Dear Verizon: Now that you’re buying Yahoo!, please don’t shut down Flickr

Indulge me, please, in a moment of worry.

In case you’ve been living under a rock — and given the horrorshow that is this American Presidential election, I wouldn’t blame you — you might have missed that Verizon is buying Web pioneer Yahoo! for $4.8 billion. Photo-sharing site Flickr is part of that deal, as Yahoo! has owned it since 2005.


And now I’m worried about Flickr’s future. With the exception of a refreshed UI in 2013 and some new features and giving all users 1 TB of storage in 2015, Yahoo! has largely left the site alone. Meanwhile, innovation on the rest of the Web continued at breakneck pace, and other photo sites have overtaken Flickr in usefulness and popularity.

I’m an unabashed Flickr fan and for years have cheered it from the sidelines, but even I have to admit Yahoo!s inaction has left Flickr in a challenging competitive position. Even before the acquisition, Flickreenos everywhere were concerned for the site’s future.

And now here comes a new owner, and who knows what they’ll end up doing with their floundering photo-sharing site.

Here’s why I care so much. It’s not altruism or fanboy love. It’s that I use Flickr to host most of the photographs I share on this blog.

If Flickr goes away, photographs disappear here. Nine and half years worth of photographs.

It would be a daunting, enormous job to fix that.

My Flickr photostream today

Yes, I’m wringing my hands. Yes, it’s premature; Verizon has kept mum about its plans for Yahoo! and there’s currently no indication that they’ll change anything.

But I think I’m entitled to a little handwringing, because a project to restore missing photos to the nearly 1,500 posts here — oy, I don’t know how I would ever make time for that. I’d consider just leaving them be except that many of my old posts rank high on searches, and I want them to continue to be everything they have been.

Cross your fingers for me that Flickr has a long life ahead of it.

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Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer says no more working from home – and I say, “Right on!”

Yahoo!'s Marissa Meyer. TechCrunch photo.
Marissa Mayer. TechCrunch photo.

They say that the first secret of success is simply showing up. For those of us who work in software development, I say that means going to the office every workday.

Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo!, seems to agree. She recently told the Internet company’s employees that they would no longer be allowed to work from home. She thinks that employees need to work in a Yahoo! office to create the highly collaborative culture Yahoo! needs to be successful. The decision has polarized the press, some of which vilify her for what they call a family-unfriendly move, and some of which praise her for a bold move aimed at righting a long-troubled ship.

Sure, the technology exists to develop software almost anywhere. But making software of any size and scale is not a solitary pursuit. Lots of people have to work together closely to make it happen. And my experience after more than two decades making software is that the best working together happens face to face.

The second best working together happens when almost everybody works remotely. The company that makes WordPress, the platform I use for this blog, famously embraces a “distributed workforce” with more than 80 percent of its employees working somewhere other than in the company’s offices. I wish that any software product I’ve worked on in my entire career worked as well and was as enjoyable to use as WordPress! If the goodness of WordPress is any measure, a distributed workforce really can work. But I think what makes it work is that because almost everybody works somewhere other than the office, they have to embrace the technologies that make it work.

That’s hard to do because most of those technologies are terrible. Chat and instant-messenger software seems to work pretty well and are the notable exception. Voice and video conferences are a pain to set up, and it’s fairly routine that calls drop or the quality of transmission fades; “Can you hear me now?” is a common statement on conference calls. Information-sharing tools such as file shares, wikis, and the like need people whose job it is to manage them or it soon becomes impossible to find things in them.

If everyone depends on these tools, there is enough impetus to tune them to work as well as they can, and to make working through them the norm despite their shortcomings. But when only a small portion of a software team works outside the office, that impetus simply isn’t there.

But more importantly, it is simply easiest to reach people who are in the same place as us. When most people work in the office, the people who work remotely can easily be left out of key conversations and become marginalized.

