I've been on this bent for a few years now. Others too, but I think it's worth keeping top of mind as more sites are created and grow.
The One Thing Principle: a method of product development, especially for online or digital businesses, that focuses strictly on one single service that satisfies a perceived market need. The entire domain must be dedicated to offering this single service. All resources must be dedicated to offering this single service. No distractions, no wavering, no feature creep.
Nearly every successful web product has one thing in common. They are all known primarily for one thing. They do one thing very well, they meet user's needs for that one thing, and they become a viable and popular destination because of this focus. That thing is always the first thing that comes to mind when a person thinks of the brand or site. (enough with using "thing" already.) What can you hang your hat on?
The One Thing:
- Google = Search
- Ebay = Auctions
- Flickr = Photo Sharing
- PriceGrabber = Comparison Shopping
- MySpace = Friends (started as music)
- del.ico.us = Bookmarks
- Digg = News
- Amazon = Online Shopping
- Ask = Search
- Blogger = Blogging
- Wikipedia = Encyclopedia
- YouTube = Videos
I can go on, of course. You get the idea. Obviously most of these sites do more than one thing, but they all started out with a single focus, executed on that focus, and became the successes that they are because of that focus. Staying focused on a single concept, no matter what, is key to building a successful online venture.
What about Yahoo? Yahoo! started out with this in mind. It's mission was to become the gateway or directory for everything on the web that mattered. For quite some time, this is all that Yahoo! was about. And it exploded. But soon they began to want to keep the traffic that they were giving away and become the destination for other services under the Yahoo brand; and the portal was born. Email, news, finance, shopping, etc. You can't blame them. It made perfect sense. Attract people by being the guide, but then keep them by offering a Yahoo version of the service or site that the person was seeking. Many of these services were great successes, but then it started getting out of hand... Yahoo! Pets, Yahoo! Living, etc. Focus was lost and that loss of focus spread throughout the organization. This is why many verticals under the Yahoo! brand seem bloated. They do not adhere to the "one thing" principle. Each and every one of them become their own unfocused vertical Yahoo!'s. It's in the culture.
Now I think they recognize this and some recent products reflect this. Yahoo! Answers is a great example. It does one simple thing very very well. But they have to be careful. Flickr, Upcoming, del.icio.us, mybloglog, bix, and their other new and focused properties need to make sure that they keep perfecting that one thing. Yes they can add features as they grow, but single a vision and focus were why they were successful and thus acquired.
I've said in the past that I think it makes sense for Yahoo! to consider spinning off properties or very focused versions of their properties like shopping, autos, travel, local, health, tech, games, music, etc. Allow them to find their own identity and community using Yahoo! resources as support. We'll see. I would make the same suggestion to other portals as well.
I try to work by this principle. It's been a challenge. Without going into it too much, I hope that very soon you'll see that by applying the one thing principle to the product I'm working on, it will blossom. I've never been hesitant to stick my neck out.