Archive for the ‘Web Gossip’ Category

AOL?!? Really?

May 12, 2010

By now most of my friends and colleagues and readers know that I resigned from my job at Yahoo! nearly a month ago. The meantime has flown by like a dream. B and I went to New Orleans and I was able to enjoy Jazzfest with no “homework” on my mind for the first time in years. I spoke in Minneapolis on the Web App Masters Tour, returned home, and last week I spoke at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.

In the midst of all this, a week ago Friday I started my new job at AOL.

I’ve started joking with my friends that I must have joined a company called “AOL!? Really?!?” because that’s the first thing out of most people’s mouths. (The ones who can speak, that is – some just boggle their eyes at me.) To be honest, when my friend and mentor, Matte Scheinker, first told me he had come out of retirement to take a new role at AOL as VP for consumer experience I reacted in almost exactly the same way.

For anyone who’s fought the good fight at Yahoo! against a headwind of Bay Area techie-insider scorn, it might seem like moving to AOL would be a matter of taking on more of the same.

But I listened to what Matte had to tell me about his new gig, and the more I heard about it the more intrigued I got. First of all, I like the idea of a company embracing a turnaround effort head on. At Yahoo! we were winning in enough categories that I did not always feel a sense of urgency in the culture about fixing and improving the areas that needed it.

At AOL I feel a bracing awareness: “now or never, do or die!” The new management team has wasted no time remaking AOL, taking it public again, refreshing the brand, repositioning the strategy, and challenging its employees to excel and win.

At some point while we were talking I realized that Matte was recruiting me to join his team, to help him place design thinking and a laserlike focus on customer experience at the heart of the (digital/software) product development process. In some ways, this is a designer or UX guy’s “put your money where you mouth is” moment, where the leadership of a major corporation says, “OK, you’ve been arguing that the customer is key and that design is a tool that is relevant to a company’s strategy and business processes, so now prove it.”

While I enjoyed my role curating the Yahoo! pattern library immensely, and it provided me with plenty of ego-boosting attention in the user experience design community, I did not always feel like I was able to exert my influence within the company in a concrete, effective way. I was there to offer advice and set an example, but I did not always have the ability to put into action ideas about how to make better products and how to employ better processes.

Further, AOL is aggressively interested in reshaping the world of media, publishing, content, attention, and advertising. This has been my wheelhouse since before the web. I came from book publishing, where I was astonished at the 19th century business practices I saw. The upheaval ripping through the worlds of publishing and journalism are messy and frightening for those being tossed about by the rapid changes, but I’m convinced that new models will emerge to connect people with the information and ideas and art and entertainment they want, and people will be compensated for their talents, yes and empires will grow up around these new models of weaving it all together.

AOL is playing in exactly that space. For example, AOL’s Seed beta and the Patch startup AOL recently acquired both represent (to me) very interesting experiments:

  • Rethinking the “content” business and the infrastructure (is “supply chain” too industrial a term for creative work?) for cultivating high quality writing.
  • Exploring the capabilities the web offers and the types of flows the web favors.
  • Sourcing small pieces of content.
  • Targeting hyperlocal geographies.

I honestly believe AOL has a shot at turning around its fortunes and rejuvenating its illustrious brand and I’m excited to have the opportunity to help the product teams at AOL perform to their highest abilities and succeed at delivering content and experiences that are better than the best of what the Internet has to offer (we call this goal “beating the Internet”).

Are the odds long? Yes, of course they are. That’s what makes the challenge so ambitious and so exciting.

So, yes, AOL. Really!

My Yahoo! years

April 27, 2010

This post has turned out to be a lot more difficult to write than I expected. Last Tuesday was my final day at Yahoo! I wrote a valedictory post for the YDN blog as my official signoff.

