Chuq Von Rospach is a Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management and amateur photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and landscapes. My goal is to explore the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found. You can find out more on the About Page.
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Monthly Archives: July 2012
Thatâ€™s right. Hugo Award winning editor Kristine Kathryn Rusch and I are coming back to editing with a project called Fiction River.
Fiction River will be a bimonthly anthology series starting in April next year. Each anthology will be theme-focused and cross-genre containing all original fiction written by some of the top writers in fiction, including big names and names you might have never heard of.
Each anthology will be published in an electronic edition, a trade paper edition, and a very limited and numbered and signed hardback edition. (Signed by all authors and editors.) Readers will be able to buy each anthology individually or subscribe to the anthology series like a magazine.
Cool project. Supporting this one on Kickstarter is a no-brainer.Â
When asked directly about the possibility of offering same-day delivery, Szkutak hedged a bit, saying that “we’re always trying to get closer to customers… That’s not new, it’s been something we’ve been doing for years.” However, he then freely offered that “we don’t see a way to do same-day delivery on a broad scale economically.” That’s as close to a flat-out “no” on same-day delivery as we’ve ever seen from Amazon, so we’re not going to be holding our breath for that to change anytime soon
My reaction is different. I think there’s a lot of wiggle room in that statement. Define “broad scale”.
I agree with him, it’s probably not economic to do same-day delivery in, say, Billings Montana. What if Amazon decides to take, for instance, the top ten metro areas and build a service for them? That’s not “broad scale” in that geographically, it’s only covering a small percentage of the US — but it touches a non-trivial number of potential users. Could you build a service for, say, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta — pick some big, fairly dense populations and think it through.
Anyone who remembers Webvan here in the Bay Area knows it’s possible, if you don’t mess up your logistics chain as totally as Webvan did. Consider thisâ€¦.
There have been reports on and off for about a year about a huge distribution center being built in Patterson California for some mystery company. Everyone “knew” that company was amazon, but it’s only recently that’s been admitted formally. So Amazon is going to have one million square feet of automated warehouse coming to the greater Bay Area. it’s due to open soon after the sales tax change occurs; Amazon couldn’t put a business presence inside the state borders without triggering that. Now that they’ve agreed to do it anyway, they don’t have to stick their warehouse out in Nevada.
(interesting side question: is Amazon taking advantage of ‘losing’ the sales tax war by moving distribution to Patterson? Or did Amazon strategically give up that fight so they could start implementing a business model that takes advantage of big distribution centers within the state of California? interesting questionâ€¦)
A quick look at driving times from Patterson: San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento are all almost exactly 90 minutes away. Fresno is two hours. So in theory, if you wanted to order something that lived in that warehouse, and you were willing to pay for expedited delivery, it wouldn’t be too hard for Amazon to promise same day delivery. Order by 10AM, on your porch by 6PM. What price? Good question. But where I doubt you’d pay $20 to get toothpaste delivered this evening, what about a flat screen TV?
Webvan did this a decade ago; Webvan died because they did it BADLY, not because it was a bad model. What Webvan needed was solid distribution and warehouse logistics. Guess what Amazon has?
So think about a service with significant limitations: I’d target the top 10 population markets in the country, say, and limit delivery to 90 minutes driving from the distribution center. you limit the items to a subset of inventory that is (a) in reasonably high demand, (b) in that warehouse, and [c] shippable without a lot of hassle. These same-day priority items get picked and shipped out from the main distribution center 3-4 times a day on big trucks to smaller redistribution centers. You could cover the majority of the Bay Area eligible for these deliveries with three: South San Francisco, Milpitas or Fremont, and near Sacramento (say, Elk Grove). Big trucks pile in, and incoming orders get pulled off and stuffed onto delivery vans that run out and do a round of deliveries, then circle back and grab the next load. These models are also proven, it’s a combination of what UPS does today with what Pizza Hut does. So none of this is inventing new models, it’s scale and execution.
Take it a step further: you now have buildings handling sub-regions where you are packing up for final delivery. What if you shifted some of your inventory here? What if you stocked your 5,000 most in demand (for same day) items in those regional hubs? Those hubs could take those items and have them on your porch in four hours. For the right price, of course. This is the Pizza Hut model, but for WIFI routers and hard drives instead of pepperoni.
