Monday, December 20, 2010

How fast should you respond? It depends.

There have been a number of questions about Yahoo's performance over the years, and Rob Diana addressed a specific issue - Yahoo's response to the leak of its list of properties to "sunset." Diana got the text of the response from TechCrunch:

Part of our organizational streamlining involves cutting our investment in underperforming or off-strategy products to put better focus on our core strengths and fund new innovation in the next year and beyond.

We continuously evaluate and prioritize our portfolio of products and services, and do plan to shut down some products in the coming months such as Yahoo! Buzz, our Traffic APIs, and others. We will communicate specific plans when appropriate.

Diana was not pleased with the response:

When a whole host of blogs are commenting on the possible closure of a popular service like Delicious, do you really want your official response to be something like “we will close services when we see it is appropriate and on our own schedule, so leave us alone”? Why not respond to bloggers as if we care about the product and would prefer to find a way to keep it running? Why not tell us, “Due to various cost cutting measures, we need to close several services that do not generate enough revenue. Disappointingly, Delicious is among those services to be closed at an undetermined time.” If that was the response, bloggers would just be lamenting the death of a service, not talking about the continued failure of Yahoo to understand their own direction, or even the fact that Yahoo seems to have lost touch with the internet in general.

In the comments to the post, I dwelt upon my experience with bureaucracy to state that Yahoo's response was understandable, given the circumstances.

It’s important to note that the information was leaked. Perhaps if the leak hadn’t occurred, we might have seen a future statement along the lines of “Due to various cost cutting measures, we need to close several services that do not generate enough revenue. Disappointingly, Delicious is among those services to be closed at an undetermined time.”

Because of the leak, Yahoo was required to provide a statement RIGHT THEN HURRY UP WHY HAVEN’T YOU SAID ANYTHING YET GET A MOVE ON!!! And Yahoo, like any large organization, can’t get a fully coherent statement out all that quickly. There are too many sub-organizations that need to be consulted, too many factors to consider (the employees who work for Delicious/AltaVista/et al, the advertisers, the investment community, etc.). In such a case, and when you have to get a statement out RIGHT THEN HURRY UP, the safest course of action is to say nothing.

I then went on to draw parallels between the Yahoo leak and another leak that's been in the news lately:

Incidentally, you can see the same thing when looking at the Wikileaks information. The government papers that Wikileaks has released, and the banking papers that Wikileaks reportedly plans for release, are essentially the rough drafts of the policies of the various organizations. The Wikileaks papers, like the leaked Yahoo slide, are not yet ready for prime time, and have to be digested and considered more thoroughly before being released to the public. While the Wikileaks papers and the Yahoo slide are invaluable guides to what people may be thinking, they are not necessarily good indicators of what people actually planned to do.

Diana responded, noting that it's not necessarily valid to compare Yahoo! with a government. Here is part of his comment:

...My problem is that if Yahoo considers themselves a new media company for this new internet, then they need to be prepared for these kinds of things or just handle it better. The government and the military do not consider themselves a new media company, and have shown that they do not understand this new internet, so it is not a real apples to apples comparison....

See my response here.

In retrospect, I'm wondering if we're both right. Perhaps Yahoo! shouldn't have processes comparable to the U.S. Department of State, but at the same time Yahoo! might not necessarily be able to respond as quickly as your garden variety startup.

Is it reasonable to expect that a company with 14,100 employees - OK, less than that - can mount an immediate response in an emergency situation?

I'd like to hear your thoughts.
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