It wasn’t easy resigning from Yahoo! I started working there more than three years ago and had a splendid time throughout. I met a slew of incredibly talented, brilliant people. I learned a lot about the pros and cons of large companies (and what can happen after a startup experiences hypergrowth). I expanded my network and became a much more visible member of the global user experience (aka “UX,” although I’m leaning toward describing it as “digital design” these days) community.

I’m leaving a lot of friend behind there and I expect to keep in touch with all of them. These days with the twitters and such, that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Beyond my work on the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library, and the social design patterns project, I’m most proud of my involvement with Yahoo!’s Open Strategy, from the earliest days of formulating and fleshing out the strategy, to the difficult, slow, but fruitful efforts to rewire Yahoo! and expose more and more of the underpinnings and utility features to the large web developer community. If you haven’t checked out YQL, for example, you really should.

Right now, I’m on a very brief hiatus between jobs. I just got back from a long overdue return to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, today I’m speaking in Minneapolis on the UIE Web App Masters Tour, and on Friday I start my new job. More about that in my next post.

First YDN video podcast with Jonathan Leblanc

September 28, 2009

Jonathan gives a few shout outs to the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library and my new book, Designing Social Interfaces.

The best part is when the host says he considers the Yahoo! Developer Network to be “the unsung hero of the Internet.”

If I have to appear in Valleywag this is the way to go

March 8, 2008

team' return of the cobra kai' poses for its photo opp at Kick '08 at SxSW
Started off Saturday morning with Kick ’08.
Namedropping: Talked to George Kelly, Erin Malone, Anil Dash, Jessamyn West (yay!), Simon Willison, Owen Thomas, Hugh Forrest, Micah Alpern (briefly, passing on the escalator), Janna Hicks DeVylder so far….

What can I say about OpenSocial?

November 2, 2007

opensocial.jpgThe blog world, along with my slice of the twitter world, is abuzz with attempts to understand, analyze, deconstruct, laud, and excoriate Google’s new OpenSocial initiative.
One key question seems to be: is this true openness or simply using the (increasingly at risk of dilution) “open” mean as a handy cudgel to ward off Google’s current nemesis, Facebook, with it’s extremely popular but closed application development platform, active and growing userbase, and impending social ad network play?
Another key question I’m hearing people ask is whether this is a hand-off attempt by Google to hew to its roots of faciliating access to information and monetizing the traffic and data that passes through its metaphorical ands or is it an attempt to do judo and place itself at the hub of the social web as it matures?
My meta question might be to ask whether each pair of possibilities is truly mutually exclusive.
But I don’t feel like I really can comment on this right now.
If I were still an independent writer or even just a user experience consultant at an agency with a blog, I’d be much more comfortable jumping into the geek-punditry fray, but I’m not.
I work for a company that view Google and Facebook as competition, a company full of people who use both Google and Facebook, a company in the midst of announcing and operationalizing its new strategy, a company that has just made a commitment to openness and has its own ideas about what that mean, and it’s really just too hard to figure out what has been announced and what hasn’t and I really don’t want to talk out of school, so I’ll just adopt a wait and see attitude and for the time being keep my opinions to myself.

Selling Amazon shorts

October 15, 2007

reluctant-editors.jpgIf Apple can sell electronic downloads of songs with no packaging for 99c a pop why can’t Amazon sell short little chapbooks electronically, download only, for 49c? The answer is they can, of course.
A writer on a mailing list I’m on recently alerted me to this feature (no idea how long Amazon has been at it), mentioning his eleven-page piece called Letters from Resistant Editors. In his own words, “Like almost all writers, I’m well acquainted with rejection and I learned long ago to keep faring forward when I get a rejection slip or letter. But one such letter started my mind tinkering with letters that some editors might write. Here is the result: letters of rejection that might have been written to some well-known authors. If you are a writer of children’s stories, or a reader of them, how would you like to get letters like these?
“It looks interesting and for less than half a buck, why not take a look? Amazon describes its Shorts this way:

About Amazon Shorts:

  • Amazon Shorts are available exclusively at; you will not find them anywhere else.
  • Amazon Shorts are delivered electronically; there are no printed editions.
  • Amazon Shorts are yours forever – after purchase, you can read them anytime at (They’ll be stored forever in Your Media Library in PDF, HTML, and text e-mail formats.)
  • You are free to print Amazon Shorts to read in hard copy form at your convenience.

