Do Yahoo Executives Really “Get” the Whole Idea of Flickr and Web 2.0?

A Change in the Weather is Known to Be Extreme

[I am CEO of Zooomr]

One of the best things that I’ve read in the past year on the internet is Stewart Butterfield’s resignation letter to Yahoo! exec Brad Garlinghouse. In his letter, Butterfield weaves a cryptic story about why he is leaving the troubled internet giant. The underlying theme of the letter has to do with “tin.” About how Yahoo! seemed interested in “tin” when Butterfield first joined the company, but seemed to lose interest in tin over time. Tin of course is a metaphor for something else. Some have suggested innovation.

Whatever the case, the letter is brilliant, but likely points to a rift between how a key Yahoo innovator might have felt about business at Yahoo vs. how the “suits” did.

Another well regarded entrepreneur turned Yahoo employee, Delicious founder Joshua Schachter, put it more bluntly in a comment he left on the popular technology blog TechCrunch regarding his own recent departure from the company:

“I was largely sidelined by the decisions of my management. So that was mostly the result rather than the cause, if that makes sense. It was an incredibly frustrating experience and I wish I was a lot more like Stewart [Butterfield] in terms of pushing my point of view.”

And so all of this turmoil between Yahoo innovators vs. executives got me to thinking. Do the executives at Yahoo really “get” Web 2.0? I mean, sure, they paid up a bunch of money for a number of key properties, but do they really “get” the significance of what these services represent to their users.

One phrase that I’ve heard a lot from folks at Microsoft over the years is the phrase “dog fooding.” More than one Microsoft exec I’ve met has dropped this phrase into conversations with me. From wikipedia:

“To say that a company “eats its own dog food” means that it uses the products that it makes. For example, Microsoft emphasizes the use of its own software products inside the company. “Dogfooding” is a means of conveying the company’s confidence in its own products.”

Personally I think dogfooding is good. One of the more recent places I’ve seen dogfooding was in this old email from Bill Gates to Jim Allchin about an experience downloading Microsoft’s moviemaker software. It is comforting to see Bill Gates, a company’s CEO, expressing his own frustration as a user about his company’s own products.

One of the things that troubles me about Yahoo! though is that there doesn’t seem to be much “dogfooding” going on by Yahoo! executives, at least as far as Flickr, their premier Web 2.0 property is concerned. Certainly every Yahoo! executive has a digital camera, no? Certainly every Yahoo! executive needs to share photos.

Earlier today I was surprised when the person who I thought was now going to oversee Flickr as part of Yahoo’s new re-org, Scott Dietzen, hosted his own personal website photos not on Flickr, but over at competitor SmugMug. Apparently SmugMug has lots of execs from Yahoo and Flickr hosting their photos over there.

SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill commented earlier today on FriendFeed:

“I have to be sensitive about my users’ expectations about privacy, but let’s just say that there are other VP+ Yahoos (and Googlers and …) execs using us. I’m not surprised, and I don’t think it’s a big deal, just saying this is hardly unique.”

MacAskill continues:

“Flickr excels at the online social elements of photo sharing. I’m not sure Yahoo execs really get social software (their failures are numerous), so I would bet there’s a correlation here. They don’t want to use it because they don’t get it – which, in turn, means they fail when they try to build it. Sad, really.”

Which made me wonder. How many Yahoo execs actually are heavy users of Yahoo’s own service Flickr.

The first executive Flickrstream that I wanted to check out was the Flickr photostream of the immediate executive in charge of Flickr. Under today’s new re-org that new executive is Tapan Bhat. The only problem is that when you do a search for Tapan Bhat on Flickr you find no Flickrstream at all. Best I can tell, Bhat doesn’t use the service publicly, even though he’s in charge of it.

According to Yahoo’s Vice President of Corporate Communications, Jennifer Stephens Acree, Bhat does in fact have a Flickr account and has used it for many years. According to Acree though it’s just a “private” account. I asked Acree about Bhat not having a public Flickr account earlier today:

Acree replies: “Tapan does indeed have a Flickr account and has been an active Flickr member for four years. He is passionate about Flickr and pleased to be working more closely with the team. Tapan does not share his photostream publicly (most of his photos are set as private, as is the case with many Yahoo! executives and members), but Flickr is the predominant way he shares his photos with close friends and family.”

Still though, isn’t one of the big aspects of the Flickr experience photo sharing with the world? Isn’t the social interaction part of it, what makes it special and different and more Web 2.0ish than other photo sharing sites? And doesn’t Bhat have at least *some* photos that he’d be willing to share publicly with the world. I mean, even if he doesn’t want to share photos of his dogs or kids or whatever, he must have some photos of sunsets or flowers or the what not that might be shared with the rest of the world as part of this great big photosharing love in. After all, Butterfield has a public Flickrstream.

