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Yahoo Web/Merchant Hosting: Use a PC or go away

Here’s another reason why on demand, internet-centric service offerings have to adhere to web standards vs. what any single company is driving.

For the last five years or so, my bride has hosted her small business web site and online store at a company called Bigstep. We loved these guys since their system (written in Java) was fast, worked well, and was browser and platform agnostic (we could use our PC’s, Mac’s or Linux boxes to manage every aspect of the site). Most importantly all of the functionality of the site, catalog and online store was manageable through a web browser. No special software required.

After burning through something like $30M in venture capital during the dot com days and not becoming profitable, they were purchased two years ago by the fourth largest hosting company, Affinity Internet, Inc. I was delighted by this purchase since new investment and changes were sorely needed and I was certain they’d make them.

Nada. Zilch. Nothing material occurred (as far as I could tell) except a few brush strokes (i.e., screen graphics).

So I’ve been on the hunt for a replacement for Bigstep. We want to perform digital fulfillment of ebooks, have more storage space, email that isn’t outsourced and works (unlike Bigstep’s outsourcing of email to Critical Path) so I finally signed up for Web Hosting Services from Yahoo! Small Business even though they don’t do digital fulfillment. It sure looked as though they’d provide the power and features required to move to the next level and we could figure out that digital fulfillment angle later.

What was my experience like and why am I cancelling the service two days after signing up?

If you’re using a Windows box, you’re all set. Yahoo has several choices for site building (a Windows-centric Site Builder software with templates, a Java-centric page building interface, and more). The kicker? I was stunned to discover each one requires a Windows PC and that not even their Java-centric page building interface functions on the Mac! What’s up with THAT? Microsoft’s JVM hasn’t exactly been supported by them though will be supposedly going forward. Java on Microsoft simply doesn’t function well compared to the JVM’s on unix boxes…and Yahoo won’t even support Java on flavors of *nix?

The other thing that surprised me was how incredibly non-intuitive using their online tools and merchant setup was. Isn’t this supposed to be geared for small business?   While I could personally use HTML tools to re-build my wife’s site (like Adobe GoLive or Macromedia Dreamweaver to create the site in total, upload it via FTP and then give my wife’s staffers Macromedia Contribute for easy editing of content), that defeats the purpose and misses the point: her people ought to be fully functional themselves on whatever machine they’re on and Yahoo’s online offering should be 100% browser useful and support open web standards. Period.

A few other thoughts about this situation:

+ Yahoo is Microsoft-centric. Doesn’t seem very strategic since they’re out to crush both Yahoo and Google as the search hub of the internet universe. Perhaps embracing Open Source software and web standards would be a prudent idea?  (Note: Google is remarkably PC-centric too)

+ I spent four years with Vignette (leading content management and portal vendor) so I fully understand how brain-dead-simple it is to be cross-platform and fully browser agnostic while offering world-class, enterprise strength web and ecommerce capabilities

+ With respect to the non-intuitive aspect of all this, there was a dizzying array of choices, screens and areas of Yahoo web hosting and Yahoo Merchant that were amazingly not easy to use. This is stuff I understand and can manage…but with repeated requests to login over and over again to get to different areas, different user interfaces, colors and fonts, it was a mess.

I know, I know…why not just use one of the PC’s at home or her office? There is no question that we could. There are tons of workarounds. But again, that’s not the point. As choices abound and platform proliferation continues, companies like Yahoo must provide offerings that are not dependent upon any given platform.

If Yahoo spent a fraction of the time on the back-end user experience like they do on their front-end consumer experience, they’d be in-the-game. Glad I don’t own their stock.

About Steve Borsch

I'm CEO of Marketing Directions, Inc., a trend forecasting, consulting and publishing firm in Minnesota. Prior to that I was Vice President, Strategic Alliances at Lawson Software in St. Paul where I was responsible for all partnerships at this major vendor of enterprise resource planning software products and services. Read more about me here unless you're already weary of me telling you how incredible and awesome I am.

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