Skip

What Happened at Yahoo
August 12, 2010 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Paul Graham weighs in on what happened at Yahoo. TLDR: too much money and adult supervision.
posted by swift (89 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's interesting.

A couple of days ago I happened to see the most recent Yahoo! ad on TV and I thought, wow, even Yahoo! doesn't know what Yahoo! does any more.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:09 AM on August 12, 2010


The only reason I go within a ten-mile radius of Yahoo's fiefdom is thanks to their purchases of my most loved sites, delicious and flickr. I'm freaked out at the very good chance that they'll run those into the ground with their adult supervision.
posted by mullingitover at 10:11 AM on August 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


They've always tried really hard to convince everyone that Yahoo! = internet, except anyone who explores the internet for more than 5 minutes figures out how silly this is.
posted by hermitosis at 10:11 AM on August 12, 2010


I remember that yahoo still thought of itself as a media company when I worked there (2003-2005). Even while I was working on their search engine (so they could stop paying google for results), they still were not committed to being an out-and-out tech focused company. The only tech thing they did that impressed me while I was there was to use their high quality search engine spell checker in another (and only one other) property. Email, I think, although I'm not sure anymore. They pretty much only ever played catch up. Yahoo maps sucked until google maps; yahoo email sucked until gmail; etc. They relied on their number of users, fact that users are loath to change their ways (ie switch to google), and that people would pay for stuff (email I guess?).

On the other hand, their stock was going up throughout that period, and it was a decently fun place to work.
posted by Phredward at 10:12 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


The only thing I like about Yahoo is their signs.
posted by rouftop at 10:14 AM on August 12, 2010


Yahoo was my search engine of choice from the moment I finally got online until the moment I tried Google for the first time (maybe two years later). I doubt I've been consciously back since. In my case at least, they got their asses hand to them by a superior service.
posted by philip-random at 10:16 AM on August 12, 2010


Oh, yeah, Yahoo!. That's the place with all the community groups for weird porn, right?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:17 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


What I got out of this article is that Yahoo failed because they couldn't predict the future. Seems kinda thin.
posted by spicynuts at 10:17 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


What really happened was that Google built a Web-spidering engine that made Yahoo's directory (which was pretty much the core of the company) pretty much useless nearly overnight.

Ever since, they've been portaling with varying degrees of success, but portals are portals and Web search rules. They missed search, and have been playing catch up ever since.

The "media company" part is a pretty good insight, though.

A couple of days ago I happened to see the most recent Yahoo! ad on TV and I thought, wow, even Yahoo! doesn't know what Yahoo! does any more.

I used to work for @Home, which bought Excite. Yahoo ads now remind me of Excite ads in 1998, i.e. delusional.

On the other hand, Yahoo's fantasy sports services are probably the best online, at least for free.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:19 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


What I got out of this article is that Yahoo failed because they couldn't predict the future. Seems kinda thin.

I think the thesis (if there is one) is that Yahoo failed to embrace the technological nature of the Internet industry, preferring to manage the company like an "old media" property, and in doing so, missed out on the programming talent and business opportunities that "new media" companies (like Google) wallowed in.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:22 AM on August 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Man, I remember back in 2000 or 2001 when you had to pay $200 to get a guaranteed listing in their business directory (which was kind of a big thing until dmoz.org eclipsed them doing the same thing). Now that I think about it I can't remember the last time I've used such a directory, as I seem to use creative Google keywords to find everything... I don't know whether that makes me lazy or smart.
posted by crapmatic at 10:22 AM on August 12, 2010


spicynuts:

Really? That's what you got out of it? That's true of the Microsoft part, perhaps, but not the rest.

As I read it, Yahoo failed because they were disdainful of their tech roots and wanted to be a grownup "media company;" they neglected the quality of their programmers and, through them, their code; and they relied on the easy money of the tech bubble instead of sharpening their long-term methods.
posted by argybarg at 10:22 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


too much money and adult supervision.

Are you talking about Yahoo, or Paul Graham?
posted by delmoi at 10:25 AM on August 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


If it weren't for Yahoo!'s Fantastic Free Fantasy Sports offerings, noted by mrgrimm above, I wouldn't Yahoo! ever.
posted by notyou at 10:25 AM on August 12, 2010


I don't know whether that makes me lazy or smart.

The two aren't generally mutually exclusive -- see "Work smarter, not harder."
posted by notyou at 10:27 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I found the article to be pretty thin - it needs to be expanded to about 5000 words to make any sense. Kind of funny how the writer slams every "programmer" that has ever worked at Yahoo as being mediocre, but Facebook's team is "hacker-centric" and superior.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:27 AM on August 12, 2010


I started using Yahoo when it was a http://akebono.stanford.edu/yahoo. I used my.yahoo.com as my homepage well after iGoogle came along and finally abandoned it when the ads took up too much time and cycles. I do agree that Yahoo didn't know what it wanted to be when it grew up and now is this hot mess we see today.

