gathering the troops

Folks in the media have definitely noticed one of the things i love most about Yahoo! – it’s invested in bringing together all of the smart folks and interesting companies under one roof. I’ve been working in Yahoo! Research Berkeley for four months now and in that time, i’ve watched as people throughout the company have become more and more aware of what it means to make and think about social media (from both top-down and bottom-up directions). There’s also been a huge push at rethinking how innovation happens. For example, there was hack day where folks from across the company came together and hacked up interesting and innovative projects in a matter of one day. Recently, the company has started releasing small mash-ups rather than waiting for things to be connected to full-blown projects. The weird thing is that i don’t even know a fraction of what gets released on a daily basis.

Yahoo! is going through a really strange transformation right now and it’s intriguing to be a part of it. It’s a big grown-up company full of “adults” who have been working in a structured form for quite some time. With all of the acquisitions and recent hirings, they’ve been bringing in an entirely new branch of folks – the “kids.” You can feel this around the campus. Walk into most cubes and people are quietly coding away. Walk into land-o-Flickr and there’s an explosion of energy, streaming commentary, and rapid-fire iteration (much to the dismay of their neighbors, i’m sure). The new “kids” swirling around Yahoo! are tasked with bringing in the innovative spirit, shaking up corporate culture, and marching to our own creative drumbeat. The grown-ups around Yahoo! are not quite sure what to do with many of us, but the energy we bring seems to be appreciated. Yet, meetings are often a bit peculiar as we try to find common language and process for working together. (And, just like good “kids”, i’ve noticed that many of us have a rather foul tongue that still shocks the “adults” on a regular basis.)

I often hear people talking about how Yahoo! is buying up Web2.0, but i don’t think it’s just that. It’s not only about tagging, social bookmarking, sharing, etc. It’s about rethinking the innovation process when handling social technologies. Take a look at some of the characters recently hired/acquired – Caterina Fake, Stewart Butterfield, Joshua Schachter, Andy Baio, Cameron Marlow, Chad Dickerson, Tom Coates… These aren’t even your typical Web2.0 crowd – these are creatives with attitude who have no problem telling corporate what they think and pushing for changes that they feel are essential.

Before mainstreamification, Yahoo! used to stand for the people who were rather quirky. It’s rather nice to see it moving back in that direction. And it’s quite fun to watch it from the inside and contribute to that effort. (And damn do i like the fact that so many of the folks i respect are landing there.)

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6 thoughts on “gathering the troops

  1. jr

    Heh, you wacky kids.

    Considering that I’m one of the “adults” sitting next to both flickr and, I can say that I love it. (Well, with the possible exception of the marshmallow gun fights, but then, that’s why I keep a small nerf artillery in my desk drawer.) As for the language concerns…. you’ve obviously never been by my desk when I’m working on a weird perl bug.

    That said, you’re dead right about this getting back to the original roots of what made Yahoo cool to begin with, and I’m damn glad and proud to be teaching and learning again from all of them.

  2. grumpY!

    from a double-digit employee number Y: i appreciate the quality of the people who have been joining yahoo, but i also detect a subcontext in the many blogs and postings by some of these people that they are “saving” us adults (and yahoo) from ourselves.

    the “old” yahoo (pre 99) was about one thing – a group of people running at nearly 100% efficiency with almost zero BS, truly a wonder to behold. you could literally point at each person and describe precisely what value add they delivered, and you didn’t have to stretch the definition of value, in fact it was very easy to underestimate each contribution.

    this group of people was not interested in being called out by name or being identified in public for our contributions, and i suspect there would have been a gag reflex at doing so…there was an extreme, almost pathological modesty in this group. very educational and enlightening indeed. this is a quality of the founding team in particular, who have done almost zero self-promotion in ten years. i will be up front and tell you i don’t care for your call outs above, building personal brands isn’t what a team is about.

    as for new people telling the company “whats what”…yes, please speak your mind, but remember we are not morons, and blogging does not bestow a special status on you. some of the people you are dealing with are big company morons to be sure, but some have also been quietly coding like mofos, and not talking about it.

  3. randomtruth

    There has definitely been a sea-change in the works at Yahoo at the grassroots developer & visionary level (the technocrats). Much of this has been led by the Search team btw (cause they get that crowd).
    However, the real test is still to come… Many of the middle-management beaurocrat-types that came into Yahoo post ’99 during the down times think that things are fine and that the company doesn’t need to change development & business practices. These folks will challenge the new loose cannons to prove them wrong or fall in-step with their “spreadsheet-proven” conservative ways.
    So… all you Yahoo technocrats, both new and old guard, need to show that the path of openess & “just get it out there” innovation can succeed. If you don’t, the Internet will be dominated by Google and Yahoo will be a defensive #2 player in most services. Google is cool and all, but competition between multiple intelligent and well run companies is much better for the consumer.

    I, for one, am rooting for ya. Get hacking.

  4. kai

    Questions: Does it matter if it is Yahoo bringing in the cool kids or Google? Are there any true alternatives to either/or and does it matter (once again)? Obviously social movements form when a collective of like-minded individuals unite (with more or less conflict), but can a corporatist network model work to change lives for the better when it comes to those that need the most interaction/uplift? ya

  5. jeff

    Yahoo! Acquires WebJay (and a KM digression)

    O’reilly Radar reports that Yahoo! has made another acquisition in their drive to transform the company’s web properties into a Web 2.0 über-community. This time it’s the music playlist community Webjay created by Lucas Gonze. Yahoo! seems determined …

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