It's 2013, and David Karp, David Pogue, and Katie Couric are now coworkers. Think about that. They're not sharing a stage at some boring conference or wacky variety show: they're part of the same baffling mission, and emblematic of just how confused and irrelevant Yahoo! has made itself.
Or more properly, how confused Marissa Mayer has made Yahoo! on her behalf. Since her tenure as CEO and Vogue fodder began, she's made it impossible to say what it actually is Yahoo! does.
In August, after being photographed lying upside-down in a lawn chair, Vogue tried to explain New Yahoo:
Mayer's bet is that Yahoo will thrive amid this transition by going back to its roots as the "daily habits" company, providing the best tools for what people do digitally every day.
Vague remains in vogue for Mayer: in September, she told an audience that a personalized version of Yahoo.com exemplified the company's future:
We're working on a news stream with one of the most sophisticated personalization algorithms I've seen. We're really a personalization company. We want to give them more reason to come back on the site.
Then, just last month, she told an interviewer "I think that the company's commitment to mobile is probably the biggest one." That could make sense, given all the pissant mobile startups she's nabbed.
What we're left with is something vaguely technological in nature—perhaps even using the internet, and phones, which Yahoo! has concluded are very big right now. It'll all be personalized, somehow, I guess. What's unclear is how today's news of Katie Couric joining Yahoo! dovetails at all with the above:
Today, I am incredibly excited to announce that Katie Couric is joining Yahoo as our Global Anchor. Starting in early 2014, Katie will lead a growing team of correspondents at Yahoo News who will cover the world's most interesting stories and newsmakers.
As Global Anchor, Katie joins Megan Liberman, David Pogue, Matt Bai and our incredibly talented editorial team in pioneering a new chapter of digital journalism. At Yahoo, we are investing in bringing our users the absolute best content and video experiences available — and this is just the beginning!
The beginning of what, exactly? I doubt Mayer knows. Part of Mayer's strategy at the helm seems to be making so such a grand panoply of incoherent decisions, that at the very least, we stop reflexively questioning any of them. Tumblr, wow! Summly, sure. Rockmelt, hoo-boy, alright. Katie Couric, OK, why not—she's talented, charming, famous, and many other nice things. But... why Yahoo?
The larger question of whether Yahoo! is a media company or a tech company is stale at this point—stale because it's been bandied around so much by now, all the more stale because there's no clear answer. The company wants to be taken seriously going in both directions, despite excelling at neither, and with every indication it's a perilous path (Hello, AOL). What we do know is that Couric is surely commanding a serious salary from Yahoo! (she used to bring it $15 million a year at CBS) while the company doesn't have any confident revenue streams from a thing that isn't Alibaba. It's hard to imagine Yahoo's reinvention hinging on the magnetic presence of Couric, whose existence is a great fit for television, but less for, what—short internet videos? The woman who was once the mascot for morning talk cheer could reprise her iconic status as the biggest, baddest conceit of a lost company.