Rise and Shine, Yahoo!

This morning's debut of Shine seems to suggest that Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) is expanding its focus from emails to females. The struggling portal's attempt at launching a sex-specific site -- this one targeting women between 25 and 54 -- appears solid, with an appealing wave of initial content.

Whether it's turning Maxim on its ear by putting out a list of this year's 100 "unsexiest" men or profiling 30 Rock's Tina Fey in a piece pitting her Liz Lemon character as the new Mary Richards, Shine is serving up the kind of viral gold that you know people will email to each other over the next few days.

I wish the venture well, but there are still two major hurdles to clear, and neither one has anything to do with a glass ceiling.

Not quite the master of its domains
The first roadblock is that -- once again -- Yahoo! is launching a site as a subdomain. If someone at the office tips you off about this great article on Shine, what's your initial instinct? Go to shine.com, right? Big mistake. That's actually a career-seeking website that India's HT Media is preparing to launch. So if Yahoo!'s Shine is successful, it may actually benefit a rival to its own HotJobs.com website.

This isn't something new for Yahoo! Last month's launch of Buzz, at buzz.yahoo.com, made the same mistake -- AT&T (NYSE: T  ) owns Buzz.com. The same thing happened late last year, when the company launched the Mash social-networking site at -- you guessed it -- mash.yahoo.com. Can you imagine how unsuccessful MySpace would have been if it were launched at myspace.newscorp.com?

Yahoo! may want everyone to rally around the Yahoo! domain, but that's a weak idea from a branding perspective. Even CNET Networks (Nasdaq: CNET  ) knows that a launch is incomplete if it doesn't own the actual dot-com. That perspective has helped it with sites such as MP3.com, TV.com, Chow.com, and Webware.com. OK, so CNET's Crave is a subdomain at crave.cnet.com, but at least CNET's heart is usually in the right place.

Yahoo! isn't a cash-poor company. It has $2 billion in its coffers, more than enough to claim its territory with domain purchases. It's either inconsiderate or conceited to assume that its hires want subdomains on their business cards or that viewers want to peck out more keystrokes than they have to.

Late to the party, once again
Like walking into a crowded gym during an afternoon workout session, the other major hurdle for Yahoo! is that it's trying to make its mark in a niche that is already well-served in cyberspace.

With Glam.com, General Electric's (NYSE: GE  ) iVillage, Martha Stewart Living (NYSE: MSO  ) , and a litany of magazine-specific websites already rolling, it will be hard for Shine to shine. Even The Knot (Nasdaq: KNOT  ) , a site that primarily targets brides-to-be, has reached deeper into the matrimonial cycle by launching sites for newlywed wives and expectant mothers.

Earning the spotlight
None of this guarantees that Shine will falter. Despite the online advertising slump, Yahoo! still draws a crowd and can funnel audiences to Shine's door. And that's the key to Shine's success, since serving a prized decision-making demographics group is bound to open plenty of doors in the company's display-advertising stronghold.

And I'm not just saying that to avoid being pegged as the 101st "unsexiest" man in the country. Despite its tactical shortcomings, at least Shine shows that Yahoo! is still willing to take chances. It's not just sitting around and waiting for a sweetened Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) buyout bid that's unlikely to come before next month's telltale quarter.

Like an independent woman, Yahoo! is out to strike its own riches and make its own luck. For a company that often gets blasted for its dim outlook, it's great to see this company Shine for a change, even if won't shine.com.


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