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Was having an interesting conversation this morning with Om and Hunter about the recent firing of Richard Williamson from Apple over the Maps debacle. Hunter posed a question that, in hindsight, seems like such an obvious one to ask:
How does that make rest of co feel? Enforces â€˜only ship qualityâ€™ or makes people risk averse?
It depends greatly on why he was fired. We don’t know for sure, since we aren’t there, but was he fired because the maps software was seriously flawed?
Or was he fired because he lied to his bosses about the quality of the maps software, or misled them about the status?
I’m willing to bet, from my time working at Mama Fruit and dealing with Eddy and his teams, that the latter has a big part to do with this firing.Â
If you think about the reality of shipping something like IOS and the Maps software, it’s tightly integrated with the entire OS, so it’s not the sort of thing you can simply decide to not ship and stick the Google Maps back in. This isn’t the podcasts app, it’s a key, low-level part of the operating system. So if you think of this beast from a view of project management, the “go/no-go” on including maps was a year or so ago (or further), and after that, the train has left the station. If you don’t ship the maps stuff, it means you don’t ship IOS6. And if you don’t ship IOS6, it means you aren’t shipping iPhone 5. (the whole “why they had no choice but to ship Maps as they were” would be its own blog postâ€¦)
And that’s really bad.Â
So you’re shipping. After that, it becomes a question of how you manage the situation. Do you keep everyone aware of the problems and work with all of the involved teams (marketing, etc) to set the right expectations? Or do you tell everyone it’s going to be great, craft a demo that avoids the problems and makes it all look perfect, and hope to god you get the bugs wrangled before anyone finds them?
One of the mis-steps of the IOS6 announcement to me in light of how Maps turned out in reality was the disconnect between how Apple sold it to us, and how it really worked day 1. That mistake was completely avoidable. Apple could have positioned the Maps software in a very different but positive way, acknlowedged the flaws and that they needed the users to help them identify and fix things — turn this into almost a game, give away store coupons for being the first to find problems. And said up front that there were going to be hiccups, but that in the long-term, this switch made the birthing pains worth it and everyone would benefit in time.Â
The situation could have been completely defused. Instead, they way oversold Maps as awesome, and set themselves up for the face plant.Â
Why? I kept going back to my view that if Apple management knew they were going to have to ship a buggy maps app, they wouldn’t have bugled how wonderful it was. But what if the real problems were hidden from them? What if the maps team hid the real problems? Crafted great demos and told everyone things were fine?
Then the rest of the teams wouldn’t know they were stepping on a landmine until it went off.Â
And if you’re responsible for managing that fiasco up to your management and to the other teams relying on you?Â
Well, you deserve your walking papers.Â
Not saying that’s what happened here, but — it sure seems like a reasonable scenario based on my time there. And it sure seems a lot more rational than Apple knowing the Maps stuff was going to suck Day 1 and still selling the hell out of it at the announcement. I keep thinking that if Tim Cook knew the tool was going to be iffy on initial ship, he would have handled the announcement differently.Â
So perhaps he didn’t know. And perhaps now, some heads are going on up pikes. Not for the software being bad, but for hiding it from the bosses…
And to tie that back to the original question, if he was fired for misleading the company about the quality of Maps, then frankly, most of Apple is probably cheering this (probably quietly). That’d be a good thing and a strong message to be sent through the company.
Sometimes, software doesn’t come together as fast or as well as you hope (I know, most of you are going “duh!” right now). That’s something that we all understand, and we can deal with in some way or another. Like, oh, not making it the focal point of the announcement keynote.Â
But lying about it or hiding the problems so those you work with get sideswiped?
If there’s one thing bosses and co-workers hate, it’s unpleasant surprises.Â
On Twitter — James Duncan Davidson:
While Twitter has done a lot of things of late that may be disappointing or annoying or even infuriating—such as pulling the rug out of the 3rd party ecosystem that helped them get off the ground in the first place—most of those things haven’t been surprising. The writing was on the wall for a long time that Twitter would implement a business model based on eyeballs and while those of us that had been users from the beginning hoped that they’d find a different way, it’s not surprising that they chose to go down this path.
Remember kids, if you’re not paying for it, you’re probably the product.
Given that, remaking the native apps to be more inline with their website presentation and however they are going to shove ads into our attention span isn’t surprising. Putting limits and restrictions on how third-party clients can present timelines? Not surprising. Going so far to put limits on the number of third-party clients out there? Not surprising at all.
