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Is Marissa Mayer the right CEO for Yahoo? - Felix Salmon

http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/08/26/is-marissa-mayer-the-right-ceo-for-yahoo/

Felix Salmon read Nicholas Carlson’s gargantuan article on Marissa Mayer, and comes away believing that Ross Levinsohn would have been a better choice:

From the post

It’s still too early to tell what Mayer’s strategy really is. Levinsohn had a strategy — one which was clearly thought-out, and which would produce a focused, profitable company. Mayer, on the other hand, had, well, an excellent grasp of detail.

[..]

It’s still far from clear what Mayer’s long-term strategy might be, or whether there even is one. Carlson does an excellent job of demonstrating how little she cared about anything on the business side of Google, and also of how distant she is when it comes to managing her direct reports at Yahoo — the people in charge of actually bringing in all the revenues. Mayer is more product manager than CEO, which maybe explains why she got on so well with David Karp — another person whose expertise is very much in the realm of product design rather than business-side nitty-gritty. When your company is your product, then the product manager as CEO can work very well. (See: Zuckerberg, Mark.) But Yahoo is not a product; it’s not even really a suite of products. To use the 90s terminology, it’s a portal — it’s a place where traffic can be aggregated and then monetized.

Yahoo’s doing very well on the traffic front, coming in top of the most recent Comscorerankings. But revenue isfalling, and product design is only one of very many skills that Yahoo’s CEO needs. It’s also not even clear that Mayer is very good at that: although the new Yahoo Mail turned out lovely in the end, Carlson also recounts how Shashi Seth, the Mail team leader, along with his lead designer and his product manager, all departed shortly after their new Yahoo Mail shipped. Like Dan Loeb, perhaps, they decided it might be best to quit while they were ahead, rather than stay hitched to Mayer’s star. And these are the people in Yahoo who know Mayer best.

Tumblr and Critics Tussle Over Porn Treatment - Liz Gannes

http://allthingsd.com/20130720/tumblr-and-critics-tussle-over-porn-treatment/

I read a number of posts about the changes/no changes NSFW/Adult policies controversy at Tumblr. David Karp’s post raises more questions than it answers. Sarah Perez is a long complex blow-for-blow that shows that Tumblr has been changing its policies all year, despite saying otherwise.

Liz Gannes has be best summary, I think: 

Liz Gannes via AllThingsD

CEO David Karp wrote in a blog post last night that “there haven’t been any recent changes to Tumblr’s treatment of NSFW content, and our view on the topic hasn’t changed.”

He also explained that Tumblr is blocking some widely applicable tags — like #gay — within some apps (this means Apple’s iOS, where Tumblr’s app is at risk of getting blocked). Tumblr’s staff has picked some apparently less popular tags — like #lgbtq — to moderate by hand so they can appear in the apps. It’s kind of odd.

Close readsof Karp’s post have not been friendly, citing differing public explanations of Tumblr policies over the past year, as well as things like Tumblr’s alleged pullback from earlier supportof a category devoted to erotica.

But if you read those close reads closely, the issue seems to be that Tumblr should make it clearer what the difference is between what it calls NSFW (occasional nudity) blogs and adult (substantial nudity) blogs, and explain who gets to decide that, and why.

In fact, TechCrunch’s takedown of Tumblr’s explanation actually shows that Tumblr policy has apparently made so-called NSFW content more findable over the past year. It used to be withheld from Google search, and now it isn’t.

According to the most current policy page (which actually says it’s outdated!), the adult blogs are the ones that are explicitly blocked from most mobile apps, Tumblr searches and third-party search engines. The NSFW ones aren’t (or shouldn’t be).

So perhaps people should stop complaining about Tumblr changing the rules, and ask it to actually explain the rules.

Yes. Tumblr, please explain the rules. And then stop changing them.

And it would be helpful to answer the elephant-in-the-room question: has Yahoo been behind these rule changes? Apple hasn’t changed its policies, so its not just some response to new iOS policies.

How Tumblr Can Make Money And Not Piss Us Off

The debate swirling online about how Tumblr (and by extension, Yahoo) can make ad money without alienating a fickle hipster audience is fairly straightforward, if you know how Tumblr works.

Most users would be pissed off if Tumblr put ads a/ on their blogs (extremely pissed off), or b/ in their dashboard stream of Tumblr posts from followed blogs (really pissed off). We consider that our territory, because it is by us, for us.

On the other hand, the Tumblr tags area has a definitely different feel to it, and therefore I think people would be more accepting of Tumblr going more mercantile there. First of all, if I am looking at the stream of all posts tagged ‘Yahoo’ or ‘Tech’ I expect to see posts from strangers, people that I am not following. Therefore, the tag stream does not feel like a personal space, one defined by me. Following a tag is not like following a person, it’s like visiting a museum.

Second of all, a handful of the most followed tags are curated by Tumblr. In these cases, Tumblr has expended time and energy to contact and work with leading Tumblrs knowledgeable about ‘Architecture’ or ‘Movies’ or ‘Food’, and then handing over curatorial tools to that group to pull in the most interesting and insightful posts relative to the tag. 

