Microsoft Yahoo

My Steve Ballmer near miss at Yahoo!

225px-Steve_ballmer_2007_outdoors2.jpgSo, here’s a little story I’ve told a few times privately, but only once publicly before. It happened so long ago at this point, and given today’s news, it doesn’t really matter to the parties involved.

After a late Friday night down on the Santa Clara campus, I decided to sleep under my desk rather than drive home to San Francisco. I woke up the next morning to a loud booming voice that I thought I recognized. “Developers, developers, developers!” Ok, he didn’t actually say that, but I shuffled to my feet only to see Steve Ballmer standing outside my cube.

I didn’t actually scream, but I might have let out a small yelp. Now, I’m too old to hate now, but then, oh man, did I hate Microsoft. If you’ve ever heard me swear before (sailor’s blushing, etc), imagine the cacophony of swear words that was going off in my head at that particular moment.

Worse than just seeing Ballmer, I saw Jerry and TK as well. The only thing I could think was, “Holy crap, we’re being acquired.”

I mean, a clandestine Saturday morning meeting between the Evil Empire and the heads of Yahoo!? What else could it be?

I said to myself, “I’m so outta here if Microsoft ever buys us.”

As this happened 8-9 years ago, nothing ever came of it (as far as I know). Jerry later told me that meeting face to face was something that they did periodically and that they did it on the weekend so folks wouldn’t freak out or speculate. I don’t know if I bought it, but it was Jerry, so I let it go.

Yahoo! Today

I worked at Yahoo! from 1996 to 2001. It was the best of times. When I started there were less than 40 people there and when I left there were 3000 people. I think that especially back then, Microsoft acquiring Yahoo! would have destroyed the company.

I don’t work at Yahoo! anymore, but just given their shear size and the maturing of the company and the industry as a whole, would it be such a bad fit now? I really can’t say for sure.

Good luck

Yahoo! has been hurting for a while in the press and their stock has been fairly depressed. A lot of the down attitude toward Yahoo! isn’t so much a reflection of the company but a constant comparison to Google and their quarter after quarter barn burners.

Google is a tough competitor. Can a combined Microsoft and Yahoo! compete effectively? I hope so.

To all my friends and the rest of the folks down in Sunnyvale – I wish you the best.

Ich bin ein Yahooer!

[Steve Ballmer photo from Wikimedia]

Yahoo! launches a magazine? Yahoo! Food launched today

Yahoo! Food launched today and it looks like a magazine. Or at least, an online magazine. I’m not really sure where the content stops and the advertising begins.

yahoo food.jpg

What is truly weird about the food home page is the complete lack of Yahoo! branding. If there is one thing that was beaten into me at Yahoo! is that the brand (and all of the network effects that come with it) is everything. Of course, with a picture of the brand queen, Martha Stewart on the home page, maybe they figured
they couldn’t compete.

[Note:  Looks like the site may have been broken yesterday when it launched yesterday.  The page has Y! branding at the top today]

Where are the people?

The other strange thing here is that there doesn’t seem to be any community aspects of the site. While you can rate recipes that are on the site, there is no way to add recipes of your own or to even collect and share favorites on the site. While the food crowd and the crowd may not mix well, keeping and sharing recipes is a natural application here.

Taking it out a bit further, I think they missed another opportunity for user created content by not incorporating other forms of social media. While they incorporated video from Martha Stewart, they didn’t look within their own stable of sites. Yahoo! Video lists 48,000 videos when you do a search on the word “food.” Even if 99% of those videos are noise, 480 of those videos are good.


My first reaction was “Wow… this is huge departure for Yahoo!” Back in my day at the company, the product people designed the websites… that’s why they looked so bad. But they worked… and we liked it, and so did the public. I know that since then, they’ve hired some fancy designers and have spent a lot of time improving usability and design, but this is a major change even for Yahoo!

Nice design Yahoo!, now let’s hope you iterate this into something more fun and useful.

More on TechMeme.

Marketing Pilgrim adds that Yahoo! is finally listening to it’s customers, the advertisers.

Google Yahoo

The state of online advertising?

yahoovgoogle.jpgIf you think of Google (GOOG) and Yahoo! (YHOO) as bellwethers for online advertising, you have to be scratching your head today. Or maybe not. I think Yahoo! may be the canary in the coal mine.


Ad Slowdown, What Slowdown? – GigaOm
Google revenues surge on ad strength – Financial Times
Google’s 3Q Profit Nearly Doubles – AP
Google revenues surge on ad – MSNBC

and from a few days ago


Dear Google Bulls: Yahoo! Comments still suggests a problem – Henry Blodgett
Dot com bubble 2.0 –
Yahoo shares fall on 3Q profit decline – AP

So, we’ve got Om Malik in one corner (who just started his own venture backed, advertising funded blog network) saying online advertising is strong versus Henry Blodget (Web 1.0 cheerleader who helped inflate so many dot coms) who thinks that we might be heading into familiar territory.