So without a lot of innovation (instead, it’s all about capital, ability to scale and knowing how to execute logistics — all of which Amazon has), Amazon could put a key subset of product items four hours away from a lot of people, and a much larger inventory within same-say delivery capability.
they may only be able to offer it to 30% of the population (which I think excuses them from “broad scale”), but that’s still a lot of people, and a lot of revenue opportunity. And over time you expand to new metro areas and refine the model and the product mix.
Will they do this? I dunno. But it sure seems like the kind of thing Amazon CAN do, and that almost nobody but Amazon could do. And the business and logistics models it’s based on are all known and proven (including how NOT to do it like Webvan did it).
Could you build a price point that’d make this pay? I think so, but I haven’t done the math. But it seems to me there’d be enough demand that $20-25 for a small box delivery, $45 for a large box and a discount for 2nd-etc boxes in the same delivery could be made to work — and that enough people would go for it to pay for it.
And then, of course, I think to myself: what if one of the ways Amazon builds out this infrastructure is to buy UPS? If they did that, a big chunk of what they would need is already in placeâ€¦.
So when I hear Amazon saying “no, we don’t see why we’d do that”, I just think about how many times Steve Jobs said something like that. And with Amazon, like Apple, I always hear “â€¦ until we’re ready to.” at the end of those sentencesâ€¦
Fast-growing chicken chain Chick-fil-A has long been known for sticking to its conservative roots. In a 2010 interview with Ad Age, an exec said the restaurant would sell hamburgers before it would consider opening on a Sunday. But what was once seen as an almost charming quirk of a Southern restaurant is increasingly coming under fire as the franchise funnels money into political causes that are seen as retrograde by large numbers of consumers once willing to give it a pass.
Things came to a head last week when an interview that Chick-fil-A President-Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy did with the Baptist Press hit the internet. In short, Mr. Cathy, son of founder S. Truett Cathy, affirmed the company’s support of what he considers traditional marriage. “Guilty as charged,” Mr. Cathy told the magazine. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.”
Unlike a lot of people, I’m going to congratulate the Chick-fil-A company for standing up for its values here, and defend their right to do so. If that’s an important core value to the company, they should.
Don’t mistake defending their decision with supporting it. I don’t. Nor do I plan on visiting one of their establishments any time soon. But at least they took an position. How many big companies do that?
But if you want the casebook reason why so many big companies and professional athletes master the skill of “cliche 101″ and never utter anything remotely non-generic, just look at the outfall from this. Chick-fil-A is a company that’s been in expansion mode, moving into new markets, working to take the company and brand nationwide with some success. And this is the sort of hard lesson you learn when you go from “what works in my home town” to “what works everywhere”.
The reason big companies go bland is because bland is what’s palatable everywhere. It’s a difficult thing to try to speak to a nationwide or global audience and not get tripped up here. Remember back in 2003 when Apple introduced iTunes for Windows and proclaimed that Hell had Frozen over with Apple shipping windows software? No, you probably don’t, actually. But it was a big deal — and the state of Virginia threatened to cancel all of its Apple educational contracts because, well, Steve Jobs used a cuss word. Apple changed the ad campaign, and it all mellowed out again.
I use that example because there’s been some complaining by the conservative groups the we shouldn’t be picking on Chick-fil-A for their beliefs. Well, heck, why not? This is a common pressure tactic, and effective. It’s just this time it’s being aimed in the other direction.
The fact is, if you want to influence others with your position, you have my blessing. Please do. But realize that the flip side of that is that people will react to you and your position, and not all of them will be positive. And what may work in your home town or with your core group may not work so well in other regions, or in groups you’re hoping to attract to your brand.
THAT is why big companies go bland and cliche-ridden. And that’s a lesson Chick-fil-A is now learning. And they’re going to have to make a decision, do they want to hold to their values and promote them, and be willing to take the hit in lost customers or sales it might create? Or are you really interested in becoming a national brand and grow in the market?
Most companies choose growth. Honestly, there’s rarely a lot of upside to pushing your agenda. A better strategy is to shut up, take the money you make, and quietly funnel it to support the causes you believe in. That tends to be a lot less controversial; take a look at Curves as an example the Chick-fil-A management can emulate. Don’t think choosing to isolate yourself from the company management will completely protect you, though. Just ask the GoDaddy folks.
