Yahoo’s New Marketing Chief Elisa Steele Doesn’t Use Flickr and How This Signals That Yahoo Management Is Out of Step With Innovation

Yahoo's New Marketing Chief Elisa Steele Doesn't Use Flickr and How This Signals That Yahoo Management Is Out of Step With Innovation

The Wall Street Journal today reported on Carol Bartz’s (Yahoo’s new CEO) latest executive appointment, Elisa Steele. Steele joins Yahoo in a newly created Chief Marketing Officer position.

“Yahoo’s marketing strategy and teams have become decentralized over time– hiring Elisa in the CMO role will quickly mobilize our plan to integrate the function globally and more effectively represent the Yahoo brand,” Ms. Bartz said, according to the Journal.

When I first read about this appointment, the first thing I did is went and did a search for Elisa Steele on Yahoo’s photo sharing site Flickr. It turns out that there is a single account under this name (completely dead and inactive) going by the handle Kangas. There is also a single photograph of Steele on the site as well.

After Bartz was appointed as CEO of Yahoo I did a similar search on Flickr to see if Bartz was active there after Bartz mentioned on a Yahoo earnings conference call that her daughter used Facebook to share photos. Like today’s appointment Bartz also was not active on Flickr. There is also a lone Bartz account on Flickr, like the Steele account also completely dead and inactive. If you do a search on Yahoo’s bookmarking site delicious for either Bartz or Steele, neither of them show up there either.

Now some people say “so what.” Who cares if Yahoo execs don’t use Flickr personally. They are busy people and have plenty of other more important things to do than to play around on a photo sharing site. But I think that having Yahoo executives not use their company’s most innovative products sends a message both to the product teams that manage those products as well as the broader public about how Yahoo executives view innovation.

Both delicious and Flickr are two of Yahoo’s most popular services. More significantly, however, both are considered to be two of Yahoo’s most *innovative* products. When delicious founder Joshua Schachter left Yahoo he made a very significant comment over at a post on TechCrunch explaining his departure:

“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 in terms of pushing my point of view.”

Even more damning an indictment came in the form of Flickr Co-Founder Stewart Butterfield’s incredibly creative, but crpytic, letter of resignation to the company.

Now I guarantee you that both Carol Bartz and Elisa Steele have photos that they could share with the rest of the world if they chose to use Flickr. C’mon, kids, everybody’s doing it these days! Even if they don’t have personal photos of friends and family that they want to share, they undoubtedly have photographs of flowers or kittens or of the Grand Canyon from a vacation or whatever. Even if they had zero photos to possibly share on their hard drives they could at least mark a few photos of others as favorites of theirs on the site. Feel free to fave some of my photos here Carol and Elisa.

Over the years executives at Microsoft have been big proponents of the idea of dogfooding. Hell, Bill Gates won’t even let his kids own iPods and in one of his most entertaining email rants of all time rails on Microsoft’s own developers after his own frustrating experience trying to use a Microsoft product.

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.”

Now I’m not suggesting that people like Bartz and Steele ought to use every single Yahoo product. There are hundreds of different products that they could possibly use. But more importantly than them not using some of Yahoo’s most *popular* products, in the case of sites like Flickr and Delicious, they are not using some of Yahoo’s most *innovative* products. I think that this is likely both demoralizing to some of their most talented employees on some of their most important teams and that more significantly it sends a message to the rest of the world that Yahoo Management *still* does not get the innovation represented by services like Flickr or Delicious. A further confirmation of the very reason why the founders of both delicious and Flickr both left the company.

Even worse than simply Bartz or Steele not using Flickr, a quick Flickr people search of the 12 current executives listed by Bloomberg for the company (Roy Bostock, Carol Bartz, David Filo, Jerry Yang, Blake J Jorgensen, Aristotle N Balogh, Elisa Steele, David Windley, Michael J Callahan, Venkat Panchapakesan, Hilary A Schneider, and Michael A Murray) shows that not a single one of these individuals carries any sort of significant presence on the site whatsoever.

Now maybe Flickr is not the most profitable business unit at Yahoo. And maybe the $35 million or so that they bought it for is mere chump change for executives at a company like Yahoo. But Flickr nonetheless represents one of the most significant properties ever on the internet. Flickr breaks news. Flickr has some of the world’s most amazing art. Flickr represents the largest organized library of images in the world! That is something. And the fact that Yahoo executives, even in some small way, don’t really want to have anything to do with that is sad.

More here as well.

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  1. nicheplayer says:

    “Yahoo’s photo sharing site Flickr.”

    I don’t care. Reading those words will always leave a bad taste in my mouth.

  2. Tara Hunt says:

    Great post Thomas! And I 100% agree. If the ‘deciders’ in the company don’t get the current and future landscape of their own software and their customer community, the company is bound to keep stagnating. I’m a big proponent of eating one’s own dogfood.

  3. Jman says:

    Good point T, how will these execs really know and understand what the users experience unless they are a user themselves. It is like describing a Christmas celebration from looking through a dirty window. It’s obvious that presents are being opened and a tree is flashing Christmas lights. What’s not noticeable is the smell of nutmeg, pine, cider, and the warmth felt from being close to your loved ones.

  4. Anonymous says:

    how come you promote flickr more than zoomr? what does that say about you?