I love Flickr and so far Yahoo hasn't fucked that up. The only other time I'm on a Yahoo site is when someone links to a news story they're serving.
posted by birdherder at 10:28 AM on August 12, 2010


By the way, this article reminds me of how ironic the current Apple-Google wars are. My very first impression of Google was not really how impressive the search results were but, by God, they got the crap off their front page. And they've been stubborn enough to keep the front page dead simple: No stock ticker, no celebrity headlines, no ads. And Apple has been similarly stubborn; their design usually consists of relentless simplification.

It was Yahoo that went full-field with its vomitous overdesign, which is spiritual kin to Microsoft's ribbons of hundreds of icons — for a word processor! There just seemed to be no priority on editing, and it was all becoming unusable. So Yahoo and Microsoft both deserve a clouting from their superiors.
posted by argybarg at 10:29 AM on August 12, 2010 [21 favorites]


Yahoo's failure wasn't due to their inability to anticipate or predict the future. It was because they simply didn't care, and took far too long to adapt, once it came around. The companies that survived the bubble never lost sight of what they were good at, but also maintained a vision and explored new product ideas and models. Graham seems to think that Yahoo failed to do either by its insistence upon being a "media company," rather than forging its own path.

Amazon gets it. Google gets it. AOL and Yahoo should have been put out of their misery years ago.
posted by schmod at 10:35 AM on August 12, 2010


Yahoo != internet
posted by ennui.bz at 10:36 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's hard for anyone much younger than me to understand the fear Microsoft still inspired in 1995. Imagine a company with several times the power Google has now, but way meaner.
Heh.

But most of the article is about why things went bad for Yahoo during the dot-com collapse. But that was ten years ago. What went with yahoo in the interim?

Also, the TLDR seems way wrong.
The company felt prematurely old. Most technology companies eventually get taken over by suits and middle managers. At Yahoo it felt as if they'd deliberately accelerated this process. They didn't want to be a bunch of hackers. They wanted to be suits. A media company should be run by suits.
...
The first time I visited Google, they had about 500 people, the same number Yahoo had when I went to work there. But boy did things seem different... I remember coming away from Google thinking "Wow, it's still a startup."
In other words, Graham thinks the problem with the company was too much adult supervision. Someone let 'adults' (i.e. suits) run the company instead of 'kids' (programmers)

It seems like the jist of the article is that yahoo failed because they didn't see themselves as a software company, and so their software sucked.
posted by delmoi at 10:39 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The companies that survived the bubble never lost sight of what they were good at, but also maintained a vision and explored new product ideas and models.

Uh, yahoo survived the dot-com crash. By 2005 they'd recovered 50% of their pre-crash revenue. The basic problem is that yahoo survived. They're a 19 billion dollar company today. The only question is what happened to them between '06 (when they started to decline in value) and the collapse in 2008, when every company got killed.

Whatever happened to them pre dot-com crash isn't really relevant to what caused them to stop growing.
posted by delmoi at 10:42 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, talk about bending the facts to fit your hypothesis. I feel like I know this guy- the grumpy old veteran neckbeard in the corner that everyone is afraid to even ask anything, because he'll sneer at you. No one even knows if he's actually a good programmer at all, they just assume so because of his attitude.

At Yahoo, user-facing software was controlled by product managers and designers. The job of programmers was just to take the work of the product managers and designers the final step, by translating it into code.
Huh? That's *exactly* the job of programmers. If you want to make management decisions, move in to management.

But the most ridiculous part is where he praises Facebook for being awesome technically. I stayed on Myspace for about three years after everyone else, because Facebook was so abysmal technically that I literally couldn't create a photo album during all that time. These days they've risen to the level of "usable mediocrity." But people use Facebook because of what it does, not because of their technical competence, even if they had any.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:42 AM on August 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


delmoi, I think the "too much" in the TLDR applies to both the money and the adult supervision.

TLDR: too much money and adult supervision.

works like

NOT TASTY: too much ketchup and mustard on my hot dog

in this case.
posted by Shepherd at 10:43 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]



Really? That's what you got out of it? That's true of the Microsoft part, perhaps, but not the rest.


Yup...from this part quoted below. Essentially that says that their customers wanted banner ads and even Google hadn't predicted the switch to search driven revenue. This basically is just another way of saying they couldn't predict the future. If their customers were asking for search based ads and Yahoo was blowing them off, yes. But they were merely servicing their customers. (Emphasis below is mine)

"I didn't say "But search traffic is worth more than other traffic!" I said "Oh, ok." Because I didn't realize either how much search traffic was worth. I'm not sure even Larry and Sergey did then. If they had, Google presumably wouldn't have expended any effort on enterprise search.