Placing even a fairly sizable chunk of those tag pages to ad space — especially if the editors were somehow involved in deciding that the ads were relevant to the topic — wouldn’t run against the grain, I think. Moreover, the ads themselves could be made to feel like Tumblr posts, too, like Tumblr Radar — selected posts of general interest — currently does.

image

Perhaps it’s so obvious that it can go unsaid, but clearly some camera company would be willing to pay a substantial sum of money to have tens of thousands of people daily see its offerings when they visit the Tumblr ‘Photography’ tag page. Likewise for the pages associated with ‘Cars’, ‘Weddings’, ‘Wine’, ‘Tattoos’, and ‘Russian Brides’. Ok, forget the ‘Russian Brides’, but the rest stays.

So the answer for Yahoo is tag stream advertising.

The best angle might be for companies to use the space as a mini curation. For example, IBM might rent the space on ‘Social Business’, and curate great content on that topic from around the world. This would actually be providing a great service, since Tumblr doesn’t have curation on that topic yet. It might actually help pull the community into Tumblr, just for the sake of accessing that content.

At any rate, given the near infinity of topics that are of interest to groups of people, and the ready-made, bottom-up nature of tags, Yahoo could be selling Tumblr participation in this way on tens of thousands of tag pages, and Tumblrs would feel like they are better off, not dissed.

On a completely unrelated topic, Tumblr Pro could have legs, too. For example, I would be willing to pay $5/month, let’s say, to be able to pull any RSS feed into my Tumblr stream, so that posts from friends’ non-Tumblr blogs would just show up. Or the Bits Blog from the NY Times, or dozens of others. Tumblr could make money collecting fees for the Financial Times, or other paywalled destinations. There are obviously other premier services that people would be willing to pay for, over and above this pull-to-read service. 

No, We Should Not Protest The Yahoo Tumblr Acquisition

Paul Higgins wonders if we should oppose the Tumblr acquisition by Yahoo:

Paul Higgins, The Community, Tumblr and Yahoo - Do we Protest?

There are a couple of services that are really important to my life and my business. One of them is Tumblr and the other is Evernote. In promoting Evernote for example I often tell people that if Microsoft buys it I will retire. That is because it has become so important to my work flow and because of my view that large corporations hardly ever get these sort of services right.

Tumblr is equally important to me in a different way and I am part of the community and honoured to be one of the Tech editors, and have almost 200,000 followers.

There are rumours going around that Yahoo is in negotiations to buy Tumblr which worries me a hell of a lot. Let me be clear that I have no problems with the founders and investors making money off the contributions of the community but I worry what would happen to Tumblr in the hands of a large entity.

In a world where business models like these require both the founders and investors to contribute and create but the community to contribute and create as well, valuations and business strategies have a different flavour. No community and there is no business valuation. If you have similar concerns then please reblog or like this post. I intend such support to be a signal to both Tumblr and Yahoo (if the rumours are true) that the community is concerned and should be involved in the decision making process. Maybe that is thinking with delusions of grandeur or maybe it isn’t - over to you the community to decide.

I like Paul, and I can understand his concerns, but I don’t think we should protest this acquisition, but instead welcome it.

Tumblr is confronted with the growing attention of its most direct competitors — Facebook and Twitter — both of which have large and well-established management teams. Also, it’s not so obvious competitors — Google and Microsoft — are waiting in the wings to buy or copy Tumblr. In a way reminiscent of Zuckerberg, David Karp is a young man under intense pressure to grow the company that he started in high school into a company that will pay back today’s investors 10X or more on an $800M valuation. Oh, and keep a growing, fickle, and international community of users coming back for more. His genius has certainly been focused toward building the Tumblr architecture and staying close to his vision. But he doesn’t necessarily have the skill set, the team, or the inclination to do all the things needed for the next 10X growth. He may turn out to be Steve Jobs, but that remains to be seen.

My worry is that he could wind up bringing in someone promising as COO, to help push forward, Karp may wind up being Mitch Kapor at Lotus, who hired Jim Manzi, and wound up losing the battle for the office suite to a late-to-the-game Microsoft. Or creating something like the Sculley mess at Apple.

Despite my concerns about Marissa Mayer’s ‘no remote work’ edict — which can be read most generously as an effort to reanimate a dispirited organizational culture, and less generously as an effort to indoctrinate the Yahoos with a top-down, Googlish entrepreneurial fervor — she has been making good acquisitions in the past months, and I believe that she has the chops to help Tumblr crack the code of advertising. 

Mayer’s tenure at Google would translate into the skills needed to support Tumblr in growth on the operational side — keeping the service up and humming — and working to make revenue flow. Also, by selling at the price that Yahoo is willing to pay, today, to suit Yahoo’s needs, Karp, his investors, and his team will be able to decrease or obviate the possibility of bad technical or strategic decisions later, forced by the need to grow revenue or execute a dubious liquidity path. That turn of events is the one I worry about most, not becoming another Flickr in Yahoo’s bullpen.

So, for whatever negligible influence I might have on events, I cast my hypomythical ballot in favor of this deal, because chance are it could turn out great, and a purchase by Microsoft, or the possibility of a Lotus turn of events two years from now, for example, worries me much more.

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