Last week, my former team at Yahoo! launched Yahoo! TV Widgets to some great press coverage. This is a project that was underway before I left, and drew heavily on the work and people of the Konfabulator/Y! Widgets team. It goes all the way back to the original Konfabulator team of Arlo Rose, Perry Clarke, and Ed Voas, who first popularized the term “Widget” for consumers as “whatever you want it to be” (much to the chagrin of Marketing & PR folks and proud mothers of people who work on Widgets everywhere 😉 ). They pioneered the concepts of open developer platforms and mash-ups that are all the Web 2.0 rage today, they just did it on the desktop. By the time I joined the team nearly a year after Konfabulator was acquired by Yahoo!, they had built a thriving ecosystem (yes, it was a real ecosystem, so I can say that without being buzzword compliant) of thousands of independent developers and millions of users worldwide.
As we continued to build the team and grow both the user and developer bases, we began to learn and build things that we realized had much broader applicability than just Widgets for your desktop. With the help of our marketing all-stars, Brady Wood and the awesome Shan-Lyn Ma, we started to create best practices and tools for building and cultivating a community of independent developers around an open platform and helping connect them to users. This work resulted in the relaunch of the Yahoo! Widget Gallery (which, for the sake of that douche over at VentureBeat, pre-dated the iPhone App Store) and a number of other improvements for the desktop Widgets product. But, it also became an essential part of the launch of Yahoo! Mobile Widgets at CES, the TV Widget launch at IDF last week, and some other stuff that’s still in the works down in Sunnyvale. It was also a great opportunity for us Konfabulistas, many of whom got to work on some of these fun projects and some of whom even moved on to these new teams.
So, in addition to being happy for my friends, who have been working on the TV Widgets project these last few months since I left, I’m proud to see the work we started (finally) coming to fruition. Way to go guys (and girls)!
The week before last, I announced my plans to leave Yahoo! to those following me on Facebook and Twitter (oh yeah, I told my team in person first 😉 ), and last Tuesday, February 12 was my last day in the office. I’ve already sent out an internal farewell email, and I really appreciate the unexpected number of very kind responses. I guess I consider this post my public farewell to Yahoo!.
First of all, thank you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone with whom I had the pleasure to work in my nearly 4 years. I met some great people at Yahoo!, and I look forward to continuing our personal and professional relationships wherever my career may take me. A special thanks to those who took a chance on me — Gerald See, Toby Coppel, Keith Nilsson, Gerry Horkan, Marco Boerries, Dan Rosensweig, Paul Brody, and Patrick Barry. At seemingly every step in my Yahoo! career, I was an unproven quantity pushing the bounds of the responsibilities that should be reasonably entrusted to someone of my age and experience. My time at Yahoo! would not have been anywhere near as challenging, educational, and exciting without you placing your faith in me, and I hope I’ve made you proud.
By far, the most challenging and fulfilling role I held at Yahoo! was the last 20 months I spent working on the Connected Life Desktop team. We built a fantastic team, that was not only exceedingly talented and hard-working but also tremendous fun. The thing I already miss the most is the daily Widgets team 1pm lunch. Regardless of what else was going on, this was a constant bright spot in my day and reminder of why I loved my job. Thanks more than I can express to Ed Voas, Bryan Mayes, Scott Derringer, Shan-lyn Ma, Brady Wood, Laurie Voss, Matt Hackett, Rob Marquardt, Ricky Romero, Marcus Harvey, Jet Lim, Matthew Lock, Michael Galloway, Ken Neville, Sam Magnuson, Sylvio Marcondes, Kevin Driscoll, Derrick Whittle, Ashit Gandhi, Joe Morrissey, Justin Whittle, John Hayes, Steve “Dallas” Dowds, and everyone else on D-1 and in Atlanta for putting up with my shit, making me look good, and just being good people. It would be my great pleasure to work with any of you again (if you’d have me 🙂 ), and count me as a reference anytime.