If circumstances had been different, the people running Yahoo might have realized sooner how important search was. But they had the most opaque obstacle in the world between them and the truth: money. As long as customers were writing big checks for banner ads, it was hard to take search seriously. Google didn't have that to distract them.
"
posted by spicynuts at 10:52 AM on August 12, 2010


I liked browsing in the Yahoo! directory. They've now placed it so far out of the way that clearly they prefer I not use it. So I don't.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:54 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


But people use Facebook because of what it does, not because of their technical competence, even if they had any.

Which is exactly what most mediocre programmers don't get. The really really good programmers are the ones that are technical geniuses but also understand that their end users are not. There are very few like this, which is why we need product managers and designers.
posted by spicynuts at 10:56 AM on August 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yahoo started with an idea, which at the time was sound: We'll provide a directory of web sites. The web was small enough and search engines poor enough that this made sense. Alta Vista was probably the first decent search engine and largely made the Yahoo Directory useless. Google was much better than Alta Vista and was the cement around Yahoo's feet.

Yahoo wasted it's talent trying to figure out how to make money without fixing it's core problems. At around the time Google happened Yahoo started adding more and more invasive advertising techniques. JAVA ads that took over the browser or had things zooming in. Contrast this to Google who had a clean interface and a few well marked text ads. Google might've been the cement shoes but Yahoo provided it's own lake to be drowned in.

Yahoo has done some innovative things but the memory of how horrible Yahoo was stops me from taking them seriously. They've mostly managed to avoid tainting flickr and delicious, maybe they just haven't got around to it yet.
posted by substrate at 10:57 AM on August 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


drjimmy11, Facebook is built on all sorts of crazy tech.

I remember reading this presentation about their IM client. They use Erlang for that. It serves up 800 million messages a day.

My mom can use Facebook without my help. That's a tech feat in and of itself.
posted by chunking express at 11:00 AM on August 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Just to confirm: the TLDR is of the ketchup/mustard variety.
posted by swift at 11:01 AM on August 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also, Paul Graham's essays are always a bit light, and definitely show his own bias. This one was definitely less obnoxious than most. I enjoyed it, mostly because it reminded me of places I work.
posted by chunking express at 11:02 AM on August 12, 2010


Yeah, I don't know about this. I like Graham's writing, but I'm gonna have to say I don't know if he really has the right to play judge over Yahoo's decline. Because I don't think Viaweb/Yahoo Stores helped much.

I worked for iCentral/ShopSite back when Yahoo was figuring out who to buy. ShopSite was on the list in early 1998. Viaweb won out. Based on some of Graham's Lisp pieces and some product evaluations in early 1997, I assumed that the reason Yahoo picked them was that their product was just that much better.

Then I used Yahoo Stores sometime in 2004.

I'm not sure if Yahoo did something bad to it, or if it wasn't that good to begin with, and I suppose I should consider the possibility I'm biased by the kind of systems I've been involved in building. Or maybe all the Lisp-y goodness was hidden under the hood. But my impression was "ShopSite lost out to this?" instead of "what a nice piece of software."

Now instead of thinking about how much more awesome Lisp is than C & Perl, I think about Graham's article about they spent Viaweb's entire marketing budget on PR. During which time iCentral had I think one intern working on PR.

Maybe Yahoo! had a PR problem. How did you first hear about Google?

Maybe they also passed on good technology too. If Graham's tale is true and Yang wasn't paying any attention to a concept like RevenueLoop, it doesn't speak well to his judgment. But if the implementation was destined to end up like Yahoo Stores, then I'd bet Google would have rolled over them just as surely.

Of anything in the article, I think this is the key insight:

I didn't say "But search traffic is worth more than other traffic!" I said "Oh, ok." Because I didn't realize either how much search traffic was worth. I'm not sure even Larry and Sergey did then.

And good search is worth more than search traffic. Google's success is largely dependent on that. They made great search, and they made money of either the knowledge or accident that search is the best time to advertise to people -- hit 'em when they're actually looking for what you're selling, and your advertising is 10x if not 100x more effective.

Other than that, Google isn't doing things that different than Yahoo. They build services on the web that people want to use. They sell advertising for it. But they built better services which were better contexts for advertising. And won.
posted by weston at 11:04 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


AOL and Yahoo should have been put out of their misery years ago.

Holy shit - AOL is still around? Seriously? I thought they died fifteen years ago. And I WORK in the information industry.
posted by saucysault at 11:06 AM on August 12, 2010


The really really good programmers are the ones that are technical geniuses but also understand that their end users are not. There are very few like this, which is why we need product managers and designers.

Really, really good programmers are really, really good programmers. UI design is a different thing. Ignoring the importance of putting time and effort into UI design, such that it ends up being whatever a programmer can come up with (in a timeline that was already tight before all of the inevitable change requests) is a function of bad management, not bad programming.