So who do you believe? If there is one thing that I have learned from being in business on the net for the last 11 years, diversify your revenue streams. Ad sales is a cyclical business which means you have good years and you have bad ones. Ask CNET or Yahoo! who limped through the downturn in 2001-2004. Ask eBay, who didn’t have any problems during the bust, but who is currently buying its way into growing businesses.

God, I hate to say it, but I think I agree with Blodget…

Google Social Media Video Yahoo YouTube

For Mark Cuban, history repeats itself


The first thing that I thought today was how strange it was that Mark Cuban had been calling Google “moronic” for thinking of buying YouTube. I don’t imagine that he was telling Tim Koogle that he was “crazy,” for buying his company,, a company that Yahoo! would spend the next several years dismantling.

Mark’s definitely asking the right question as to whether this is a good deal for YouTube or not. After all,, which arguably was more of a “real business,” (they had corporate customers, after all), wasn’t making any money and still got $5 billion. YouTube probably should have held out for a lot more money.

Ah, but those were bubble times and everyone thought that the future would come more quickly than it did. Who could have imagined that streaming video would suck so much? Asidecan you pause Real, QT or WMV streaming without waiting for 2+ mins for it to restart yet?

While the YouTube acquisition is similar to Yahoo!’s acquisition of, I think there are two key differences. First, the iPod (and to a certain degree, the cell phone). Everyone has one (or both) and short form video excels on these devices. I know you can’t carry these YT videos around easily yet, but it’s coming.

Second, and more importantly, is the Class of 2009. If you live anywhere near teenagers, you may have noticed that there are a lot of them. The Class of 2009 (and the years surrounding them) is the largest graduating class in American history. These kids are already powering a lot of Web 2.0. They have always had a computer in their home and they probably can barely remember not being connected to the internet.

Google’s acquisition of YouTube is part of their bet on this upcoming generation of creators. It has taken us a long time, but we’re finally getting people off their butts and making them into content producers not just consumers. Mark Cuban helped lay the groundwork for this revolution and instead of pedantically nitpicking from the side lines, he should be cheering them on.

Now, let’s just hope they find a business model. :-)

Building Community Features Games Social Media Yahoo

Bringing users back in droves part 2 – Earning points

Ahhhhh… earning points. This is an old chestnut. Earning points in games doesn’t really need much explaining. Shoot Space Invader, get points. Points are all about keeping score (duh) and then comparing your score with your friends.

There are at least two types of points used in community websites, social points and redeemable points. Amy Jo Kim illustrates social as anything from your feedback score on eBay or interestingness on Flickr. Let’s look at some other examples. Redeemable points are used commonly by airline mileage programs, credit cards or a sandwich card from a local lunch joint. I’m going to talk about social points.

In yesterday’s post, I talked about collecting achievements on Xbox Live but they employ a “gamer score” so you can compare your score with your friends. They use leader boards so you can compare to everyone’s score. But for today, let’s talk about some non-gaming sites.


Web of Trust

Epinions uses a concept called the “Web of Trust” to ensure that the best reviews always appear at the top. The “Web of Trust mimics the way people share word-of-mouth advice every day.” So, how does it work?

First, all reviews that appear on the site are rated by users. To even appear on the site, a review must be rated helpful or better. Then if there is a list of reviews about the same product, those reviews that are rated highest appear further up the list.

Second, as a member of Epinions, you are encouraged to trust members whose reviews you like and opinions you trust. If you add someone to your “Web of Trust,” their review will appear above others when you are reading a list. More importantly, though, the more members that trust you, the higher your review will appear in a list.

Rating the rater

I’ll talk about the concept of levels in a later post, but for now, let’s just say if you are a reviewer that is well trusted, then your ratings matter more. Put simply, everyone gets to vote, but some votes count more. This helps ensure a certain level of writing quality on the site. Having a top rated review on a product that is popular will ensure that you have more readers than those reviews below yours.

And popularity is the name of the game. All the social points are tallied on Epinions by the stats you and your review have.


Many community review sites use variations on Epinions “Web of Trust.” I’ve not too deeply in Amazon’s reviews system, but I suspect something similar is in play.

Yahoo! Answers (whom we’ve talked about before) uses a simpler points system, but to be fair, Epinions has been refined over the years to alleviate problems of gaming the system. Yahoo! Answers will have to create some safeguards to ensure the quality of their site at some point in the future.


Where Epinions point system is complicated and opaque, Yahoo! Answers point system is simple and transparent – earn points by answering questions, earn more by being the best answer. For every There are a couple of twists, however. First, you get a point for just showing up. At first glance, this seems odd. Why give points for not doing anything? Having been an active lurker on many community websites, I suspect this is to give the vast majority of users, ie the lurkers, a sense that they belong to the community. [Editors note it seems that Yahoo! understands the lurker phenom quite well].


The main reason to have points is to compare yourself against others. This is the most primary construct of any game that has a winner and a loser.


Leaderboards bring out the inner competitor in users. Even if you are number 3200 in a list, you have somewhere to go, and hopefully that is up.

Bottom Line

Points and leaderboards make sites more fun by keeping users jockeying for position and ultimately, creating more value for your site.