I am Twitter’s worst enemy, unless perhaps Twitter proves itself to be its own worst enemy. That wouldn’t surprise me a bit.
I’m Twitter’s product. To date, I’ve been mostly satisfied with most of Twitter, such that it’s the social media channel is the place I spend more of my time than any other service (#2 is Facebook; #3 is G+, 4 is Stack Exchange, and 5 is linkedin). I’m not a “draw” on Twitter. I’m not a trend setter. I don’t pretend to be, or particularly want to be one. I’m a user. And I’m exactly what Twitter is trying to monetize. And I don’t mind being monetized — within reason.
Twitter seems to have forgotten a key fact, though. I’m not there for Twitter, per se. I’m there because all of you other people are there, and I’m hanging out with you. Twitter is just the place I hang out at. The same is true of Facebook, but the crew at Facebook a different crew — Twitter is my geek hangout, Facebook is where my family, friends and etc hang out.
If the people I hang out with at Twitter go elsewhere, there’s zero reason for me to be on Twitter. And Twitter’s recently been on a “hey, thanks for building this into a huge network of people, we don’t need you any more” thing with many of the people who are the reasons I’m on Twitter. Twitter probably doesn’t need to care, but maybe they’re going to regret this some day.
The way I look at it, the geeks came, they created stuff around Twitter. That brought in people attracted by the geeks, and that grew a network big enough to get noticed. It because a trendy place to be, then it because an expected place to be. Along the way, that attracted the brands and celebrities, and those attracted the mainstream. Just like Facebook. Now, Twitter’s made it clear it cares about the brands and celebrities and the mainstream, and the geeks and founders and builders? They can stay, or they can go; it’s not that Twitter’s trying to get rid of them, merely that Twitter no longer cares what they do.
But what I keep thinking about is this: if that group does leave Twitter and go some other place, what’s left is — well, it’s going to be more or less indistinguishable from Facebook. And if Twitter turns itself into another form of Facebook — which is pretty clearly what it’s trying to do — do all of those people in the mainstream still need both?
While I see Twitter successfully trying to turn themselves into something that looks very like Facebook, what I don’t see if Twitter doing anything to answer the question “why am I on both Facebook and Twitter anyway?”, especially if Facebook tweaks things in a way that makes it easy for Twitter traffic to move on over. You don’t want to be the N+1 service in someone’s life with no special attraction to make you worth their time. Just ask Digg. or Slashdot.
The question Twitter doesn’t seem to be considering is this: as it continues the “Facebookification” of itself, what about Twitter makes it a place people like me will want to be involved in? And if everything on Twitter I care about is also on Facebook, or on Google+, or on (name whatever service you like), why do I need to put time into both places?
And what I’m not seeing out of Twitter is any answer to that question. They’re so busy trying to become Facebook they don’t seem to have considered how to stay different from Facebook that people are willing to spend time both places. If they don’t figure that out, at some point increasing numbers of people will start making choices to only be on one service again, and if Twitter goes up against Facebook to be “that place you spend time”, Twitter’s likely to lose.
Me? I’ll still be on Twitter — to the degree it’s interesting to me. And that’s tied directly to who’s on it. And that’s something Twitter doesn’t seem to be managing well, and doesn’t seem to care about. And it’s at risk of not figuring that out until it’s too late.
HP’s Smartphone Announcement ‘Soul Crushing,’ Says Matthew McNulty:
But Matthew McNulty, the former senior director of the HP Enyo team, Enyo being the successor to webOS, said he would be surprised if HP used webOS for its new smartphone since many engineers have left the company, including McNulty who departed HP for Google in May.
However, if he still worked at HP, McNulty said the announcement from Whitman would have been devastating.
Matt’s right, and I think he speaks fairly for most webOS/Palm people, current and former.
But I think we need to be careful about trashing Meg here.
We have to remember that Palm (the company) was a bit of a cluster — and the first phone shipped when it had to, not when it was ready to ship. And Palm was running out of money. And then HP stepped in and turned Palm into a much better funded cluster, and HP really did try to help Palm be successful. Except HP then got sidetracked into its own series of clusters, whether it was Mark Hurd (who along with Shane Robison were the primary supporters behind buying and funding Palm) being forced out over his choice of dinner companions, or HP hiring Leo (WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? OMG, WHO THOUGHT THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA?) and Leo trying to blow up any part of HP he didn’t understand, which was big parts of the company.