  5. Anonymous says:

    You do realize that yahoo execs. may very well be using flicker on a daily basis, but not under their own names. My husband is an executive of a very well known company (one most people here would recognize although it is smaller than yahoo), and we can’t have anything online in our names, security and privacy are just a few examples of why. And privacy settings don’t mean anything (anyone remember the hackers releasing the contents of Sarah Palin’s yahoo account during the election)? I do in fact have a Flicker account with pictures of my daughter for sharing with my parents/siblings only, and it is NOT in my real name, nor is there anything that could link those images back to my family. To expect that major execs. at a company like Yahoo would have flicker accounts registered in such a way that you could track them down is stupid.

  6. Fredrik says:

    I really like Flickr and put together a site where it is possible to view sample photos taken by different lenses with the help of Flickr. Check it out, and any comments are appreciated!

  7. Fredrik says:

    Oops… thought the url would show and not able to edit my post above… the url is http://www.onepointeight.

  8. Thomas Hawk says:

    Anonymous. Certainly Yahoo execs may be using Flickr under secret hidden private accounts, but I doubt it. Even if that’s the case though it really sort of undermines one of the major uses of Flickr which is to share photos not just privately but with the world. As the Flickr marketing mantra states, “show off your favorite photos and videos to the world.”

    Even if a Yahoo exec was using a private account I’d argue that *some* of their photos would have no privacy implications for sharing with the rest of the world and that they ought to have a public account in addition to their private account. A Yahoo exec sharing a photo of a flower or a shot of a zebra at the zoo or a sunset at the beach, etc. would not give away any privacy information. These sorts of generic shots could be shared. Even if they didn’t want to share their own shots they could still establish a public account on the site and interact with other users (faving and commenting on other people’s photos, etc.). Adding a “nice shot,” comment on someone else’s photo would not allow anyone to “track down” a Yahoo exec.

  9. Eric in SF says:

    Thomas – you can’t be that dense. Anonymous is absolutely right, especially now. There is real anti-corporate populism coursing through the United States. Furthermore there are a LOT of people who to this day feel Yahoo! destroyed Flickr when they bought the company.

    If there was *any* chance a crazy would track you or worse, your family members down, and start a confrontation over a position you or your company took, why would you do it?

  10. Thomas Hawk says:

    Eric. You don’t get it. You don’t have to disclose personal information about yourself to post photos to flickr.

    How can someone track you by your uploading a photo of a flower to your flickrstream? You can choose to hide EXIF Data including date and time taken. You can choose not to geotag your photos. What you are left with is a generic photo of a flower that could have been taken at any time at any place in the world! Using Flickr publicly does *not* require you to disclose information about yourself — and if the Yahoo execs can’t see this then they really don’t understand how privacy works on Flickr and that’s a much larger problem.

    How is there *any* chance that someone could track you by your posting a generic photo of a flower without any meta data?

    There are many safe ways to use Flickr while *absolutely* safe guarding one’s privacy. And if there is not then Yahoo has a bigger problem than their executives not using one of their most innovative products.

  11. Eric in SF says:

    Good point – after re-reading Anonymous’ comment before mine I see that person shares 100% privately on Flickr.

    I only can speculate that “eating your own dogfood” isn’t in the corporate culture at Yahoo! Most high level executives I know have completely mastered delegation and mental compartmentalization. If they ‘have people’ for Flickr, then why should they have to investigate Flickr on their own? They won’t! It’s not (to them) critical that they personally know what’s happening at Flickr, and in fact having to check out Flickr personally might be seen as a failure of the person responsible for Flickr on their team.

    Not saying it’s the right thing, only that it’s not surprising.

  12. Anonymous says:

    You can’t seriously be pissed that the Yahoo execs aren’t out there running around with cameras taking pictures of flowers and beaches just so that they can post on Flicker. Yes, flower/beach/landscape/abstract images are perfectly safe to post under your own information but how many non photogs are out there taking those sort of images?

    Yes, I’m sure that execs, especially those with families have a gazillion pictures (that they can not post for the above stated reasons), but come on, unless photography just happens to be a hobby of theirs, I hope for Yahoo’s sake that the corporate execs at that company have better things to do with their time than run around snapping crappy flower pics with their expensive point and shoots just so that they can post on flicker and make a couple of Photogs happy. And do you really think that a “nice shot” by someone who may have no interest in photography what so ever gives anyone a “real taste” of what Flicker is all about?

  13. […] was reading Thomas Hawk’s excellent post on how the CEO and the marketing chief of Yahoo! doesn’t use Flickr when I clicked on a link to this great e-mail from 2003 by Bill Gates over his frustration in […]

  14. altruista6 says:

    While I think it would be better from a public perspective for Bartz and Steele use Flickr and Delicious, I don’t think it is as damming as the article makes it out to be. For one thing, both properties were bought by Yahoo and were not developed in-house. It is an important distinction. Eating your own dog food is always a better way to be in touch with your products. Yahoo has so many and Flickr and Delicious are already successful, why should the CMO waste time on products already doing well?

  15. Beach says:

    Hey Thomas,

    I know this post is old, but I was also recently searching for information on Elisa Steele. I work for Yahoo (been here since 2001 – with a year break) and don’t know anything about her. Actually I don’t know anything about any of our executives anymore. But that’s not why I’m writing this comment.

    I know that executives are not really supposed to use many of the social features that are a part of Yahoo. Not that it’s right, but it’s because of security reasons. In fact I remember being in a meeting with Filo and a woman was taking a photo. She was asked not to post it on Flickr. It would disclose his location. I guess when you are one of the richest people in the world you have to be careful. Besides using Flickr is different than using a Zune.

    But if somehow I was at that level, I’d keep using the service publicly, I’d just hope that a goofy photo of my dog wouldn’t cause a major sell-off of the stock. I’d also have to stop following SuicideGirls.

  16. Elisa Steele She is new to Web world

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