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Yahoo CIO Talks Up New Ad Platform, Social Search

Lars Rabbe describes the company's new ad platform, its competitive position with Google, and the importance of user-generated content like Yahoo's Flickr service at the InformationWeek 500 conference.

Yahoo plans to roll out its new ad platform for internal use within a few weeks and make it more widely available to outside advertisers later this year or early next, said Yahoo Chief Information Officer Lars Rabbe on Monday.

Rabbe downplayed the impact that Google has had on his role at Yahoo. "I don't think it has changed it significantly," Rabbe said during a Q&A with InformationWeek Senior Executive Editor Chris Murphy at the InformationWeek 500 conference in Palm Springs, Calif. "Search is really the only business where we're really competing directly."

Indeed, with regard to properties like Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Maps, Yahoo Finance, and Yahoo News, Google's competing offerings aren't really competitive in terms of traffic, at least as measured by Internet metrics company Hitwise.

But despite the diversity of Yahoo's businesses, search remains of critical importance to the company--ads, after all, bring in more revenue than free e-mail. Yahoo has been working feverishly to counter the perception that Google's online ads deliver better results and to better monetize its audience in online activities other than search. "Project Panama," as the new ad platform is known, must succeed if Yahoo is to remain a search advertising leader.

"Project Panama," according to Rabbe, will deliver a much better experience for advertisers. He expects it will allow Yahoo and its advertisers to make more effective use of the vast amounts of data Yahoo gathers and maintains about its users and their browsing habits.

In an interview earlier this year, Yahoo's Chief Data Officer Usama Fayyad explained the value of collecting user data. "Our users are telling us a lot about our properties and our products through their usage," he said. "So can we capture that information to improve product. Now the minute you improve product, that impacts monetization in a big way, because if you improve a product, you get more loyalty, you get more usage."

Yet as Rabbe observed, customers have to feel comfortable that their private information is protected. As might be expected of someone with a confessed appreciation of cyberpunk author Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash, Rabbe is keenly aware of the security issues surrounding Yahoo's collection of user data. Growth, stability, and security, he said, remain his top concerns.

Rabbe spoke highly of the value of social search, as exemplified by Yahoo's Flickr photo sharing site and Yahoo Answers, even as he conceded in response to an audience question, "There's absolutely a danger that more crap will bubble up from [user-generated content]."

That said, Rabbe stressed that he's a believer in the democratization of content creation that's happening online. Perhaps more so than search, that's Yahoo's business. As Rabbe put it, "We're in the business of providing content as well as providing the vehicle for people to provide content."

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