In one of my past jobs, one of my employees had an unexpected life change that forced her to move far enough away that commuting to work every day was impossible. Because she had been a longtime successful employee, I allowed her to work from home. She drove in every other Monday to maintain her office relationships, but the office momentum ran on face-to-face interaction and when important conversations spontaneously happened she was usually not there to participate in them. For a long time she tried hard to stay plugged in, but her enthusiasm finally waned and she started to ask for projects she could work entirely alone. I had some, but most of them were not as important to the business as what everybody else was working on. There’s no way to get around it – it stalled her career. She seemed to understand and accept this, but it was a bit of a shame nonetheless.

This is why I say that having everybody work in the office together is really best. It avoids the awful collaboration technologies, lets us play to our natural human strengths around face-to-face interaction, and keeps everybody fully engaged and involved.

I’m not opposed to someone working from home on occasion. When someone is doing a task that requires protracted concentration, sometimes home offers fewer distractions than a bustling office. And sometimes you have to meet a repairman at home, or one of the kids turns up sick. You can often get some work done while you’re dealing with these things. Heck, a couple years ago I worked from home for three days after a bad ice storm made driving treacherous.

But now I say no when someone who works for me asks to work from home after 3 pm each day so they don’t have to pay for after-school child care, or every Monday to take a turn staying home with an elderly mother, or Tuesdays and Thursdays because they live far away and would like to cut back on the commute. Although I’m sympathetic to their needs, I can’t meet them and keep up the tight collaboration my company needs to be successful.

Actually, I care a great deal about work-life balance. I work very hard to plan projects carefully so that people who work for me seldom have to work extra hours to keep up. I very much value going home at 5 pm myself so that I can have plenty of time with my family and to relax.

In the end, people who need to work from home need to find a line of work where it makes sense. In 1994 I took an 18-month career detour to edit technology books. I really could do that job from anywhere, and except for an occasional phone call with my authors or my boss I could work alone for hours and hours and be incredibly productive.

But that doesn’t work in most software-development shops. And apparently, it doesn’t work in Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo!, either.

Stories Told

The world’s foremost Jim Grey

I’ve had a small personal site on the Web since 1995. Those were the days when you wrote the HTML by hand in Notepad and then submitted the URL to Yahoo so others might find you. Yahoo ruled Internet search then, and I was the number one result when you searched on my name. The world has no shortage of Jim Greys; my name’s pretty common. But it took a few years before any of the other Jim Greys had Web presences, and it was cool to be first. By the time Google had risen to search supremacy, a Canadian telephone company executive ruled the Jim Grey search. I swear his PR agency was paid by the press release. But this fellow appears to have retired, and so if you Google my name today, my homepage is the #1 hit. Once again, I am the world’s foremost Jim Grey!

I’ve left quite an Internet trail, and you can find most of it via Google if you’re patient. You will find an excerpt from a book about Microsoft PowerPoint I co-wrote several years ago, plus several places you can buy it if you’re so inclined – but don’t feel obligated; it was a work-for-hire contract and I’ve already made all the money I’m going to off it. You’ll find most of the posts I made to USENET newsgroups in the early 1990s. And you’ll find my profiles at LinkedIn, Facebook, and a few other places. I’m pretty sure I haven’t left anything behind that I wouldn’t want my mom to know.

Be sure you don’t confuse me with the non-me Jim Greys to whom Google also leads you. Just within the first hundred results, Google finds a Canadian ethanol executive, a ham radio operator, a Jewish man looking for love, an Oregon car and truck salesman, a chemical engineer hoping to find lost high school chums, and my dad looking for an argument. You’ll also find Jim Grey of Moonbah, a children’s book about an Australian boy who lived on a sheep ranch. I had that book when I was a kid.

But above all, beware the two impostors that Google finds because somebody fat-fingered their last names as Grey instead of Gray. Unfortunately, they are also the two most common results when you search for me. The first is a highly regarded Microsoft researcher who sailed away in his boat last year and never came back. The second, a real scourge in my search results, is a sports reporter widely reviled for his abrasive interviews.

One little thing I didn’t tell you is that I’m #1 only if you search for my name in quotes. If you leave off the quotes, the lost-at-sea Microsoft researcher’s site pops to the top. Sure wish people could spell names right! Especially the hated sports reporter’s name. Go check; people say things that would peel paint. You’d think they really hate me!