to wonder what Yahoo!'s end game is with all these reporters. Does it really hope to compete against newspapers and an ever-expanding online press? If so, how would that pad Yahoo!'s revenue?

Yahoo!'s music store play seems more realistic, although even pure online sellers such as Napster and Real have struggled with digital downloads. Just because you have millions of users doesn't mean you can throw them at a losing proposition and turn a profit by magic.

And, in fact, Semel's time at Yahoo! has been stained with an utter lack of meaningful creativity on all fronts.

One outside advisor, quoted in a piece for The Economist called Semel a "low-risk, non-confrontational guy", who oversees a company with a "relatively constipated process of reviewing anything".

But it's that inaction which will make Semel a success.

Microsoft, Google, AOL, News Corp. and others have dedicated themselves to making money off technology-eager children. They want to pepper these youngsters who swap videos and gossip with as many ads as they possibly can. Where the first bubble was based on getting goods and services to people in new ways, the second bubble is based on targeted ad hysteria. We're no longer selling groceries online but rather invading hapless social networking sites and trying to mine them.

If Yahoo!'s investors can tolerate it, they should sit back and let Semel braid his big media roots. Google and the rest of the schmucks can empty their war chests on companies that won't be around for much longer.

By the time this mini-bubble bursts, Yahoo! may have actually come up with an idea to make real money off all its users. It just needs a bit more time. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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