One of the things I really didn't notice in the craziness of last week is the negative sentiment expressed by some bloggers and technology journalists about the new release and re-branding of Konfabulator as Yahoo! Widget Engine. It reminded me of the negative attacks we saw on the del.icio.us acquisition announcement.

In both cases, critics are working with several unfounded assumptions.

Team Assimilation and Brainwashing

Some seem to think that we assimilate teams from smaller companies and then either break them up or inject them with a bunch of suits who then set about ruining the previously cool product or service.

Here's what Arlo of the Konfabulator team has to say about that:

Hereís the thing. Weíre still the same people running and working on this project. We donít have a long line of random mysterious faces telling us what to do. As many of the folks that would be those people can attest, Iím quite firm about how I want this project run, what goes into it, and how it comes across to the end user and Widget developers.

In fact, read his whole post.

In the case of Flickr, Stewart is still running the show. Andy and crew are still running Upcoming.org. And a lot of folks have asked me what's going on with del.icio.us as well. Simple. Joshua is going to keep doing what he's been doing: building a great service.

The goal is to help these services get bigger, better, and faster while also learning from them. If we wanted to destroy them, that'd be obvious by now.

Outages and Bugs

Somehow bugs and outages are suddenly attributed to malice at Yahoo once a company has been acquired. You might be surprised to learn that we don't drop a truck load of servers off on the day the papers and signed and force new acquisitions to migrate to the "Yahoo platform" as soon as possible.

In the case of the recent del.icio.us outages, there was a power loss at the data center. (If you remember back, LiveJournal had a similar problem earlier this year.) And now there's a failed disk in a one-off piece of specialty hardware that needs to get replaced. Joshua has been dealing with that as best he can and we're accelerating the process of getting del.icio.us some new infrastructure.

Flickr still gets a massage once in a while too. Such is life. Scaling is hard but growth is good. The outages are becoming less frequent. (It's not like Google didn't have problems with Blogger for a while too.)

Oh, and let's all cut SixApart a little slack for their recent TypePad outage(s) too.

Re-branding

I don't think you'll ever see Flickr renamed "Yahoo! Photo Sharing Engine" as some have joked. Personally, I'm not thrilled with the name "Yahoo! Widget Engine" but that boat has sailed. I think Konfabulator was a cool name and we could use more cool product names and less of a focus on the generic formula of putting the name Yahoo! in front of a semi-generic term like "answers" or "music" (remember Launch?). It just feels so... Microsoft.

But that's me and I don't get to make those decisions.

meetings

(Sorry, I couldn't resist including that.)

The good news is that the trail we blazed by NOT changing the name of Flickr has taught us a little bit about how names and name changes affect perception. It was a good thing to do and I think people are happy about it. Notice that Upcoming.org hasn't been changed to "Yahoo! Events" or "Yahoo! Calendar 2.0" or anything like that?

Hanlon's Razor

Though I often forget the source, I'm a big fan of Hanlon's Razor, which says:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

It's not because I think our company is full of stupid people (a few morons maybe), but because it makes us realize that there are far fewer Big Evil Plans floating around than the detractors would like you to believe.

Sometimes I wish they'd just stick to reading Slashdot.

If you don't think we've made a lot of progress in the last year, you haven't been paying attention. A little faith goes a long way. Trust that the folks who created these great services still have the vision and conviction to keep 'em on the right track.

I do. Otherwise I'd give up and find something else to do.

Posted by jzawodn at December 18, 2005 06:14 PM

Reader Comments
# Sumit Chachra said:

Well said Jeremy. I think most people apprecitate the manner in which Yahoo! has handled recent acquisitions. Everyone knows about the "Flickerization of Y!" now.... I think whatever misgivings people have about Y! killing whatever led to the growth of these startups should be gone by now! Your posts (as usual) do help clearing the air quite a bit!!

on December 18, 2005 06:45 PM
# Billy said:

I've been tooting my horn pretty loud about the del.icio.us outages lately only because I've never seen them before (few months now, just over 1K of SELF-MADE tags) and I have moved all my bookmarks onto that site, something to do with Web2.0 or something lol. So, needless to say, it can put me in a pickle quick. As of today though (prolly mostly cause it was down again everytime I tried it today), I actually saved a few to my machine again.

And that is not meant to take away from anything else Y! has been doing... well, then again, I was using Konfab before you guys bought them and although I loaded your Widget software, I didn't load the engine which I noticed performs monitoring. That's getting as bad as..., well anyway, I guess that's how it's gonna be but I defer as much as possible.

Not bitchin, just ventin (I know it will work out).

on December 18, 2005 06:45 PM
# Billy said:

One more thing while I'm here, is it just me or is that Y! signature box a pain in the ass to work with?