This would have likely been a quick and soon forgotten kerfluffle, if it weren’t for the Muppet toy crisis, and here’s where I think Chick-fil-A screwed up. One side effect of this was that the Muppets cancelled their relationship with the company, and that ended a promotion of a toy giveaway. Chick-fil-A announced this as a safety recall, which only gave fresh ammunition to those looking for reasons to criticize them.
For all I know, the claim is true, too. Whether it is or not is irrelevant. The perception here is that they’re covering this up, and no matter how Chick-fil-A tries, the critics will jump on them for this. And it frankly looks bad because they seem to be trying to blame the Muppets for this. If they had simply put up signs saying “because of circumstances beyond our control, we’ve had to cancel this promotion”, nobody would be posting photos of the signs to Facebook and beating them up for this.
To me, it looks like a sour grapes reaction, no matter what the truth is. And by doing it, they give their critics fresh ammunition to sustain the criticism. If they’d used a simpler response that avoided naming the Muppets, they wouldn’t have rebooted this controversy. Unfortunately, they did, and gave it a second wind. Someone in their marketing or PR group should have caught this and short-circuited those signs to something safer.
In the grand scheme of things, this is minor — assuming they don’t pour more gasoline on the fire. It’s a good time to be quiet and let things fade. It’s a good opportunity for a learning opportunity on when to keep your mouth shut, too, especially you’re a small company learning a lesson about what happens when you become a big one…
By now you have likely read the controversial article by Cathryn Sloane arguing that all social media managers should be under the age of 25. While most of the internet has strongly disagreed with this argument (especially those over the age of 25,) some older marketing experts are actually in agreement with Sloane, including Kevin Hillstrom of Seattle.
When I first read this piece by Sloane, I chuckled a little and thought to myself “here we go again”. And we did, and the article generated a bit of a kerfluffle, probably more than it deserved.
As one of those dinosaurs she’s kindly suggesting should not exist, my reaction to the article probably wasn’t what you think. In fact, what it reminded me of was me, when I was that age. Enthusiastic, full of energy, convinced of my opinions and able to see life as very white or very black, without much gray area in the middle. And frankly, more than a bit arrogant that I knew how this stuff should work better than everyone around me. Sometimes I was right, too.
The biggest problem I see in her article is the naive thought that social media and community management didn’t exist before Facebook, and therefore, people who didn’t grow up in the Facebook generation shouldn’t be doing this stuff. She kind of forgets that there are a lot of us old farts that were involved in actually building the stuff that led to the Facebook generation, or the tools that it was built on.
I’ve been involved in community management stuff going back to the 1980′s. That was long before anyone called it community management, and the kind of information sharing that became social media didn’t spring forth out of nothing, it was built on many systems and tools that were refined and improved over the years. Believe it or not, we’ve done this kind of stuff for a long time — it’s just we did it in black and white on kinescope film.
A good social media team needs both the enthusiasm of youth and the nuanced thoughtfulness of the graybeards. It’s not an either/or situation. If she had worked with me, and if she had shown me the article, I would have pointed out to her that she was setting herself up for a fairly emotional reaction that would obscure the point she was trying to make and leave her on the defensive — and then tried to work with her on how to mute those issues so the message came through without all of the heat.
And that’s my point for this piece; a good social media team needs both the exuberance and energy of youth but the perspective and thoughtfulness of experience. There is an value to the experience of “been there, done that, wore out the T-shirt”. There’s also a lot of value to the high energy of “let’s stop talking and try something”. Finding ways to mellow the raw edges of the enthusiasm with the tempering of experience gives a good team the best of both worlds.
When I was her age, I was a lot like her. Today, admittedly, I sometimes look back and who I was and wince, for tied up with the enthusiasm and skill I put into what I built, I also carried around a hunk of ego and a fair bit of arrogance to go with it, but it was easy to see what the right answer was, and nuance was for dummies. Today, the raw edges have been sanded smooth and where before there were black and white, easy decisions, I see immensely complicated, nuanced opportunities and challenges. There are times when I miss the simplicity of youth, but I have to admit I mostly prefer who I am today, and my ability to steer through the issues to a solution instead of shifting into overdrive and plowing over them to get to the next problem.