We're not as hopelessly out of touch with humanity as the stereotype goes.

That's *exactly* the job of programmers. If you want to make management decisions, move in to management.

And if you want to run a technology company really badly, be sure to make those decisions without technical people in the room.
posted by Zed at 11:07 AM on August 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Yahoo wasted it's talent trying to figure out how to make money without fixing it's core problems.

This is pretty much the ordinary case in business in my experience. A company needs to be very near death before it will actually look at its blind spots; which are nearly always organizational, and nearly always associated with the comfort zones of people who never should have been given as much power as they have.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:07 AM on August 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


I use Yahoo! a lot more than I'd like to. I teach an Email class and, against my wishes, we use Yahoo! for it. The email client is a hot mess. Tabs, buttons, add-ons, sign-out in tiny letters up top, confusing interface, and ads that take up what seems like 30% of the screen. It's like the email client is trying to be five things at once, and not doing a good job at any of them.

But Yahoo! seems to be the thing that most of our patrons use, regardless of the class. Are there any numbers on how the web-mail market is divided up among AOL, Gmail, and Yahoo! ?
posted by codacorolla at 11:10 AM on August 12, 2010


I have enjoyed segments of Yahoo! for some time. Their directory was fantastic, while it lasted. However, since about 2000, every time they were faced with a decision, the company has consistently made the wrong choice.

Take Yahoo! Chat. Do we want a client with smileys where people can send HTML in and, briefly, Javascript, or do we want something that doesn't crash? SMILEY! And so legions of chat "booters" began. Someone in chat could like pre-teens, what do we do? CLOSE USER-CHOSEN CHAT ROOMS! Legions of pornbots are flooding the chat rooms, what do we do? Sure, we have records of what IP created what account back to 1999, but we need a crappy CAPTCHA implementation, instead! You should read the hilariously bad blog of the Yahoo Messenger team, proudly displaying their widgets while user comments (rapidly sanitized) scream about the ongoing problems with the service.

They know how to take money for things, as evidenced by their personals sections, but instead of getting people to pay a nominal fee for chat (vaporizing spammers and botnets in the process), they continue to offer shiny objects.

Then the vast mismanagement of user groups and discussion boards occurred on a separate track, even as they started messing with people's profiles as a way to chase first MySpace, then Facebook.

Combined with their frantic levels of partnering, they come off as desperate to date someone who will finally get their life together for them.
posted by adipocere at 11:11 AM on August 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yah who?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:17 AM on August 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


I agree with the idea that Yahoo's main problem was not being clairvoyant. I was an intensive AltaVista user before Google, and I remember, when I first saw Google (very early) two impressions:

a) Wow! their search algorithm is really good (not being able to use Boolean search statements sucks, though); and
b) How the fuck are these guys going to make any money? (remember, AltaVista wasn't even a sideshow for DEC, rather a hobby).

I had no idea that Google's business model was, basically, world domination...
posted by Skeptic at 11:22 AM on August 12, 2010


The only thing Yahoo qua Yahoo is good at is news. They do general news better than Google and most everybody else.

Huh, maybe they really are a media company.
posted by NortonDC at 11:28 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I liked browsing in the Yahoo! directory. They've now placed it so far out of the way that clearly they prefer I not use it. So I don't.

Yahoo! still has their directory? Really?

I'll keep that in mind the next time I need to find the complete set of Ate My Balls pages or some Warcraft II mods.
posted by Copronymus at 11:28 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yahoo really does care about quality programmers in certain regions of the company, such as the YUI team, where technical excellence is so great it simply can't be explained in any other way. The quality of the teams is heterogeneous due to the recruitment and onboarding processes, which are different for more-or-less every 20-40 person group; in a 10,000+ plus company, you could see how this could result in major variations in technical skill.

For those worrying about delicious and flickr, although their initial product leadership may have changed, don't worry, the original engineering teams are still there are working in very tightly-knit cultures to maintain and improve their products.
posted by doteatop at 11:32 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


What I got out of this article is that Yahoo failed because they didn't listen to Paul Graham. Seems kinda thin.
posted by mygoditsbob at 11:33 AM on August 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


This may or may not be right about Yahoo, but there's a nasty undertone of extrapolating from a single datapoint to fit PG's assumptions about the industry (hackers good, everyone else marginally useful, SF-style messing about the only way) as if they were founded on something concrete.

So perhaps Yahoo did become irrelevant ("die" is nonsense, unless you recast the word to mean irrelevant) by allowing designers to control software, but by the same token that has worked beautifully for Apple. In fact Apple provides a lot of counterfactuals to some of the broader brush-strokes here -- it certainly returned from technical mediocrity, too.

