On Tuesday an article titled Yahoo's Open Invitation appeared on BusinessWeek. It's presumably in the print edition as well, but I haven't checked.

While what I'm saying here are my personal thoughts as a long-time Yahoo, they may not agree with the official party line at Yahoo. So please don't assume they're one in the same.

First off all, the subhead for this story is the longish:

Like counterparts at Facebook, CEO Jerry Yang plans to give developers more leeway in building tools designed to keep users on its pages longer

Which gives you an idea of the angle that this story is going to take. It's going to be about Yahoo being a Facebook copy-cat and a fast follower who's struggling to boost metrics around page views and time spent.

Let's have a look...

Openness When?

This year, openness is the buzzword ringing through Yahoo's Sunnyvale (Calif.) campus, and executives hope it translates into a strategy that helps set fortunes right. In the months since Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang replaced Terry Semel as chief executive officer, company leaders say they're newly focused on opening Yahoo's real estate to outside developers, who in turn can create tools that make Yahoo's pages more attractive to users.

Believe it or not, we've been doing the "openness" thing for a lot longer than that around here. Now I may be biased, since I was part of the team that launched our developer network back in 2005. It quickly grew beyond the world of search and has been going at a steady pace ever since.

Not only that, but we invited hundreds of developers to our Sunnyvale campus for a weekend-long Open Hack Day and the repeated the event recently in London. And there's another coming up in Bangalore.

Hack Day got the campus buzzing too--even before people figured out that Beck was performing. :-)

API, not Source Code(s)

Already the company has released the source codes for Yahoo's e-mail in hopes of letting third parties create small programs, known as widgets, that mesh with users' address books and other mail services.

That's not quite true. We didn't give away the source code (plural or singular) for our email service. We did, however, release an API for Yahoo! Mail.


Yahoo's focus on openness is partly a proactive embracing of the consumer Web ethos, where users play a key role in creating content. And in part it's a defensive measure to keep from losing user attention to innovative up-and-comers.

Again, this openness thing isn't new. And painting it as both proactive and reactive is a little weird. We're just evolving Yahoo as the rest of the web evolves. It's that simple, really. The larger context is missing from this story, IMHO.

What is new is that openness is becoming more bidirectional. Instead of offering outbound APIs, the article is talking about plans for inbound APIs as well. But if that had been included in this story, it'd have a less powerful "Yahoo copying Facebook" message, I guess.

We do get credit later on for My Yahoo accepting third party content and modules. Heck, that's been around for a long time. In fact, I was involved in that effort and wrote about the My Yahoo! RSS Beta back in January of 2004.

Right. 2004.

Doom and Gloom

The article then says a bunch of negative stuff about being more open (again bringing in Facebook as an example) before finally admitting that this could be a good thing:

Still, Yahoo, like Facebook, is likely to see more positives than negatives from an influx of tools and other content that keep people on Yahoo's site longer.

If that's the case, I'm not sure why the author chose to lead with the negatives, but at least the story gets around to talking about why this is good. Unfortunately it focuses mainly on the goal to "keep people on Yahoo's site longer" and fails to consider how this extra time spent is because Yahoo will be a better place after opening up--just like Facebook was. As written, the reader is almost left to assume that openness is almost some sort of a trap for users.


I'm glad to see the idea of openness getting more play in the mainstream business press. But I wish someone would write a story that includes a bit more of the bigger picture of how the web is changing. And it'd be nice if they explained the difference between outbound and inbound openness too. Otherwise the reader is left with a very incomplete picture of what's going on. It also makes this whole thing feel a bit more rushed than it actually is.

Posted by jzawodn at September 12, 2007 05:20 PM

Reader Comments
# Joe Zawodny said:

As ignorant as I am about these things, even I realize that openness is not a new found religion at Yahoo!. APIs have been open for awhile and Yahoo! is the pioneer on this. I have no idea how they will monetize this openness, but then again I'm not a stockholder - so I don't care at this point.

Maybe if Yahoo! stock gets beat up a little bit more, I may just have to buy it for the potential profit of a take-over/buy-out value. I'd like to retire early!

on September 12, 2007 05:53 PM
# Jason Golod said:

heh, it would be nice if the people in the media actually knew what they were writing/talking about 50% of the time....but, I am not going to hold my breath and wait.

on September 13, 2007 08:13 AM
# chad said:

"I wish someone would write a story that includes a bit more of the bigger picture of how the web is changing."

While you are clearly busy, I urge you to write such an article yourself. It could not only help the non-developers, but it can reach even the people in the trenches. It's sometimes hard to see the forest from the trees.

on September 13, 2007 09:06 AM
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. My current, past, or previous employers are not responsible for what I write here, the comments left by others, or the photos I may share. If you have questions, please contact me. Also, I am not a journalist or reporter. Don't "pitch" me.


Privacy: I do not share or publish the email addresses or IP addresses of anyone posting a comment here without consent. However, I do reserve the right to remove comments that are spammy, off-topic, or otherwise unsuitable based on my comment policy. In a few cases, I may leave spammy comments but remove any URLs they contain.