The one thing we graybeards need to remember, though, is that it’s important to keep working at it and stay relevant. Re-invent yourselves. You don’t have to be young, but you have to understand and be able to relate to them. If you don’t keep at it and keep upgrading your skills and attitude, you’ll end up one of those “get off my lawn” guys that nobody pays attention to any more. There’s no free lunch. the core truth of the “Facebook generation” gap is that this gap really does exist, and if you’re still arguing about how the good old days were better, you’ve made yourself ignorable. you have to stay up to date with your skills, and move with the world as it moves forward — and if you do, your experience and worldview from having gone through these generational changes a few times makes you more valuable to those who get it. But if you’re still riding on the skills you took from college and you’ve stopped innovating yourself, you have nobody to blame but yourself that people like Cathryn see you as expendable… Because you probably are…
And no, staying up to date isn’t easy, but if you want to stay relevant, it’s not optional.
Update: here’s another interesting take on this situation.
Canon has (finally) announced the EOS M system, it’s first mirrorless style camera body. Canon rumors has a good overview of the announcement and the product stats (for geeky goodness, try DPreview.com).
I’ve been looking at the various sites and taking in the overall reaction, which is mostly positive, although there are the usual suspects in the usual blog comment areas with the usual babble, which all boils down to variations of “haven’t touched it, haven’t used it, just read the press release (maybe), and here’s why it sucks and won’t replace my brand new [name your favorite camera]“. All great reminders why I try not to read comment sections on most of the popular blogs.
One of the stronger negative responses to the new release is from Kirk tuck at Visual Science Lab. I take this one fairly seriously, because he’s been working a lot with other forms of this camera style and is a strong supporter of this emerging form factor, so his comments can’t be easily ignored.
It is a $799 camera that’s effectively a repackaged T4i. It has a new mount, but there’s an adapter that allows existing EF and EF-S lenses to work with the body, which caught my attention as a Canon user.
My interest in the product? Unclear. But I have been thinking through a personal project with some complexity to it, one that involves a lot of field time including video and time lapsing, and this has me, god help me, thinking about adding some gear to the kit, including audio capture and a body I can use for “B roll” style environmental and behind the scenes video. One option I’ve been considering is the GoPro, which would be about $300. Another has been a T4i, which is in the $850-1000 range depending on lens options.
So this body fits somewhat in the middle between the low end option that has some interesting possibilities but is video only, or going with another full-sized, consumer-oriented DLSR body that have good video/audio capabilities.
I’ve been thinking this through this evening, and I’m leaning towards Kirk Tuck’s negative view, however. One of the first thoughts I had was “street kit!” but I don’t think the new lens for this mount (18-55) is what I want; I’d want to use it with my 24-105, and honestly, with that lens, the size advantage of the smaller body is mostly lost. Unless the 18-55 is incredibly sharp, I don’t see this body as a street kit addition to my existing kid.
There is only about a $50 difference between this body and a brand new T4i. If I’m only adding a body, it’s hard to see how this body would work better for my needs than a T4i. Just from not having to learn more new control system quirks, going with a T4i to supplement the 7d and T3i minimizes my chances of brain cramping on an image at a key time. Especially for a first generation, I think I’d want a bigger price difference for me to bring it on. If I decide to go video only, the GoPro is enough cheaper to definitely be worth it. Heck, the GoPro is almost down to “impulse buy” levels.
For me, I don’t think this camera is a good fit at this time. None of the mirrorless are, unless I choose to build a street only kit around a mirrorless body, and if I did that, it’d cost me enough for the right lens that I’ll likely stick with the DLSR and 24-105 and use the iPhone when I want maximum portability. I just haven’t seen any of the new mirrorless camera systems to make me squirm and start counting nickels. Having said that, I think this new form factor is the evolutional future of interchangeable lens cameras, and over time, the mirrored units will fade to a specialty niche. But this will take some time, and I’m in no hurry to jump in front of this parade.
I think this camera is a good camera, but I think it’s going to be most interesting to people upgrading into the interchangeable lens world from pure point and shoots. For those people, this is a nice upgrade. As a supplement to an existing Canon DLSR kit, I’m not convinced. And is it as good as or better than competing models like the sony or the fuji? I have no clue — go ask Kirk.
