A Confrontation-Free Gathering of Yahoo Developers

A Confrontation-Free Gathering of Yahoo Developers

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Many of the people attending Yahoo ’s mobile developer conference on Thursday were not there for the traditional business of striking deals or learning more about the company’s products. They were there to watch a live episode of Silicon Valley’s 21-year-old soap opera: The Story of…

SAN FRANCISCO — Many of the people attending Yahoo’s mobile developer conference on Thursday were not there for the traditional business of striking deals or learning more about the company’s products.

They were there to watch a live episode of Silicon Valley’s 21-year-old soap opera: The Story of Yahoo. As one recently hired Yahoo employee put it, “Aren’t you here to gossip?”

Anyone hoping for dramatic confrontations or big plot twists was sorely disappointed, however.

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s chief executive, clad in a jacket of white and Yahoo purple, made introductory remarks, noting that Yahoo had more than 600 million monthly users on mobile devices. She thanked the thousands of developers who had integrated Yahoo ads into their apps and were now raking in about $200 million a year in revenue from them (with Yahoo getting an extra $100 million or so on top of that).

“Our commitment to the developer community is stronger than ever,” Ms. Mayer said. “We want you to know that you are in the right place.”

As Ms. Mayer exited to modest applause, Simon Khalaf, the company’s senior vice president for publisher products and the former chief of Flurry, the analytics company that Yahoo bought two years ago, took the stage.

He delivered his annual report on the state of the mobile world, with his trademark array of fun facts and statistics. The number of people in the world who check their phones more than 60 times a day is now 280 million, he said — a population of mobile addicts big enough to be the fourth-largest country in the world.

Americans spend an average of 4 hours 11 minutes a day on mobile phones, more time than they spend watching television. And mobile video game play was dropping because of the rise of e-sports, where spectators watch skilled players compete against one another.

Next came a panel about the new trend of concierge services delivered through messaging services. Hyatt Hotels, for example, lets guests orders fresh towels via Facebook Messenger.

But throughout, there was barely a mention of Yahoo or its role in the mobile world — perhaps because the company is still struggling to articulate a strategy that will help it compete with Facebook and Google, the two giants in mobile.

In short, Yahoo was almost a bit character at its own show.

Sitting in the audience of about 500 people, Bob Bahramipour, senior vice president for global business development at InMobi, an India-based global advertising platform, said he had mostly come to “plant seeds” about a possible future partnership with Yahoo.

Given all the uncertainty over the company’s future — will it be sold or broken up for parts? Will Ms. Mayer and her management team be forced out by disenchanted investors? — he said that InMobi was not sure that anyone at Yahoo would be in a position to close a deal anytime soon.

Xinhua Liu, chief marketing officer of Cheetah Mobile, a Chinese company that makes mobile utilities and game apps with 567 million monthly users worldwide, was more upbeat. Yahoo, he said, was a great partner, supplying content, search results and native display ads — all things he couldn’t get from other partners like Facebook and Google.

“Yahoo is well positioned to serve these offers” from brands, he said, complementing Cheetah’s other revenue streams, such as application install ads from Facebook. Mr. Liu said that Yahoo’s corporate turmoil did not worry him since the team he worked with was stable.

The same could not be said of Mr. Khalaf’s team, which includes Yahoo’s news, finance, sports and media content. On Wednesday, Yahoo gutted its media staff and closed half of its digital magazines.

In an interview after his presentation on Thursday, Mr. Khalaf said that the company would now focus more on showcasing content created by its users, concentrating on popular topics like news, sports, politics and finance.

Conversations are important to driving traffic and engagement, Mr. Khalaf said. Investors, for example, don’t just want to read articles about the companies in their stock portfolio, he said, “they want to brag about how their portfolio is doing.”

Tumblr, the social network that Yahoo acquired in 2013, will be an important source of that user content, particularly for images and video. “There’s a lot of things you can do inexpensively,” Mr. Khalaf said.

As for the larger soap opera that is Yahoo, he said he reminds his team, “In the Valley, one day you’re the pigeon and the second day you’re the statue.”

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