Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Unwieldy companies overrun with vice presidents

The Yahoo epitaphs are starting to come fast and furious nowadays, unsurprisingly.

Don't miss this epic article over at Gizmodo: How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet. Some of it is the typical sort of combination of sour-grapes griping and revisionist history that these articles tend to bring, but this one is well-written and has some genuine insights and some strong lessons learned. For example:

Yahoo needed to leverage this thing that it had just bought. Yahoo wanted to make sure that every one of its registered users could instantly use Flickr without having to register for it separately. It wanted Flickr to work seamlessly with Yahoo Mail. It wanted its services to sing together in harmony, rather than in cacophonous isolation. The first step in that is to create a unified login. That's great for Yahoo, but it didn't do anything for Flickr, and it certainly didn't do anything for Flickr's (extremely vocal) users.

Yahoo's RegID solution turned out to be a nightmare for the existing community. You could no longer use your existing Flickr login to get to your photos, you had to use a Yahoo one. If you did not already have a Yahoo account, you had to create one. And you did not even log in on Flickr's home page, upon arriving, you were immediately kicked over to a Yahoo login screen.

This sort of merger-and-acquisition pain is all too real; I've been through plenty of it myself. It's a heartbreak, as the quote above shows, for it's always full of well-meaning individuals trying to do the right thing, but even though they have the best ideas and the best intentions, what results is catastrophe.

One of the best aspects of the article is the way it analyzes how the various decisions that were made along the way impacted that most delicate and crucial concept: the community:

While other apps draw users into their Web services (think Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, and notably Instagram) the Flickr app that Yahoo Mobile rolled out had no mechanism for that. It was not a recruitment tool. It was just for existing users.

Of course, it's extremely hard to understand, predict, anticipate, and adapt to the changing tastes of the online public:

The story of Flickr is not that dissimilar to the story of Google's buyout of Dodgeball, or Aol's purchase of Brizzly. Beloved Internet services with dedicated communities, dashed upon the rocks of unwieldy companies overrun with vice presidents.

As a result, Flickr today is a very different site than it was five years ago. It's an Internet backwater. It's not socially appealing.

Of course, just to be clear, I'm perhaps the most dinosaur of them all, for I still store my photos (those few of them that I actually take) on Picasa (gasp!).

I mean, how 10-years-ago is that?!

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