Sunday, February 25, 2018

Book Review: We Were Yahoo!

Overall: 3 out of 5

About two-thirds through We Were Yahoo!, author Jeremy Ring writes the following: "Is Yahoo! a media company or a technology company? The company could never agree on this central question. There wasn’t a single CEO in the history of the organization who effectively directed the company toward a single strategy.”

That’s a good insight. There are others about how the Internet was transforming advertising during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s; Ring opened the first east coast office of Yahoo and oversaw the creation of sales programs as Senior Director of Sales Programs. And about some of the challenges caused by trying to merge technology and media cultures.

However, I can’t really recommend the book overall.

It’s just not very well written or edited. It skips around, repeats, and uses strained metaphors. It’s almost as if there are several chunks of different books here. There’s the book about what it was like during the dot-com phase of Yahoo when the stock was headed into the stratosphere. There are the ruminations about all the coulda’, woulda’, shoulda’s in Yahoo’s past. Shoulda’ been Goggle. Coulda’ been Facebook. There’s a fairly bizarre personal story that’s more or less a complete tangent. 

The book also lacks any particular payoff for being told by an insider. The author’s time at Yahoo mostly gets dealt with in a couple of chapters. And, other than some accounts of dot-com euphoria and differences between how Yahoo and traditional media worked, the insider insights are both thin and scattered. In addition to being told in a rather disorganized way, the post dot-bomb history is told mostly from the perspective of an outsider. It doesn’t really square with the title.

Fundamentally, this book just lacks a strong narrative flow. For example, issues of sales force organization early-on pop up in a discussion late in the book about Yahoo’s ultimate failure in search. To the degree that the book has interesting content, it’s just tough to get through it and connect to a broader storyline because it so often just skips from one year or one argument to another. 

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