Inside Word: Some Advice For Yahoo From An Ex Evangelist

The Inside Word is a weekly feature that looks at compelling industry debates and discussions unfolding on the blogs of employees at digital-media companies.

Blogger: Jeremy Zawodny

Position: Zawodny was a tech evangelist at Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) — and one of that company’s best- known employee bloggers — until he quit in June 2008. He now works as an engineer at Craigslist.

Blog name: Jeremy Zawodny’s blog

Backstory: Yahoo has only gotten more chaotic since Zawodny’s departure. The company has gone through two rounds of layoffs; it has agreed to outsource its search business to Microsoft; (NSDQ: MSFT) and Yahoo is shutting down or putting on the block dozens of properties in its portfolio.

Blog post: In a blog post, Zawodny praises CEO Carol Bartz’s decision to try to sell some of its businesses — but says it is far from the first effort to refocus the company. “Terry Semel tried to do something similar when he came on board. That was a wandering effort that ultimately lacked focus and wasn’t ambitious or forward-thinking enough. Jerry (Yang) and Sue (Decker) tried this when Terry left, but I really think they were too ‘Yahoo’ to transform Yahoo into what it needs to be.”

“I see how Carol is trying to be smart on the business side, but I’m not sure how Yahoo plans to wow its users. And coming from the Yahoo! Developer Network, I wonder if Yahoo will ever get serious about outside developers. Conferences and Hack Days are great, but I suspect they still haven’t figured out how to offer business-class APIs … Aside from YUI and Hadoop, can you really go beyond a prototype with this stuff. It could simply be that I never really drank the (Yahoo Open Strategy / Yahoo Application Platform) Kool-Aid and never will get it.”

Post-script: We asked Zawodny what Bartz and her staff should do. “They need to sit down and look at every one of their ‘products’ (notice I did not say ‘businesses’) and ask, “is this really Yahoo?” he said. “If the answer is no, shut it down or sell it off and get down to focusing on what the heck Yahoo really is.” But Zawodny was far from optimistic, reiterating that that has been tried before.

“I’ve been a Yahoo user for over 10 years, worked there for 8.5 years, and still use Y! Finance and Y! News regularly. But other than habit, there’s honestly nothing keeping me here,” he said.

Know of an insightful employee blog? Please e-mail the URL to [email protected], so that I can include it in a future edition of the Inside Word.