No Joy at Yahoo!

Laggard, thy name is Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) .

Months after replacing Terry Semel as CEO and reshuffling the decks in its advertising department, the former search king is reportedly considering laying off hundreds of employees.

But in what department? And for what purpose? Your guess is as good as anyone's -- which, frankly, is the problem. Not even management seems to know what's next. It's a dot-com dice game at its worst.

Witness this non-denial denial, which a spokesperson provided to The New York Times over the weekend:

Yahoo! plans to invest in some areas, reduce emphasis in others, and eliminate some areas of the business that don't support the company's priorities. Yahoo continues to attract and hire talent against the company's key initiatives to create long-term stockholder value.

Interesting. Perhaps you'll next tell me the sky is blue and that pizza is tasty.

Here's my point: There's really no way to tell where Yahoo! should invest its dollars. Search seems to be a lost cause. Yes, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) gave back 1.4% of its market share in December, according to recent Nielsen data. But nearly all of DoubleGoo's loss went to Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) , which saw its share of the search market rise by 1.3%. Yahoo!, meanwhile, took a 0.2% hit.

No surprises there. Yahoo! has seen plenty of failed experiments. Yahoo! Podcasts went off the air in September. Auctions bid adieu in May. Photos packed up to make room for Flickr in July.

Though Web tracker Alexa says that Yahoo!'s core sites, collectively, remain the Web's most popular destination, add-ons such as del.icio.ous (401st) and Flickr (38th) rank well behind peers MySpace (6th) and Facebook (7th).

Wait, it gets worse. Of the top 10 global sites ranked by Alexa, five are owned by Google and Microsoft, and a sixth -- Facebook -- is partially owned by Mr. Softy. News Corp. (NYSE: NWS  ) has MySpace. Wikipedia (9th) is private. So is Hi5 (8th).

How can anyone think of Yahoo! as the Trump of the digital world with numbers like that? Yet backers of the company assert that Yahoo!'s properties set it apart.

Maybe the spokesperson has it right after all. Layoffs aren't the issue; strategy is. Here's to hoping that, in the midst of a few hundred poor souls losing their jobs, Yahoo! finds one that works.

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