Salim Ismail, incoming head of Yahoo's new incubator, is a perfectly charming staple of Manhattan internet parties and, since he moved to the West Coast, the South of Market tech scene. But here's the brutal truth: the last person the Sunnyvale internet company needs is another press-friendly conference-going schmoozer; and the last institution it needs is a silo for innovation.
The internet company needs a product nazi, with real power, someone on the model of Steve Jobs, Larry Page or Mark Zuckerberg. Instead, the company brings in a largely-retired Hollywood exec as chief exec; grooms a bean-counter as his successor; Terry Semel's favorite hires some ornamental web 2.0 stars; and now brings in Ismail.
Let's put aside Ismail's own track record, though the collapse of Pubsub, his last venture, should give pause. The very creation of Brickhouse, Yahoo's inhouse incubator, is ridiculous: it's the last resort of a company unable to innovate at its core. Ask yourself this: would Google ever set up a separate department for product innovation?
Sunnyvale is still wrestling with the integration of existing products such as Yahoo Photos and Flickr. Nobody knows quite whom — early adopters, the mass market? — the portal is serving. The last thing the company needs is more confusion.