As for why I left, I spent more time at Yahoo! than anywhere else in my life since elementary school — a full 13% of my 27 years on this earth — and I’ve been ready to move on for a little while. Recent events provided an opportunity for me to transition my responsibilities, and I took it. For right now, my plan is to take some time off to travel and do some of the things I love, like skiing (I’m actually writing this from Aspen 😀 ), that I haven’t been able to do as much the last few years. I’m also following Scoble’s (pretty sage, IMHO) advice on unemployment, which means I’ll be attending events and taking meetings on my travels. So if you have any interesting ideas on things I should check out, please drop me a line at jonathan[at]jonathanhstrauss[dot]com.
Yahoo! people, please keep in touch by connecting with me on Facebook and/or LinkedIn. For those interested, my travel schedule is below and I’ve started a photo set on Flickr to chronicle this little adventure. Best of luck, and keep in touch.
I just finished the first of my three planned white papers last night, and decided to let it percolate a bit before moving on to the next two. It is currently a six-page screed on microeconomic theory in the digital age, and I will likely post some portions of it here soon. In the meantime, I thought I would catch up on some blogosphere surfing and MyWebbookmarking (come on Yahoo! marketing, where’s the verb for that? MyWebbing? Gong!). And after reading through a couple of posts linked to from Kareem’s highly-underrated blog, something just snapped.
I work at Yahoo!. We are the leading community on the internet both in size and breadth of tools. And, we have some brilliant people who really get community (shouts out to: Ian, Michael, Russell, Randy, Stewart, Caterina, Danah, and Cameron, among others). But we also have some people who seriously don’t get it. They see community as a means to an end, not the end in itself. They are jealous of MySpace and Facebook and whatever the next big fad will be, because of their rapid audience growth.
Audience is what matters to these people because audience is what you sell in conventional advertising [oh, wtf…I’ll succumb to the 1.0/2.0 cliché – I guess it’s only a cliché because it works], let’s call it advertising 1.0. As Google has taught the world, advertising 2.0 is about selling intent. In the pre-digital age, audience put through a number of filters (like content association, demographic information, etc) was used as a proxy for intent. Advertisers weren’t really happy with this approximation, because they knew it was an inefficient means of buying what they really wanted – access to consumers with a certain intent. But, that was the best that conventional media could do, so advertisers settled. As John Wanamaker said approximately a hundred years ago, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” I won’t go further into advertising 2.0 other than to say that it is coming faster and faster. What makes advertising 2.0 relevant to this particular rant is the fact that it favors monetization of communities, not just audiences.
Getting back to the people who don’t get the “it” of communities; the way you can tell these people is that they talk about “user-generated content” way too much – they treat it as some kind of panacea that will fix the problems inherent with trying to port conventional media business models to the internet. The worst of these offenders use the term so much that they have taken to saving time by abbreviating it…from this day forth, I vow to walk out of any meeting in which someone actually uses the term “UGC” in anything but an ironic context. (Ok, I probably won’t really do that if there are executives present…but, that person will be put on my moron list).
Generated: Like a generator, engine. Like, you know, a robot. Content: Something that fills a box. Like, you know, packing peanuts.
So what’s user-generated content? Junkies robotically filling boxes with packing peanuts. Lovely.
Calling the beautiful, amazing, brilliant things people create online “user-generated content” is like sliding up to your lady, putting your arm around her and whispering, “Hey baby, let’s have intercourse.”
Amen brother! Derek goes on to suggest the term “Authentic Media,” which I like a lot and hope gets memeified. Authentic media definitely jibes a lot more with all the web and media 2.0 theory around which people are beginning to coalesce.
Anyway, back to the rant at hand. The reason I ironically titled the post “Community ‘Products'” (yes, my over use of quotation marks is often meant to denote irony), is that I don’t believe big companies can succeed at community products. Big companies, like Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, and even AOL, contribute most to the community value chain by building community platforms, on which the community builds its own products. Isn’t that the real underlying goal of online communities, to incite scalable self-sustaining user-behavior? If you define the product as what the end-user actually consumes, the value of any community product to a given individual user tends to be proportional to its focus on his interests. On social networking sites, like Friendster, Yahoo! 360, MySpace, Facebook, etc, what the end user consumes is a combination of content produced by the host, the community, and himself. The more that product management rests in the hands of that user, the more focused the product will be on that user’s