So I think it’ll do well, and I’m going to be watching as they expand the lens options and they grow this unit into future generations. I must admit I’m a little disappointed that the mount form factor prevents a sensor bigger than APS size, but I’m not surprised. I’m of mixed feelings whether the industry should be pushing towards lower cost full frame sensors, or whether the future is improving APS sensors until even the 5D bigots agree they’re okay. I’m guessing that down the road the market differentiator between mirrorless and DLSR will likely be sensor size, and DLSR will shift more towards the full frame (more expensive) offerings. The mirrorless platform seems to slide in nicely as a replacement to the existing Rebel-class APS sensor DLSRs — eventually.
We’ll see. It’s something I’m watching, but until I get my hands on one and see how it operates, I’m just speculating. I do know if/when I move forward on my project, the EOS M won’t be the addition to the kit. Maybe next generation, but not now. And if someone asks me for a recommendation, at least for now, my answer’s going to be the T4i, not the EOS M. At some point, we’ll see if that changes.
Yes, the letter of doom has appeared. Okay, not really. Unlike some, I understand jury duty as part of my responsibility as a citizen. I don’t exactly jump for joy when they call, but I don’t play the entitled spoiled brat game of complaining that jury duty is for all of those other people who’s time isn’t worth as much as mine. I go in when asked, I sit and answer questions when they want me to, and then I get thrown off by one lawyer or the other and I get to go home.
See, the last seven times I’ve been called in over the last 20ish years, I’ve been a preemptory dismissal by one of the lawyers. Why?
I guess I could say “ask them”, but that’d be a boring blog post. Some juries I’ve been ask to sit for I honestly haven’t wanted to be on, mostly because I (in one case, for instance) didn’t want to sit on a six week jury. But in one case, it was expected to be a three day trial, and it was for solicitation at a massage parlor. How could I NOT do my civic duty? (she claimed entrapment, by the way…)
The problem is, lawyers don’t want people who think things through too thoroughly. Simply being a geek and a software architect seems to be enough for some. And a funny thing has happened along the way. I seem to have hit a point in the system where I get bounced by a lawyer for the simple reason that I’ve been bounced by all those lawyers in my past. One question asked at all jury selections is previous jury duty action. I dutifully answer how many times I’ve been called, and how often I’ve been dumped at the preemptory stage. And I’ve actually watched two lawyers now tick my name off on their lists as soon as I say it and dump me at the first opportunity. After about four in a row, it seems to have become a self-replicating decision.
Of course, if you don’t want to be on a jury, there are ways you can answer that are completely truthful but still put the germ of an idea in a lawyer’s head to go with the housewife instead of you. One jury, for instance, I noted my professions as both computer professional and fiction writer (true, I’m published), writing both science fiction and police procedurals. Which was technically true, because I’d started one because being called for jury duty gave me an idea, and I was hoping to use the jury time as research into the story. But evidently, lawyers don’t like amateur detectives on their juries.
I used to have a hardcover first edition of Joseph Waumbaugh’s The Onion Fields that I carried to jury duty and read during breaks. On two occasions, I swear I saw lawyers do spit-takes when they checked my stuff out. Which they will quietly do, as they try to figure out how to build a jury that’ll work for their case.
My most recent jury duty? In 2008, a case about [redacted] where the accused pulled out a [redacted] and [redacted] two people. he was a member of the Nortenos, a fact he displayed most prominently on his neck with one of his many tattoos. He was, however, going to be sitting in on the trial in a turtleneck for some reason. I thought about it, decided this was not the jury I particularly cared about being on, mostly because it was going to be a 3-4 week jury. So when asked if there were things material to the case the court should know, I disclosed that I’d been a financial contributor to the California Three Strikes initiative campaign.
Best $50 I ever spent. The defense lawyer almost wet himself. We had a nice discussion about what that meant and if I understood the details of the initiative, and I was asked a couple of ways whether that would impact how I judged this trial, which I said it wouldn’t (and it wouldn’t). But as the defense lawyer assumed, someone who was behind that initiative would have specific opinions about whoever did the crime this trial was about. And he was right. And that was the idea. And I got to go home shortly thereafter.