Of his two main points, though, this especially:
So which companies need to have a hacker-centric culture? Which companies are "in the software business" in this respect? As Yahoo discovered, the area covered by this rule is bigger than most people realize. The answer is: any company that needs to have good software
is utter, utter nonsense. Nasa has some of the best software in existence, and its buttoned-down 9-to-5 world couldn't be further from the "hacker-centric culture" he talks about. I'm pretty sure Nasa wouldn't even get YC funding. (Interesting article on Nasa's software.)

Google, too, for all it is painted here as the wiiner is pretty hacker-centric, but has made misstep after misstep with its software. Not necessarily technically, but certainly in terms of the overall "is it any good?". Perhaps Google's problem is that it hasn't hired enough hackers to be janitors or work in HR. Maybe it will die.
posted by bonaldi at 11:34 AM on August 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Paul Graham is very wrong when he writes: "In the software business, you can't afford not to have a hacker-centric culture."

You need a user-centric culture. It doesn't matter how l33t your programmers are, if they make something that people don't want, aren't willing to pay for, or can't use.
posted by jasonhong at 11:37 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The only thing Yahoo qua Yahoo is good at is news.

I used to like Yahoo News too, but its gone really downmarket in the last few years. Last year I saw far too many cases when they put a red 'breaking news' banner across the top of the news section and it was just some link to some PR entertainment crap. Switched to BBC news instead.
posted by memebake at 11:43 AM on August 12, 2010


I use Yahoo! a lot more than I'd like to. I teach an Email class and, against my wishes, we use Yahoo! for it. The email client is a hot mess. Tabs, buttons, add-ons, sign-out in tiny letters up top, confusing interface, and ads that take up what seems like 30% of the screen. It's like the email client is trying to be five things at once, and not doing a good job at any of them.

I was going to point out that Yahoo was using the Zimbra email web-client, but in doing some fact checking (journalism! From an engineer!) I found that Yahoo has sold Zimbra to VMware.

And yes, the new Yahoo mail is a mess compared to the old Zimbra one.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:46 AM on August 12, 2010


Yahoo was my search engine of choice from the moment I finally got online until the moment I tried Google for the first time (maybe two years later).

Ladies and gentlemen, the last time these words will ever be spoken:

Yahoo! isn't (wasn't) a search engine. It is (was) a directory.

And so ends the Third Age of the Internet.
posted by JHarris at 11:50 AM on August 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


I liked browsing in the Yahoo! directory. They've now placed it so far out of the way that clearly they prefer I not use it. So I don't.

Yeah, me too (though I don't find dir.yahoo.com too difficult to remember - also typing "yahoo directory" into firefox works just fine).

Are there any good alternative Web directories? Let's say I wanted a list of all the newspaper sites from Minnesota, for example.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:54 AM on August 12, 2010


Thanks for the link! I have a collection of similar links, where programmers make self-serving claims that the problems of the world exist because they don't have enough power.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:54 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I use Yahoo for my web hosting because I like the layout of their toolbox pages better. I also am turned off by GoDaddy for some reason. Seems a little skeevy to me. Especially those Danica Patrick ads.

But yeah, the Yahoo mail? What a nuisance! I just try to check my e-mail and I get these stupid chatspam messages and I can't seem to disable the chat window.

The worst thing is that you have to pay extra if you want to be able to receive your messages on your own e-mail application, like Outlook (i.e. by providing the incoming and outgoing server names).
posted by bitteroldman at 11:55 AM on August 12, 2010


(Interesting article on Nasa's software.)

Hot damn, that's FPP-worthy right there.
posted by JHarris at 11:56 AM on August 12, 2010


JHarris: "Hot damn, that's FPP-worthy right there."

It's also 15 years old. I know I've read it before.
posted by pwnguin at 12:15 PM on August 12, 2010


Are there any numbers on how the web-mail market is divided up among AOL, Gmail, and Yahoo! ?

Yahoo dominates, Windows Live Mail is 2nd, GMail is third. Recent stats.

Funny how it can seem like everyone is on GMail now.
posted by smackfu at 12:19 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


You need a user-centric culture. It doesn't matter how l33t your programmers are, if they make something that people don't want, aren't willing to pay for, or can't use.

Yes, this! Traditional media companies like the ones Yahoo tried to emulate are remarkably non-user centric. Commercials that interrupt your favorite tv show, obnoxious and out of place branding in movies, those stupid pieces of paper that fall out of magazines - media companies suck, but they provide content so we live with them. Yahoo doesn't have content.
posted by meowzilla at 12:20 PM on August 12, 2010


Part of my job requires me to ask customers for their email address. They seem to use Yahoo email more than all other email providers put together, to the extent I wind up telling Googlemail people "Way to go!"
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:24 PM on August 12, 2010


Yahoo dominates, Windows Live Mail is 2nd, GMail is third.

and

Part of my job requires me to ask customers for their email address. They seem to use Yahoo email more than all other email providers put together, to the extent I wind up telling Googlemail people "Way to go!"