Building Community Social Media Yahoo

Is Yahoo Answers being gamed?

The WSJ is reporting this morning that people are asking and answering inane questions on the Yahoo! Answers service to boost their point scores.

Here is the WSJ’s explanation of the system:

“A points economy is like a regular economy, except the currency is points, not currency. Even though you can’t exchange these points for real-world goods and services, people will still spend enormous amounts of time accumulating them just to beat others in a list of top point-getters, or simply to compete with themselves.

Web sites are taking advantage of this aspect of human psychology and setting up point systems to draw in users to help create “content” for them.

If you’re a member of Answers — total users are in the millions — you can gain points asking questions, answering questions, and rating the questions and answers of others. The points are good for nothing, save allowing you to move up through the seven levels in the Answerers hierarchy. With each new level, you gain more powers on the site, such as the ability to ask and answer more questions, and thus get more points.”

Some background info on Yahoo! Answers

It’s interesting to see this particular system gamed as the incentive is somewhat low. Notoriety is one thing, but it seems that perhaps there are more lucrative sites out there to game. One thing that I learned at my time at Epinions is that the higher the incentive, the more likely it will be gamed.

Congrats to Yahoo! Answers for figuring out a way to make users care enough to game the system.

Read – [WSJ free link]

Apple Downloads iTunes Yahoo

Jessica Simpson track is NOT DRM free


While the blogging world is falling all over itself in praise of Yahoo!’s release of the so-called “DRM-free” Jessica Simpson track (I won’t even comment on the fact that the track is from Jessica Simpson, oy), I think that the music industry is indicating how desperate they are to break from the iTunes hegemony that they have created and how they aren’t really willing to get rid of DRM any time soon.

First, let me address the DRM issue. The downloadable Jessica Simpson track is available as a personalized track. If your name is Jason, Jennifer, or Jared, you are in luck and pay $1.99 for a personalized track from Jessica Simpson, which if you think about it, is a pretty cool idea. But if you continue to think about it, unless your entire social circle has your name, most of your friends won’t really want to copy your song. File trading networks probably won’t have a comprehensive version of this song, so while the Jason’s of the world could probably find their version of the song on BitTorrent, I’m betting the Jordi’s of the world are probably out of luck.

You see, the Jessica Simpson track is only available as a personalized track and therefore, the DRM is social.

Second, even if I’ve overplayed the impact of personalization (I haven’t heard the song), this still signals what the music industry really wants to do, and that is to raise prices on music downloads. The music industry has created a monster and that monster is more concerned about the user experience than about making a quick buck.

Despite all of this, I wonder if the music industry is starting to realize the truth, DRM-free music is the easiest way to break iTunes’ dominance on music downloads. The music industry loves price fixing, but not so much if someone else is doing it. DRM-free music removes most of the advantages that iTunes currently enjoys and allows any number of resellers to distribute music for any price that they (or the labels) want.

So, come on, music labels… let’s hop to it. I’m a huge fan of Apple, but DRM sucks and we all know it.

Apple Downloads Geek Fun Media Servers and Streamers Yahoo

Monday Links

Movielink to allow movies transferred to DVD
Didn’t they already do that? Maybe it was the other guys.

Build your own iPod HiFi
Two in wall speakers, $200. Two dead Mac Classics, $25. Retro iPod HiFi, priceless.

Yahoo! to the 9’s
Daily video feature of the top 9 videos from the web. No podcast, so you gotta watch it on Yahoo! And just as an aside, apparently Yahoo! finally figured out how to do video that works with a Mac. Maybe one day Launch will actually work outside of IE6 on Windows.
[via CNET]

Home Entertainment HTPCs PVRs Yahoo

Yahoo! acquires Meedio


Ten foot interfaces. Microsoft has one and recently, so does Apple. And now, Yahoo! bought their very own. Meedio, one of the many television front ends for Windows XP, was acquired today by Yahoo! Strangely, tho, it appears that only the company was purchased but not all of their products, so it is unclear whether Yahoo! intends to use the technology as a DVR front end or to merely have ten foot interface of their own.

This acquisition reminds me a bit of the Konfabulator (now Yahoo! Widgets) acquisition made earlier this year by Yahoo! Much like Konfabulator, Meedio had an avid developer community and there were many plug-ins developed for weather, news, RSS and the like. So while a web based DVR may be part of the picture, don’t be too surprised to see Yahoo! on your television in the not-to-distant future.


(Via Zatz not Funny)

Media Servers and Streamers Yahoo

Yahoo! Music makes Linksys plugin


For those of you using the Yahoo! Music Engine, you’ve just gotten a little bit of freedom. Similar to Apple’s Airport Express, the Linksys Wireless G Music Bridge plays music in remote locations (read: away from your computer) and Yahoo! has just wrote a plugin that will work with the device.

Not sure if this will be a free download for the folks that already have this device, but new customers will be able to pick up the device for $99 plus Yahoo! will have a $20 rebate (yay, rebates!).


(Via eHomeUpgrade.)