So when Meg was brought in, her primary function was as a field surgeon, trying to keep the patient alive long enough to get to the hospital. Massive damage was done to HP and to webOS, and most of the webOS damage was almost of the “innocent bystander at a drive by shooting” type as a side effect of Leo’s attack on the PC division.
Meg could have just written webOS off and shut it all down as a damaged investment not worth fixing. Given how many much bigger and strategic problems she had at HP when they brought her in, nobody would have blinked at that. But she brought in Marc Andreesen to help her figure out what to do, and they committed even more funding to give it a third life as an open source technology. Whatever you think about Leo, HP and how badly they screwed up things with webOS and Palm, it needs to be remembered that at least a couple of toes were shot off by Palm itself with it’s own gun before Leo pulled out the Uzi.
And in all honesty, Meg has done a rather amazing job of giving WebOS another chance, and has been honest about it. She could have used the “there are just too many bigger problems I need to deal with” excuse and shut it down cold. She could have put it on life support, or funded it just enough to let it fail and then said “I tried”. She could have just stuck it in a closet and quietly killed it a few months later when things quieted down. But she put an honest effort and honest levels of funding into giving it a shot, and she deserves full credit for that.
And to the credit of the folks sticking it out with webOS (unlike myself, who ran like a rat off the ship when I had a chance to without any regrets…) they seem to be doing what they need to do, and I’ve been really impressed with the results so far. So maybe, just maybe, what Meg set in place will succeed. I’m sure rooting for it. And she deserves credit for that. Given how badly Leo screwed everything up, I’m frankly amazed how much progress she’s made at HP so far. Still a long, hard path for the company as a whole before it’s fixed, if it ever is, but IMHO, it’s in good hands.
No huge essay on the outcome of the Apple/Samsung trial, but a few bullet points I thought I’d write down for your amusement…
- Apple spent 5 years and a lot of resources inventing the original iPhone. It’s hard to think back to what life was in mobile phones at the time, but it was, more or less, a device like a Samsung Blackjack. Which was a decent and boring phone.
- Samsung spent literally weeks grabbing pieces of Apple’s design and technology and stuffing it into their phones. The people attacking Apple and saying this decision stifles innovation don’t understand what ‘innovation’ means.
- For the record, I think the current patent system is broken. But until everyone comes up with a consensus of how to fix it and get that consensus implemented, those are the rules.
- There’s a segment of the geek population that has a strong opinion of “if we don’t like the rules, we’ll complain and ignore them”. If you think the rules are broken, fight to get them changed and fixed. Don’t just whine. Many companies, from Napster to now Samsung, have ignored the rules and ended up paying for it the hard way.
- My views of the patent system being broken, I believe Apple deserves some protection from what Samsung did. If you make it legal and acceptable for a company to grab innovative ideas that quickly and that easily, where is the incentive to keep innovating?
- Which parts of what Apple did deserve protection and for how long, I don’t pretend to know where the lines get drawn. I do hope this decision catalyzes that discussion and pushes patent reform forward. (I’m not holding my breath. I also believe we need trademark and copyright reform. I’m not holding my breath there, either — but the continuing of extension of copyright and loss of material falling into the public domain is another aspect of this same big problem).
- Samsung’s best attack on appeal is through prior art, which I think the jury mostly ignored. And I do believe on appeal some (but not all) of this judgement will be set back. And should.
My bottom line: Apple deserved to win this case, but I’d like to see the win ultimately narrowed and tied to some key intellectual property innovations. Samsung deserved to lose, and their lawyers need to have a long, loud talk with company executives loosely titled “what the hell were you thinking saying those things in writing, anyway?” They were so blantant at how they ripped off Apple that it’s hard to have any sympathy for them, even given my belief the current patent system is pretty damn broken.
It is somewhat disturbing at times when the bandwagon takes of and speeds up, without people being critical. People stand up for situations that may never have happened, and spin on it which ultimately results in that it will be trated as facts, or a faktoid.
We wanted to test this, how easy is it to spread disinformation?
Apple is the world’s largest company, so they can take a few knocks. The community around Apple is often very active, especially before an upcoming Keynote where it is expected that the company will introduce new products. In September is one, and everyone expects the iPhone 5 to be announced. Rumors are flowing about the phone, its appearance, its features, its materials and so on. We found this was a fitting goal for our test.
One afternoon we sketched out a screw in our 3D program, a very strange screw where the head was neither a star, tracks, pentalobe or whatever, but a unique form, also very impractical. We rendered the image, put it in an email, sent it to ourselves, took a picture of the screen with the mail and anonymously uploaded the image to the forum Reddit with the text ”A friend took a photo a while ago at that fruit company, they are obviously even creating their own screws ”.