Bear in mind that I (for instance) have four orders of e-mail:

realname@personalURL.com - for friends, family, and stuff I really, really want;
name@gmail.com - for medium grade things like valuable mailing lists, interesting forums, but not "personal" connections;
name@hotmail.com - high-volume confirmations that I don't need to check unless a problem occurs -- Amazon, eBay, Paypal;
name@yahoo.com - the dungeon, for annoying bullshit where I have to confirm something for a one-time signup, am sure that it's going to get resold to a thousand different MANDRUGS 4 YUU spammers.

So a high prevalence of Yahoo! addresses when addresses are required for something may just indicate where Yahoo! exists in the order of signal-to-noise addresses for people that have multiple mail accounts.
posted by Shepherd at 12:45 PM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


jasonhong wrote:

Paul Graham is very wrong when he writes: "In the software business, you can't afford not to have a hacker-centric culture."

You need a user-centric culture. It doesn't matter how l33t your programmers are, if they make something that people don't want, aren't willing to pay for, or can't use.


QFT. Unless hackers are your user demographic, you absolutely positively 100% need someone else, probably someone in the product management team, to layout and design the user experience, based on actually going out and interviewing regular, non-hacker-type, people who are your demographic.

This is what makes me so mad about user interfaces that force the user to make choices about things about which they know nothing; the excuse given is usually "but we don't know what the user might want to do!". This is an admission of guilt, not a design prerogative. If you don't know what your primary user personas might want to do - then get the hell out there and ask them!

I think bonaldi has it right, too. Apple's products are generally gloriously easy (and even fun) to use not because they have super-smart and talented hacker programmers (although they surely do) but precisely because those folks are not forced to make user experience design decisions that fall outside of their core competency.
posted by kcds at 12:48 PM on August 12, 2010


Its weird that he throws out Microsoft as the 500 lb gorilla. I thought Microsoft primarily competed in the software space back then. Of course it crushed Netscape -- Netscape was competing on browser software.

AOL was the big fish in the internet "portals" space back then. Yahoo always struck me as a half-assed and/or slightly more progessive AOL. It makes sense to think you were competeing as a media company when AOL is holding itself out as a Time/Warner and Comcast competitor.
posted by rtimmel at 1:06 PM on August 12, 2010


So a high prevalence of Yahoo! addresses when addresses are required for something may just indicate where Yahoo! exists in the order of signal-to-noise addresses for people that have multiple mail accounts.

How I wish that were true. The ones that look and act the most computer literate give me Google or Hotmail.

What is even more horrible is there are still a few aol email accounts out there. *shudder*


(They give us email so we can send them delivery confirmations. )
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:08 PM on August 12, 2010


If you don't know what your primary user personas might want to do - then get the hell out there and ask them!

Focus groups will get you exactly to the middle of the pack. Vision and ruthlessness and continuous refinement will get you to where Apple and few other places are, but only if your whole team - developers, designers, PMs, are empowered and expected to fully participate in this process.

If your vision of software development is that the managers come up with a grand idea over beers and then submit it to the techs to just code it up, well, your culture will stick so putridly that any programmer that won't drag you down further won't so much as send you a resume.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:11 PM on August 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


*sigh* ^stink.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:17 PM on August 12, 2010


At one point Yahoo! was buying their search from Google. And I thought to myself - with their money....buying from Google will cost 'em that market.

And one day, I went to use Yahoo! search and got a popup ad. As I had a choice to get the same thing from Google and NOT have popup ads - I stopped using Yahoo! services.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:21 PM on August 12, 2010


For those worrying about delicious and flickr, although their initial product leadership may have changed, don't worry, the original engineering teams are still there are working in very tightly-knit cultures to maintain and improve their products.

Who of the original Flickr engineers is still there?
posted by oneirodynia at 1:30 PM on August 12, 2010


I'll say what I said on reddit: I'm surprised it wasn't "Yahoo didn't convert everything over to LISP!"
posted by symbioid at 1:32 PM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


name@yahoo.com - the dungeon, for annoying bullshit where I have to confirm something for a one-time signup, am sure that it's going to get resold to a thousand different MANDRUGS 4 YUU spammers

What happened to dodgit? (xmarks directory link)

I swear it was working until a few days ago.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:34 PM on August 12, 2010


Who of the original Flickr engineers is still there?

Exactly. I'm pretty sure at this point they fired everyone. Oates was the last one I thought was still there, and she was fired in 2008. It turns out they got rid of a bunch more people in 2009. Cal Henderson, who I think was one of the big tech brains behind the site works at Glitch now. (Which was started by Flickr alum.)
posted by chunking express at 1:47 PM on August 12, 2010


What happened to dodgit?

spamgourmet is still going strong...
posted by Zed at 1:49 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


They do general news better than Google and most everybody else.