Although I have a link in it now, it sure ain't easy my end to update it, maybe it's my cache or something...

Have a good night!

on December 18, 2005 06:50 PM
# Niall Kennedy said:

Having a huge Borg cube in front of Yahoo's main reception area definitely sets the tone for visitors and new employees... prepare to be assimilated. :)

From First Contact:
"We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us."

on December 18, 2005 07:08 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Heh. So I'm *not* the only one who thinks it looks like a Borg Cube.

on December 18, 2005 07:16 PM
# Joe Hunkins said:

Nicely put and GREAT to use Hanlon's Razor whenever appropriate. I am, however, disappointed in Yahoo's failure to assimilate people into mindless automatons, which is always fun to watch. Google seems to have done this with SEO community - just witness the almost total lack of concern about the recent NYT report that Google may be doing SEO for AOL content.

on December 18, 2005 07:23 PM
# jr said:

Well, one thing about our borg cube, it's a wind sculpture so at least it's fairly open. (Probably makes it a bit hard for the little borgs inside to hang on though.)

People have a weird idea about technology. They think that teams are much bigger than they really are and that darkened board rooms aren't just the province of cliche'd TV show writers. Oddly, their Illumanatti based world is a little more romantic than reality.

The classic thing is that these folks are often so busy looking for the subtle clues with one company that they fail to notice the overt moves from another. Ah, well, be seeing you.

on December 18, 2005 07:56 PM
# Anjan said:

Jeremy,

Honestly, this post does not make sense in the least. The logic is so disseminated that I'm even having difficulty organizing my comment :)

Let's approach this from a non-technical, management perspective to avoid a semantical detour. Acquisition is always (well, almost always) a bad idea because there are business graveyards full of great intentions that failed to bring together two different cultures. Culture and a cohesive business plan (that necessitates the acquisition) are the biggest reasons of these calamities. I'm not going to make a judgement either way on Yahoo because usually only time proves conclusively the success or failure of these partnerships/mergers/acquisitions.

Till now, from what you have said only amounts to Yahoo having shopped for cool technologies and made sure the creators stay in charge of the development teams. Honestly, that does not mean anything at all. In order for this spree to be successful, all of these have to fit into a "final grand plan" and maybe its a great big secret because we surely don't know about it. Let me be the devil's advocate (no pun intended) for a second and say that keeping these teams semi-autonomous is a bad, bad idea from a business perspective. What are considered Yahoo's core competencies. How will you keep all these little in alignment with those?

At the end of the day Yahoo is a business and needs to survive. Look at the automotive industry for appropriate parallels. The successful companies did not, intentionally, acquire other carmakers. The ones that did - GM, Ford, and Mercedes are bleeding red to the point of bankruptcy.

Hanlon's Razor is appropriate but probably not in the way you think. The problem with the specific instance of del.icio.us acquisition has little to do with technological changes. It has to do with an open source, community based platform that suddenly went commercial. Any technology that follows that path will see a huge uproar from its user base. Again, its a culture issue. I won't blame it on malice on Yahoo's part but they look more and more like GM (stupidity in Hanlon's Razor) - acquire anything that is perceived as cool and maybe it'll bail us out of our current status quo.

BTW, have you been to BGSU lately? I was on the website last week and boy does the Student Union look different!

on December 18, 2005 08:51 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Okay, now I'm confused.

"Till now, from what you have said only amounts to Yahoo having shopped for cool technologies and made sure the creators stay in charge of the development teams. Honestly, that does not mean anything at all."

Did you read the other posts I linked to as well? I think that Danah's did a good job of explaining a whole different side of things. Here it is again:

http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2005/12/17/gathering_the_t.html

Either way, I'm not sure how your notion of a big grand plan is incompatible with what I've said.

"It has to do with an open source, community based platform that suddenly went commercial."

Was that not the case on the day that Joshua first took his initial investment round? That's surely not a Yahoo issue.

No, I haven't been back to BGSU for quite some time. I wonder if I'd recognize it!

on December 18, 2005 09:01 PM
# Anjan said:

You're right. I didn't make that part of my argument lucid enough.

Blame my following comments on my currently ongoing eMBA from the Simon School of Business because before that I was blind to these aspects :D

Danah's post makes only a partial reference to something that *might* be construed as corporate vision. Now I do not expect Yahoo to release its future plans and vision. It'd be foolish. That's why I said only time will prove whether you guys will actually achieve what's being conceived. I'm purely looking at it from Yahoo's side - this all looks good but I don't see anything, yet, that makes the bigger picture any clearer. I just hope that they have something better waiting for both itself and its users at the other end.