Then we waited …
Nice hack. I admit I looked at the screw, decided it was probably a plant, and sat back to watch the show. I wasn’t disappointed. (why did I think it was a plant? The screwhead seemed both too complex and at the same time easily circumventable. It’d take the folks who build the tools for the self-fixers almost no time to work around the hack, but the screw itself would be both expensive to manufacture and not reliable in the real world. IMHO)
Not the first time this has happened. Won’t be the last. a lot of the sites who depend on page views to drive ad revenue frankly do not care if it’s accurate or not; they just like having stuff out there they can stuff ads on. Their fan base breaks down into two groups: the folks who don’t take this crap very seriously, and the folks who take it all way too seriously. Either way, accuracy isn’t high on the list of values people demand of the sites. A few of the sites are actually pretty good, but many are simply in it for the page views and don’t care.
Back when I was with Mama Fruit, they took the rumor sites a lot more seriously than they do now. I think Apple’s come to terms with the reality that this stuff is to some degree or another going to leak, and trying to suppress it only spreads it further, so for the most part I think they try to ignore most of it and not encourage people to pay attention, which is a strategy I always suggested back in the day. Takedown notices merely focussed attention on rumors and gave them free publicity.
I also used to suggest that a way to counteract the rumor sites was through an active disinformation campaign; hit the rumor sites where it could potentially hurt with the audience you’re trying to convince to stop paying attention to them by giving the rumor sites information proven to be wrong enough that their audience writes them off. A campaigned of designed but incorrect rumors laid down on the rumor sites could create enough havoc that even the rumor sites wouldn’t know which leaks and leakers to pay attention to. At the very least, you could make their lives a bit of hell for a while and sit back and enjoy watching them twitch…
No, I never got Apple to take that idea seriously. There have been times in the last few years where I’ve wondered if they finally picked up on this idea (I still wonder about the “Apple is building their own TVs” rumor setup, since it’s a perfect thing to catch people’s attention and get them arguing over while Apple goes off and does something completely different — and notice how the rumors in this space have now shifted away from the TV back to set top boxes and content? Hmm.)
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but what the heck. Once I tweaked a couple of web pages I managed. Nothing major, just a couple of “inadvertent” links to pages that didn’t exist that were commented out. Very ambiguous stuff, just to see what happened. And like these folks, then I sat back and watched the show.
See, even then I knew there were rumor sites scraping as much of Apple as they could looking for changed pages and mistakes like this. It didn’t take long, and it hit some of the rumor sites. We got told to fix the pages, the links got pulled, and things settled down again, although every so often for a few months after that, some site or another would speculate on what those links were for. (hint: they were for making you wonder what they were for!).
And yeah, I got yelled at for doing it…. But it was more than worth it, just to watch people hyperventilate over it. Sometimes, it’s worth a kick in the pants to see the show….
(and I can still say that I know the truth about mammals.org, and you don’t… neener. And no, don’t bother asking…).
I want to be busy. Not “I’ve got a bunch of stuff to do” busy, but “The weight of the important work I need to do is literally crushing me” busy. This state is not for everyone and while I’m extremely appreciative of the fact you’re reading this site, if you’re at work and you’re reading the site at 10:35 am then I question your busy.
I used to be like that. Then this happened. There were a number of reasons for it, but the issue that put me over the edge and off the cliff was the reality that when you burn the candle from both ends, and then blowtorch the middle because you need to squeeze a bit more out of your schedule, eventually you run out of candle.
It’s nice to say you don’t feel busy unless your work is crushing you. I’d suggest, though, stepping back and asking yourself whether that’s the way you want your life to be ten years from now, and if not, how you plan on on transitioning away from those work habits. Once you set those expectations with your bosses, customers and co-workers, it can be tough to change them later.
Then stop and ask yourself what you’ll do if something wanders in and forces you to make those changes in a timeframe not under your control.
More and more studies are showing that this geek “work harder” mentality is wrong-thinking, that your effectiveness goes down, that the quality of your work suffers. I’ve learned — the hard way — that slowing down a bit, taking some breaks while you think things through, getting away from a problem while you consider options.
I’ve you’ve so loaded your work schedule that you’re too busy to slow and and think through your problem, or you think you’re too busy to step back and take a break? Then I question your busy, too, because now I have to wonder how you’ll handle your deadlines when you see that cliff looming in your path, or worse, not notice it until you run off it.
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€¦
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€¦.