Unfair? It was the truth. Would it have been more fair to not say anything, when I was clearly not the type of person the defense lawyer wanted on the jury? (then again, I was clearly the type of person the prosecution DID want, but the joy of jury selection is neither gets exactly what they want, and then they have to make the mix work. In many ways, I find the politics of jury selection fascinating, which if I admitted to in court, would probably get me kicked off by both lawyers in unison).
I’ve seen the men and women who play the angry bastard game and I don’t blame the lawyers a bit for getting those little balls of hostility out of their court, but man, I hate seeing them get away with playing that “how dare you interrupt my life you bastard” game and get away with it.
Whatever you do, you don’t lie. Lying is called perjury, and that’s potentially really, really bad. But that doesn’t mean you can’t promote the reality that helps the lawyer make the right decision for all involved. After all, isn’t that what both lawyers are doing in the case, too? So I feel no guilt planting little seeds in the brains of the lawyers at times to encourage them that I’m not the person they want judging their case.
If I end up on a jury? I do. It’s part of being a citizen, of paying back to this country that’s given me what I have. But if I get called in and sent home, that’s also part of doing your duty. No waumbaugh this trip, I think that joke’s a bit dated. no, a lot dated.
But just once, I’d love to have the guts to sit up in the jury box and look at the judge and see if I could say “but they wouldn’t have arrested him if he wasn’t guilty, right?” with a straight face, just to see what they and the lawyers would do. Of course, there’s some chance what they’d do is a contempt charge, but heck, there are times when I’m really, really tempted…
Here’s to jury duty. It takes a little time out of your life. That’s a small price to pay for what we have, and what so many take for granted.
I wanted to point community management folks at some discussions and resources that are coming out of this year’s OSCON. David Eaves did a keynote and a longer talk on the Science of Community management that I found just fascinating — I’d planned on doing a quick glance at it to see if I wanted to squirrel it away for a more detailed look this evening, and got sucked into it.
A big takeaway from me was his comment that these communities are viewed to be meritocracies, but really aren’t. Whether it’s Open Source (i.e. geeks with code) or other kinds of communities, expertise in the subject matter is likely what brings you into the community and begins your involvement in it, but promotion within the hierarchy of the community structure is tied much more strongly to soft skills than pure knowledge — it comes down to communication and leadership and interpersonal skill sets instead of how much you know.
Eaves also talks about a few techniques to try to mitigate some of the friction points that show up in communities, such as flagging new users so that the community can cut them some slack and help indoctrinate them into how the community operates. I’ve done that in the past with good success (I also think it can be useful to build a team of volunteers willing to act as mentors who will take new members under their wing and help them jump off the first cliff of interaction that intimidates so many people, and run some interference against the more — willful — members in the community).
Lots of fascinating stuff here, and it’s too bad his longer talk isn’t online. It’s great to see people starting to work on creating community metrics and how we can build data to help us understand the drivers within a community and help us understand how to create systems that will help us monitor the health of a community.
Definitely check out his keynote. Also check out Tim’s keynote, which is a fascinating look at what boils down to “the stuff that isn’t in the metrics tends to get ignored”, which I took as a warning to understand what your numbers aren’t saying about what you’re studyingâ€¦
And finally, Eaves recommended the bookÂ Team Geek: A Software Developer’s Guide to Working Well with Others which looks fascinating, and is now on my Kindle for this weekend’s amusementsâ€¦.
Hey, everyone else is telling Marissa Mayer how to fix Yahoo!, I thought I would, too.
First of all, congratulations for getting the job. Second, my sympathies. It’s not going to be easy. But this has taken that first big step: people are at least paying attention to Yahoo again, and seeing possibilities there. that’s better than a week ago, when I think almost all of us just expected Yahoo to continue its slide into the dusty mists of irrelevancy. It’s a small victory, but it’s a key one; people are paying attention to Yahoo again, at least for a little while.