All I'm saying is that making conjectures at this point, *either* way, is sophomoric because historically acquisitions have a tendency to fail and yet others have remarkably succeeded. I forget what the actual percentage among publicly traded companies is but it was in the seventies.

Yes, what you claim could come true but we do not have results. All you and others are stating are intentions at best and from your descriptions the future sounds exciting. I wish the best too but to claim something conclusively just seemed a little facetious to me :)

on December 18, 2005 09:20 PM
# Anjan said:

"Was that not the case on the day that Joshua first took his initial investment round? That's surely not a Yahoo issue."

I decided to address this separately because I see this as a different issue from my perspective. I completely agree with you on this issue. I don't think Yahoo is to "blamed" for picking up Launchcast, Flickr, del.icio.us etc. Matter of fact, I'm not blaming Yahoo for anything at all :)

I'm really curious to find out (contrary to a lot of other users berating Yahoo for being the Borg :D) what "Yahoo's Internet" looks like.

on December 18, 2005 09:28 PM
# Jeff Boulter said:

The same thing happened 4.5 years ago when LAUNCH was acquired. Any change we made thereafter, good or bad, was attributed to "Yahoo" screwing it up. No, it was still us screwing it up. Many of the same people are still "screwing it up" today.

Many of the sites Yahoo has acquired over the years would never be as successful if they hadn't been acquired. They can draw from the resources of the company and scale. Not interested in maintaining your own home-grown ad server or login system? Great, focus on your core site since Yahoo's solved that problem 10 times over for you.

on December 18, 2005 09:47 PM
# jr said:

Ok, so, what if we try a few other ideas.

Perhaps acquiring flickr might mean providing interesting, orginal content for various locations. That'd be a good tie-in for both Y!Local and Y!Travel (and yes, there are lots of folks on flickr who wouldn't mind having their CC pictures used this way provided appropriate credit is provided). Local is already interested in tying in events listed from Upcoming.org as well as other sites. Keeping the site as is only encourages richer content and more distribution. Heck, folks have already drawn pretty good lines for how del.icio.us could be the more modern equivalent of the old Yahoo Directory, meaning better search results and more relevant results.

For a company like Yahoo, there are two ways of getting content. Pay licensing fees to some company or buy some company. I'm guessing that most of these acquisitions are more cost savings than anything else. It's very much in Yahoo's interest to leave them the way they are, since messing with them would only lessen their value.

on December 18, 2005 10:27 PM
# Tim Converse said:

Just FYI: When Jeremy makes posts like "Responding to Konfabulator and Yahoo Critics", and goes on to use "we" to mean "Yahoo!" in sentences like "Some seem to think that we assimilate teams from smaller companies", you might be forgiven for thinking that Jeremy speaks for Yahoo! on this blog.

He doesn't speak for Yahoo! on this blog. Jeremy will tell you that also.

I just want to make that extra-clear because Jeremy says a lot of wack shit on this blog that few people who work at Yahoo! (including me) would endorse. He also does (IMHO) stupid stuff like selling links from his blog.

It's important to clarify, because people who write journalistic stories based on Jeremy's blog posts are not quite so clear on the relationship between Jeremy and Yahoo!, and they think that Jeremy saying something on this blog might actually mean something significant about what Y! thinks or might do next. It doesn't.

Also, such journalistic stories often refer to Jeremy as a "Yahoo! Search Engineer". I think this is an understandable confusion. Jeremy at one point was an engineer working on Yahoo's front-end to Google's back-end search service. He also did a lot of work on Yahoo! Finance, and MySQL generally, and wrote a very well-regarded book on MySQL. Since then he's done a lot of great work around evangelism and marketing and blogging and technology evaluation, but as far as I know has not continued to be directly involved with engineering of the search products. (Jeremy, please correct me if I'm wrong. And point me to the check-ins.)

So if you like hearing what Jeremy has to say (like I myself do), please continue, but understand that he's not speaking for Y! in any sense, and understand also that (as far as I know) he's not currently a Y! Search engineer, at least directly.

on December 19, 2005 12:50 AM
# Guillaume said:

Amen for this explanation Jeremy... i wish i had your patience ... i always get upset when people start accusing Yahoo when hey perfectly know there is no reason to see them as Evil.

on December 19, 2005 02:34 AM
# Hazel said:

Tim Converse,

Seems strange that you felt the need to post such a long response (on behalf of Yahoo!??) here??