YMMseriouslyV. This is their top story at the moment; quite often, the banner headline will be something like "Ten ways to make sure that you don't die alone", and halfway down the news section it'll be "Russia in flames" or something. I used to like their directory, too, way back in the day, but lately all that I've really been interested in of theirs is their movie directory, for local listings, and there's probably something out there that's much better that I just haven't found because I'm too lazy. (I'm not counting things like Delicious and Flickr that they bought.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:14 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is odd to me, is that Yahoo! is so dev friendly, but Google gets all the credit.

For example, take a look at the differences between what you can get from the Yahoo! search API (anything) and the Google search API (up to 64 results, limited data)

APIs into all of their services, Pipes, YUI, YQL, plus the add-ons like yslow, and the platform dev kits.

There is a technology/software company in there somewhere - they just need better marketing. Maybe they can hire a media company for that.
posted by mincus at 2:14 PM on August 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


And recently, Flickr rolled out a very nice upgrade, that had been long overdue.
posted by smackfu at 2:30 PM on August 12, 2010


> It's like the email client is trying to be five things at once, and not doing a good job at any of them.

Hey, it works fine as a spamcatcher address. Does everything I could possibly want.

> For those worrying about delicious and flickr, although their initial product leadership may
> have changed, don't worry, the original engineering teams are still there are working in very
> tightly-knit cultures to maintain and improve their products.

Well, maybe. The switch from del.icio.us (cheesy-cutesy as it was) to delicious.com was a move in the run-by-suits direction. My link goes to the former and when/if it stops working I'll probably just delete it.
posted by jfuller at 2:45 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


spamgourmet is still going strong...

Hey, that's cool. Thanks!
posted by mrgrimm at 2:52 PM on August 12, 2010


adipocere: "Since about 2000, every time they were faced with a decision, the company has consistently made the wrong choice ... the vast mismanagement of user groups and discussion boards occurred on a separate track, even as they started messing with people's profiles as a way to chase first MySpace, then Facebook."

I agree with this. Back in the mid- to late-90s, Yahoo could have owned what has became "social networking" or the personalised net. It had the reach, it had created or bought most of the elements (usernames, IM, email, profiles, photos, dating, directories, incentive point schemes, games, streaming media, online notes, webpages) but it went on to systematically throw it all away. It's really quite impressive. I think the neglect and mis-direction from the top down must have been impressive and pervasive.

I recall one of my first revelations about the "cloud" came when Yahoo decided to just erase a 5-year profile I had. Without warning, all the associated bookmarks, email, pages, notes, data, photos, points, etc just vanished. No export allowed, and no way to get any human in Yahoo to reactive it or to respond with anything other than email canned responses. I even called in to the corporate HQ where I met a very bemused PR person who was quite confused about why any of this stuff was important, but in the end *still* couldn't do anything about it. In response to a written (!) letter, a person from the office of one of the Yahoo board members telephoned me and expected to be able to do something. A week later, they called to back to say they couldn't. That was Yahoo in a nutshell - full of people who couldn't quite believe the company could be that dysfunctional, but then found it it was.

With its early cash pile and properties, Yahoo had a chance to become a diversified General Electric of the web (you know, what Google wishes it could be) but instead missed by a mile. It's basically a much larger version of the Friendster mismanagement story.
posted by meehawl at 3:32 PM on August 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Then I used Yahoo Stores sometime in 2004.

I'm not sure if Yahoo did something bad to it, or if it wasn't that good to begin with


I think what happened was the suits decided Lisp was too confusing and so the whole thing had to be ported to C, with predictable results.

For example, take a look at the differences between what you can get from the Yahoo! search API (anything) and the Google search API (up to 64 results, limited data)

Yeah, SearchMonkey and BOSS and all that stuff was getting me interested in Yahoo! again. I was thinking "These APIs are pretty interesting, you could build some cool products on top of them even if their underlying search engine isn't as good as Google's. Then they went and sold their search business to Microsoft and I stopped caring about how interesting their search APIs are because it seems clear search is not going to be a key part of their business.
posted by robertc at 3:52 PM on August 12, 2010


jfuller, you might like pinboard; I've been using it for a while, and I enjoy it as sort of a stripped down version of delicious, the way it used to be.
posted by epersonae at 4:12 PM on August 12, 2010


Thank you, I'll have a look!
posted by jfuller at 5:04 PM on August 12, 2010


mincus: "APIs into all of their services, Pipes, YUI, YQL, plus the add-ons like yslow, and the platform dev kits."