For me, this is déjà vu all over again. Back around 1988 I was packaging short “e-books” for a startup called Mightywords that had spun off from Fatbrain. They had detected this exact market: items shorter than a book but still worth publishing. Something like free-floating magazine articles. They were pricing them too high (typically $5 or more) and they were targetting technical subjects, and mainly they were burning through a bunch of VC cash (which I did my best to spread around to the various starving writers I knew). It was too early, the business model was wrong, and so on, but that idea really wasn’t a bad one.
I’ll be watching this Amazon experiment to see how it pans out.

Looks like Mash is in beta

September 16, 2007

Yahoo! Mash (né Mosh) is open to non-Yahoos on an invitation-only basis.
If you want to try it out, and you know me (or at least have some connection to me that you can tell me about), leave a comment and I’ll send you an invitation.
Oh, my profile there, for people already in Mash is at

Technorati launches new design

May 23, 2007

Looks like Technorati has reconfigured itself to be less blog-centric and to take a more multimedia look at what they call over there the Live Web (Technorati Weblog: Come check out the refreshed!):
> First, we’ve eliminated search silos on Technorati. In the past, you had to know the difference between keyword search, tag search and blog directory search in order to make use of the full power of our site. No more. Starting today, we now provide you a simplified experience. Simply indicate what’s of interest to you and we’ll assemble the freshest, hottest, most current social media from across the Live Web – Blogs, posts, photos, videos, podcasts, events, and more.
> We’ve also worked really hard at making our user interface simpler, and more intuitive. We’ve been spending months doing user testing, and listening to you, our users, collecting and prioritizing what you wanted, what you liked, and what you hated about Technorati. We haven’t gotten it 100% right yet, and we’re going to keep working hard to improve, but I think we’ve made a big step forward with this launch.
> …
> With this launch, we also provide you with more context around more stuff like videos, music, and blogs. Over time, these pages will become richer and more comprehensive as we add more information about the thing itself, like where it was published, who links to it, what other things are similarly tagged, and more.

MyBlogLog is looking for a community manager

February 8, 2007

If you’re an experienced blogger in the Bay Area and would like to work for a cool startup recently acquired by Yahoo!, in Berkeley, then you may want to apply for this new community manager role: The MyBlogLog Blog: Seeking: MyBlogLog uber-user for long-term relationship
They seem to grok the Craig Newmark idea that customer service is a key part of growing their business.

Today ze show, tomorrow ze world!

January 20, 2007

Unsurprisingly, Ze Frank is going all Hollywood in the near future.
Last year at SXSW (at least I think it was last year, and not 2005), I ended up going out to dinner with my Austin guru, some folks from WorldChanging, and I think David Pescovitz or maybe I just chatted with him at some party later on, and a very tall witty guy who I felt like I should know but didn’t, who was talking about the work he was doing mainly giving talks on creativity.
It was much later (that night) that I realized this was Ze Frank, the Ze Frank. Probably because he is so much taller than I, the angle on his face was different from his usual bug-eyed unblinking full frontal in his videos and more recently on The Show.
I’m kind of glad I didn’t recognize him and go all fanboy. Instead I probably acted aloof, and that’s cool, right? After all, did he really want another person saying, “Hey, I got your How to Dance animated gif forwarded to me back in the day. I’ve been a big fan for yea long!”
Meanwhile, he is a creative force of nature who should make me feel envious and insecure but who instead inspires me not to get hooked on brain crack and I’m not surprised he is about to cross over to the mainstream and I’m sure he’ll knock him dead in Hollywood town.