Former Yahoo Engineers Shed Light On Why Delicious And Other Acquisitions Failed

As we’ve written a number of times over the past few days, Yahoo appears to be in complete disarray. Following layoffs at the company this week, a leaked memo revealed that Yahoo is “sunsetting” a number of products includes Delicious (bought by Yahoo in 2005), MyBlogLog (bought by Yahoo in 2007), Yahoo! Bookmarks, Yahoo! Picks. Other products are planning to be “merged” such as Upcoming (bought by Yahoo in 2005), Fire Eagle, and others. A day later, Yahoo announced that it would be finding a new home for Delicious, passively aggressively blaming the press for the way that users found out about the news.

There have been many more fumbles, which you can read here. So how did it get to this point? A Quora thread with posts by a number of former Yahoo engineers and employees sheds some light on why the acquisitions of web services startups like Delicious and Upcoming failed at the company.

Neil Kandalgaonkar, a former engineer at Upcoming writes: If they were supposed to revitalize Yahoo, they weren’t treated that way. They weren’t all combined into any one thing, even though they all relied on social networking and shared the same kind of userbase. Instead they were parcelled out to different parts of Yahoo where they were subordinate to the existing hierarchy and agenda. (Flickr was the exception though, in that they carved out a separate role for themselves, and absorbed Yahoo Photos rather than the other way around.) Arguably the Upcoming acquisition is the only one that “revitalized” anything as Leonard Lin made it his mission to work on Yahoo’s culture.

But others counter that Flickr isn’t as independent as one would think and faced administrative obstacles from Yahoo. Longtime Flickr engineer, Kellan Elliott-McCrea (who now works at Etsy), wrote that from his conversations 15% of the large projects they the Flickr team “tackled over the last few years (internationalization, video, various growth strategies, etc) went into building the feature, whereas 85% of the time was spent negotiating and dealing with Yahoo.

Elliott-McCrea writes: I recently pulled up a worklog I was keeping in 2008-2009, and I found 18 meetings scheduled over a 9 month period discussing why Flickr’s API was poorly designed and when we’d be shutting it down and migrating it to the YOS Web Services Standard.

As for bookmarking service Delicious, Dave Dash, former Yahoo engineer for the product writes, Yahoo! lacks vision. It had Delicious for years, but didn’t properly place it in its eco-system. It ignored the founder for the most part, and switched the management team above it repeatedly.

While all of this is anecdotal, it does provide a picture of a company that bogged its acquired-startups down in its company’s administrative BS. As Chad Dickerson, former Yahoo developer evangelist and the current CTO of Etsy comments, “In my experience, entrepreneurs moving into Yahoo! often got stuck doing PowerPoints about “strategy” instead of writing code and shipping products.”

That seems to some sum it up in one sentence folks. If you haven’t read it already, take a look at the entire thread, including comments.