I can't speak much to the rest, but Pipes is barely tolerable. The UI itself seems to render pretty poorly as a result of being a browser based Javascript tool, they restrict debugging output to ten items, there are substantial regex bugs, and worse, no bug reporting system. Their caching system also makes it hard to debug, resulting in things that work in the designer but fail in your RSS feed. The inability to compose two pipes into a third, bigger pipe. The conspicuous absense of XPath modules. Hiding RSS/Atom subscription options (now fixed). The strange publication system that pretends to hide pipes you make when there's no way that could work without giving your feed reader your Yahoo password.

And then there's the standard Yahoo value subtract. The search system that's overrun with pornography. The "we're hiring" announcement, when Yahoo was in fact not hiring and considering cutting the project entirely. The message boards with no apparent moderation. The annoying credential confirmation screens.

Suffice it to say, I've been considering how I would implement a better Pipes system for ages now, but that sounds like a bunch of work so I'm mostly just hacking things together with Python and XPath selectors.
posted by pwnguin at 7:47 PM on August 12, 2010


I've been using pinboard since it launched. Its fucking awesome. For serious.
posted by chunking express at 8:16 PM on August 12, 2010


Who of the original Flickr engineers is still there?

I'd argue that this doesn't really matter all that much. So would many, if not all, of the "original engineers". Each of the couple dozen people who work in engineering at Flickr have so much responsibility - there are only a couple dozen engineers in total, each of which can push code directly into production from day 1 - that it's not like some core group were calling the shots or making all of the decisions. Some folks have been at Flickr for quite a while, and others a relatively new. The engineers are especially smart and, more than anything, really care about their work and feel like its important. I think the culture is great from that perspective; a group of sharp, committed engineers along with some solid product and user experience people can carry on quite well long after the founders move on.

I can see the points about "too much adult supervision" at Yahoo being true. Not unique to Yahoo, though, is the root cause - a lack of willingness to take risks, probably driven by an addiction to short term metrics. I'd bet cash money that in less than 10 years we'll be having this conversation about Google. What public company has successfully focused beyond their quarterly results?
posted by pkingdesign at 11:05 PM on August 12, 2010


If you click the point in Yahooo!'s exclamation point, it sings.
posted by !Jim at 11:59 PM on August 12, 2010


The only thing Yahoo qua Yahoo is good at is news.

I remember Yahoo reporting on every occasion that Obama was getting crushed or facing serious difficulties while most poll agregators had him firmly leading McCain. Straight news express.
posted by ersatz at 7:28 AM on August 13, 2010


In 2003 Yahoo acquired Overture, a pay-per-click advertising service. They pretty clearly saw the monetary value of search, so Graham is wrong about that. However, by 2006, the two companies had not integrated at the cultural level. Overture definitely had a suit/marketing/PR type culture and this clashed dramatically with the developer culture at Yahoo.
posted by wuwei at 10:51 AM on August 13, 2010


The day that Yahoo died? That's easy. Nov 30, 2006. The day they went and fucked up their previously-useful, previously-streamlined TV section.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:40 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Huh. I still use Yahoo for TV listings, and I never really noticed the change. It actually seems a bit more streamlined to me (I only use the listings, and even then, rarely.)
posted by mrgrimm at 12:04 PM on August 13, 2010


Heh, the stuff people hold in their hearts is amazing. Complaining about a four-year-old TV section redesign?
posted by smackfu at 12:40 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who of the original Flickr engineers is still there?

I'd argue that this doesn't really matter all that much. So would many, if not all, of the "original engineers".


Not sure about this. I'm close friends with a few of the original crew, and know a few more. It seemed like they were always fighting like gangbusters to not have their culture and goals for Flickr subsumed and distorted by Yahoo.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:47 PM on August 13, 2010


Hit post too soon... If you haven't been there from the beginning, are you going to resist the Yahooization as vigorously? Possibly not.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:51 PM on August 13, 2010


If you haven't been there from the beginning, are you going to resist the Yahooization as vigorously?

There isn't really any "Yahooization" going on to resist. Some times they ask us to do stuff and some times those things are a good idea. Other times, not. When its not we tell them so, and do our best to do the right thing. I'm not saying that we don't have to work to maintain a distinct culture, but I am saying that Yahoo isn't trying to crush Flickr, and that Flickr itself is not something that only the original crew understand. Doing the right thing is tiring in the face of adversity (short term or external priorities) is tiring, but it is also not at all unique to being part of Yahoo - it's certainly a big fact of life at startups, too. The founding folks I've known and worked with have gotten tired or interested in working on other things, but have also specifically felt comfortable trusting that others would carry on doing the right thing.

Actually, on a philosophical level, I'm not sure that fighting the mythical "yahooization" as vigorously as the founders is even a good thing. I know them well enough to know that they fount the good fight, but at an abstract level I'd say that fighting change endlessly is often as harmful as just figuring out ways to evolve effectively. Whatever that means...
posted by pkingdesign at 12:02 AM on August 14, 2010


« Older McStatin -- I'm Neutralizin' it!   |   A tax on people who are bad at math Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post