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