That window will be small; don’t waste it. Get your vision out where people can see it as soon as you can, and then start showing that Yahoo is taking steps to implement it. You will likely run into parts of Yahoo that don’t want to work that hard — when Steve returned to Apple, he ran into organizations that had the “we do things our way, we outlasted the last two CEOs, we’ll just ignore you until you’re replaced, too”. He solved it the old-fashioned way: he had some public executions and put a few key heads up on pikes outside of Infinite Loop 1, and then watched as the rats scurried off the ship. The ones that didn’t scurry fast enough he took care of himself. Don’t be afraid to do the same at Yahoo; in fact, I’d strongly recommend finding one or two very visible, long-entrenched people and make sure the world knows they’ve decided to spend more time with their families (I can offer names privately if you want suggestionsâ€¦)
I realize I’m down to two sets of things that use Yahoo — my mom’s stocks are on Yahoo finance, and I still use Yahoo groups for some email groups I manage. That’s a long, slow decline from when I left Apple and fully planned on hiring myself off to Yahoo. Came close twice (closest was with the Igor group), and over time, rattled that cage a couple of other times, but never found a match both sides could agree on. In retrospect, I have to thank Yahoo for not hiring me, because I’m frankly glad I’ve missed the last few years of fun there. Funny how life works out some days.
If I were in her shoes (which I’m glad I’m not, high heels make my calves cramp), here’s what I’d do with Yahoo.
I view Yahoo as three major pieces: content, product, and technology. Content are those sites that produce information for Yahoo users, such as Finance, Weather, Sports and Movies. Products are sites that offer services that attract users: Yahoo Groups, Flickr and the fantasy sports sites are some significant examples. Technology Â is broken down into two subsets: user visible (external facing) technology suites like YUI and Pipes, and internal technologies that are used to drive the rest of Yahoo (like the advertising engines).
I would split the company into these three parts, each reporting to a GM. Each major component reports up to the GM. Content and Product both become P&L’s, and each major piece needs to be examined. If it’s determined it can’t be made profitable again, sell it, give it away, or shut it down. If it can, build a plan to make it “best of breed” for its segment, fund the plan, and get going. Some of the more profitable sites will probably surprise you (and the geeks); I’m betting omg does better than most folks think. Actually, I’m guessing most geeks don’t know omg exists.
Technology has a GM, but serves two masters. Some technologies are externally facing and are used both by Yahoo and outsiders, like YUI and Yahoo Pipes. Yahoo Pipes desperately needs some TLC. These technologies can be useful tools for outreach and recruiting, if you engage and evangelize the users. All of Yahoo’s externally facing properties have gotten rather quiet and reclusive in the last few years. Time to make some noise. Internally, I’d examine all of the technology systems you use to actually run the business and ask a few key questions, like “are we supporting duplicated technology stacks that need to be merged?” and “is this a proprietary solution where we can adopt something open source and contribute back to it and it’s community instead?” and “is this something we should open up and build a community around rather than keep private?” — from what I’ve seen, you’re not going to be happy when you start digging into the infrastructure inside Yahoo’s data centers. An interesting question to ask might be “what is the average CPU utilization in each data center?” followed by “Why the @#$@#$@ are so many of the CPUs spending so damn much time idle?” (hey, has Yahoo ever figured out real virtualization? Just asking). I could be wrong, but I think there are a lot of efficiencies to be found by some intelligent cleanup of the things Yahoo uses to build and deliver stuff to users. Or so I hear.
I think Yahoo’s opportunity is make itself a place people want to be again. There are a lot of core pieces. Facebook owns where people share their lives with each other, but a dent can be put in that by creating a place where people create their own little reality. There are chunks of pieces in place: the content pieces. They need to be glued into pages where a person can define themselves and what they are, and a page where they can see the stuff they’re interested in easily.
To start solving that problem, I’d suggest buying Rebelmouse and Prismatic. Rebelmouse has done a really nice job of aggregating in a view of what a person is and what they say and Prismatic is all about figuring out what a person is interested in and showing it to them (see mine here). Rebelmouse is 90% of that personal profile/portal that Yahoo has tried to build a half dozen times and failed at (remember Yahoo 360?). Prismatic is what Google Reader should have been long ago, except Google got bored and stopped trying to improve it. These two pieces can be a key to centering a Yahoo comeback, I think, by creating a place for users to organize what they present to their friends and the world, and a place where they organize what their friends and the world present to them, with no programming and a little coaching. And some careful integration with Yahoo content sites like Movies and Weather and Sports. Which is where the ads are. Which is what drives revenue. Hmm.
Before you touch EITHER of those companies, though, call up the founders of Delicious and ask them to explain what happened from their point of view. Don’t hear the Yahoo side, listen to the founder side. Because if you don’t fix the “everything stops for a year while you port your system to whatever systems Filo is in love with this year so we can move you to our data centers” problem, it won’t matter.