I think we would all agree that his posts are interesting, and often raise debate, but there are many clear examples where he has clearly (mis)represented Yahoo! through his blog practises. I can think of various instances when he has placed himself and Yahoo! at risk of litigation and one has to question whether he would be able to hide behind his disclaimer in the event of litigation.

on December 19, 2005 03:27 AM
# Gareth Simpson said:

Was it Arlo's decision user the installer to do the odious standard Yahoo! bundling of irrelevant services and attempts to hijack the browser as well?

http://flickr.com/photos/xurble/75197490/

on December 19, 2005 07:04 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Tim, I should have had you write my disclaimer. :-)

on December 19, 2005 07:52 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Gareth: I'm not Arlo. I pointed to his site, so I'm not sure why you're asking me.

on December 19, 2005 07:54 AM
# Jim Veltre said:

I like your veiw on these issues.

on December 19, 2005 07:59 AM
# Tim Converse said:

Jeremy --- Heh, happy to help in any way. :)

Hazel --- You may be quite right that my comment was long and strange, but I definitely wasn't speaking for Yahoo! either. I was speaking for myself about speaking for Yahoo! and.... gee this disclaiming stuff is tiring, isn't it Jeremy? Sigh.

on December 19, 2005 10:57 AM
# Gareth Simpson said:

It was more a rhetorical question written in the rage of being caught out by that installer shortly before reading this post.

But it's not out of place here. You are arguing that the Yahoo-ification of services doesn't "inject them with a bunch of suits who then set about ruining the previously cool product or service".

Unfortunately even if that is literally true, it doesn't *feel* true because in subtle ways like the bundle-laden Konfabulator installer or the newly onerous Flickr sign-up, the net effect is that some of the shine is taken off these services that is directly attributable to Yahoo!

Even if it's done with the consent of the original leaders/developers, that's no consolation to the users who see a degradation in experience that wouldn't have happened without the aquisition.

on December 19, 2005 12:40 PM
# Joe Hunkins said:

Tim - I knew most of that already, but I hope the "official" Yahoo (they live in the Borg cube there, right?) give Jeremy substantial credit for helping to bring Yahoo back into the spotlight as a serious challenge to Google in search, mapping, and other innovations.

He has done a lot to keep Yahoo in the hip and cool status among the techno crowd, esp those who attend conferences at which Jeremy gives excellent and thought provoking presentations - much like this blog. Thinks like the paid link debate are big entertainment for a lot of us out here.

on December 19, 2005 02:14 PM
# James Day said:

Jeremy, is some validity to the concerns, if only because of concentration of power and the history of such things in many companies. On downtime, Yahoo carries with it expectations of corporate reliability and availability. Even though the architecture of the acquired properties may not be suitable yet for what that really requires in the way of multiple data centers and such. And even that assumes that the funding would be available.

Anyone serious suffers from downtime from time to time, particularly those in the double every few months group. Wikipedia gets the added fun of doing it on donations instead of venture capital, though at least the doubling should stop in a year or two, at which point we'd be at 80,000 (four doublings) to 1.2 million (8, really unlikely to happen) pages per second worldwide. Assuming we can keep up. Anyone who thinks it's easy hasn't been watching closely enough. :) There are always new limits to discover and get past.

on December 19, 2005 03:05 PM
# Tim Converse said:

Joe Hunkins --- Dunno whether the official Yahoo! gives Jeremy credit (we can't seem to locate the official Yahoo! despite how much we talk about it :), but I personally agree with everything you said...

on December 19, 2005 07:16 PM
# wheeeeee said:

>> Not interested in maintaining your own home-grown ad server
>> or login system? Great, focus on your core site since
>> Yahoo's solved that problem 10 times over for you.

jeff - no one home grows these anymore. any of the decent web dev kits provide logins, and google will run your ads.

the best reason to get bought by yahoo is to get PAID, same as it was in 97,98,99,00,01,02,03, and 04

on December 19, 2005 08:52 PM
# chad said:

Sorry Jeremy, not all Yahoo's recent purchases have been successes. Seems like they do better when the original creators want to stick around. I'd point to the All Seeing Eye.

(of course I work for a competitor of ASE, but..)

on December 20, 2005 05:01 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

You lost me on that one, sorry. All Seeing Eye?

on December 20, 2005 05:12 PM
# chad said:

Sorry, All Seeing Eye is a pc game server browser. Lets people find which servers based on various bits of info (current map, country, ping, number of players, max number of players, etc).. http://videogames.yahoo.com/multiplayer

The big appeal of the app is it's hard to find servers for new games, however once yahoo took over support for the app has fallen. If you want to read the complaints of the paying customers you can see the forum here: http://gamesdomain.yahoo.com/ase/forums

on December 20, 2005 08:52 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I guess you can tell that I'm not a gamer.

on December 20, 2005 08:53 PM
# Htmld said:

Jeremy, the classic thing is that these folks are often so busy looking for the subtle clues with one company that they fail to notice the overt moves from another.

on January 29, 2006 02:13 PM
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