So the next executive I did a search for was Bhat’s immediate boss Ash Patel. Fortunately Ash Patel does seem to have a public Flickrstream. But let’s look at how Ash Patel uses Flickr publicly. His Flickr profile is empty. All we know about him is that “I am male.” Although he’s bothered to upload his avatar, he’s never bothered to change his stream’s url from the default jibberish that Flickr defaults to. Ash Patel has no testimonials on his account. And he only has two photos in his entire photostream. Two photos from back in 2006 that look like they were taken from a bad camera phone.

What is also interesting to me though is that Ash Patel *does* actually have some other contacts listed on his profile page on Flickr. And here these would appear to be several of the other Yahoo bigwigs. There’s someone named JerryY06. There’s someone else named MrFilo06. There is someo
ne named Sue06. There is even someone named Terry_S2006. Funny how someone named Terry was also the highest paid CEO in the United States of America of a company named Yahoo in 2006.

What one thing do all these “contacts” of Ash Patel have in common. They have zero photos on Flickr. They have never bothered to upload an avatar. They basically don’t use the site. When I did people searches on Flickr for “Jerry Yang” “Terry Semel” “Sue Decker” and “David Filo” these people searches basically returned nothing to me.

I did try to confirm that this “Ash Patel” account listing contacts of other Yahoo execs was actually *the* Ash Patel account but Yahoo would not confirm this. According to Acree, “Regarding the accounts you reference below, we cannot confirm the users’ identities as it violates Flickr’s privacy policy.”

So the question I’m left with is, if Yahoo execs are not really using Flickr in a Web 2.0 sort of way personally, can we really expect them to understand the tremendous innovation that Flickr represents for Web 2.0 in general? If they don’t “get it” first hand. If they don’t eat their own dogfood, so to speak, can we really expect them to truly take Flickr and social sharing in general where it needs to go?

Now I’m not suggesting that Jerry Yang cart around a full frame Canon 5D like I do everywhere he goes, but couldn’t he at least connect up his iPhone to a Flickrstream and snap a few shots for the rest of the world every now and then? And what if he took 5 minutes out of his busy day to fave or comment on someone’s photo. If he tried Flickr, he might find that he actually liked it.

Are Yahoo execs truly concerned with innovation in this space? Or are they more interested in figuring out how to pay Terry Semel more money than any CEO in America or how to bust out the latest few extra pennies out of Panama? I suppose that still remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure. Butterfield and Schachter won’t be around to find out.

Update: I just received an email confirmation back from Acree at Yahoo who tells me that Ash Patel does in fact have a Flickrstream. He goes by the handle smorgos. You can view Ash’s Flickrstream here. Interestingly enough the sole and only Flickr group that Ash belongs to is the “Microsoft, Keep Your Grubby Hands Off Our Flickr,” group whose description reads: “THlS GROUP WILL STOP MICROSOFT FROM BUYING YAHOO! AND DESTROYING THE FLICKR WE KNOW AND LOVE OR WE WILL DIE TRYING. FACT. AWARENESS IS THE FIRST KEY”

Heh, no wonder the guy got a promotion today 😉

Contacts over at Ash’s flickrstream also turn up another empty David Filo account. The empty David Filo account and Ash’s account have another common Flickr contact, Yahoo exec Marco Boerries who goes by the handle t3killer.

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  1. Wizetux says:

    After having read this blog and the previous one, I am left wondering just one question. At the bottom of the photo for this blog, you have stated “I am the CEO of Zoomr,” but yet all of the photos that you have on the blog are posted from Yahoo’s Flickr. How come you are not eating the “Dog food” and using your Zoomr account to host you photos for your blog? Do you do it in an attempt to lighten the load on the Zoomr infrastructure, or because it is easier to blog from Flickr?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I guess they go by the adage

    “you dont need to be a mason to build a house”

  3. t3mujin says:

    And what frightens me most is that Microsoft Executives understand Web 2.0 even less…

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    Wizetux, I’ve posted photos from Zooomr on my blog as well. I love and use both Zooomr and Flickr every single day. While I’ve got more photos on Zooomr, I find Flickr’s uptime to be more reliable at this point, but barely. The point is though that I’m definitely a power user on Zooomr and use the site and engage the community there every single day, day in and day out — I just also really, really like Flickr.

    t3mujin, you might be right on Microsoft not understanding Web 2.0. I’ve never seen this as their strong point either.

  5. Quikboy says:

    Nice photo. :^)

    The only Yahoo! sites I bother going to are Flickr and Y! Answers. The other sites are nice enough I guess, but not of my interest. Though My Yahoo! is pretty neat. Better than iGoogle and Live.com.