Flickr is your well-loved, neglected crown jewel that everyone is rallying around to convince you to save. It’s a bit sad that part of the reason it’s so well-loved is that unlike so many other technologies and companies that Yahoo bought (and screwed up) over the years (like Delicious), it’s still doing as well as it is partly because Yahoo was committed to keeping hands off and leaving it alone. That’s changed in the last year or two, and it shows, not for the better. But Flickr is a highly visible property with a lot of goodwill and karma in the community. Some public commitment to love and caring of Flickr will go a long way towards building both interest and momentum. As you work to figure out how to make Yahoo a place people want to visit and be again, rallying those plans around Flickr seems like a smart way of starting.
Another two properties I’d focus on: Yahoo groups and Fantasy sports. Fantasy sports is a huge draw and the yahoo fantasy sports engines are some of the better ones. It can drive a lot of traffic (and page views) onto the sports pages, and gives sports geeks a reason to come to the site. Don’t’ underestimate it’s ability to draw in the male audience and drive them places to generate pageviews.
Yahoo Groups? It’s main competitor is Google Groups, which is even more stagnant and ignored than Yahoo Groups is. Both of them are pretty outdated and smell of mildew and neglect. The google site is where tech geeks go to use email to share stuff, where yahoo is where consumers go to use email to share stuff. (every time someone tries to tell you email is dead or dying, go see just how much communication still goes on via this dead and boring technology). I have to be blunt: this is an area dead ready for disruption; I know someone (who has the chops to pull it off) that believes it can be done, and is working in that direction, and I’ve spent a little time looking at some of her plans and giving them feedback, and mailing lists have a lot of life and innovation in them still (or more correctly, group communication systems. Not JUST email any more). These are still ways people use to tie groups of people together — and those ties draw those people onto the site. Yahoo groups isn’t just a mailing list system, it’s a water cooler that draws people around it to chat. Do it right, and it’s a recruiting tool to bring people into Yahoo as users. and Yahoo users drive page views through the content areas, which drives revenue.
Soâ€¦ the plan?
Rebelmouse, as the place users put their stuff to share to others.
Yahoo’s content sections, which is where that stuff originates. And drives ads onto that stuff, which drives revenue. This is your users new newspaper
Prismatic, as the place users go to see stuff shared to them. This is your users new, personalized newspaper front page.
Yahoo Groups becomes the social hub users use to cooperatively share information among each other. It’s not just a mail list system any more (right?)
Flickr for pictures and video, and there’s already a solid social sharing hub here (bring it up to snuff, use it as a model for everything else where you want social sharing)
Fantasy sports which draws in the sports geek crowd, and drives a lot of page views off into the sports ares.
Yahoo mail is positioned to replace gmail and hotmail as the place these users get their email.
There are lots of interesting pieces around Yahoo that don’t need LOTS of work, but need coordination and integration, and a social hub that helps people share those pieces with each other and drive them to be the default sources of that information for users. And — how coincidental — if that happens, it takes a chunk out of Facebook, but even more amusingly, takes big chunks out of various Google properties. I’m sure that’s of no interest to a former Googler, though. (seriously, though, I think a well done integration of Rebelmouse with Yahoo Mail, Yahoo groups, the content pages and an upgraded flickr can put a stake through the heart of Google+ and kill it stone cold dead, and Google won’t be able to stop it).
Lots of work to do to make this happen, but for the first time — I see someone who might make the changes needed to make Yahoo relevant again. And has the technical background to know how to make it happen. (I was, if folks remember, a fan of Carol Bartz going to Yahoo; the Yahoo I saw her building was a lot different than this one I see today, but she was either unwilling or not allowed to put those heads on the pikes, and so Yahoo played the “I outlasted the last few CEOs” game with her, and outlasted her. Don’t make that mistake again, Marissa).
But I think if nothing else, the thing to remember was this: two weeks ago, I was planning my exit from the few Yahoo properties I still used in any way, because I figured it was only a matter of time until everything faded to black. Now, Yahoo’s brought in someone that gives it some time to prove it can fix itself. Apple was the same way once, and look at it today. that doesn’t guarantee a comeback. but at least now some of us see a glimmer of hope. Time is short before that hope fades again. Time to get to workâ€¦.