Yahoo, You Flubbed News About The Future Of Delicious, Not The Press

Yesterday, like many news outlets, we saw a leaked slide that suggested that Yahoo might be closing Delicious. We didn’t publish until we had a statement from Yahoo. That statement clarified nothing. So it’s galling to have Yahoo today acting like the press got it all wrong.

Yahoo “Disappointed” Over “Little Context”

On the Delicious Blog today, Yahoo writes:

Many of you have read the news stories about Delicious that began appearing yesterday. We’re genuinely sorry to have these stories appear with so little context for our loyal users….
We can only imagine how upsetting the news coverage over the past 24 hours has been to many of you. Speaking for our team, we were very disappointed by the way that this appeared in the press. We’ll let you know more as things develop.

Yahoo Itself Gave No Context

Well, my goodness! A story started going around that Yahoo might be closing Delicious. Several news outlets, including Search Engine Land, asked Yahoo if this was true. What were we told? This:

Part of our organizational streamlining involves cutting our investment in underperforming or off-strategy products to put better focus on our core strengths and fund new innovation in the next year and beyond. We continuously evaluate and prioritize our portfolio of products and services, and do plan to shut down some products in the coming months such as Yahoo! Buzz, our Traffic APIs, and others. We will communicate specific plans when appropriate.

See anything about Delicious there? Nope. Not a word. Nothing like, “We plan to sell it to someone else” or “No, we’re not going to close it” or any of that context that Yahoo is now whining that the press somehow failed to provide.

Time To Threaten, But No Time To Clarify

Maybe Yahoo didn’t have enough time to react as it should have. Well, the news hit Twitter at 10:29am, according to the time stamp that Google reports:

About 45 minutes later, Yahoo’s Chief Product Officer Blake Irving stepped in, as the retweeting and discussion kicked off on Twitter. Did he provide any context, which in turn would have almost certainly been retweeted and perhaps calmed the nerves of loyal Delicious users?

Nope. Instead, all Irving did was harp about the leak and threaten to fire the leaker:

Irving’s since tweeted exactly once since then, about an hour ago, to complain again about leak and to suggest it got things wrong needlessly:

Reason leaks suck? They’re rarely right. This wrong one caused a shit storm. This has been the plan for months:

What, Exactly, Was Wrong?

Let’s dissect that. The leak suggested that Delicious would be a “sunset” product, which implied it could be closed or perhaps sold to a new company. In fact, that’s exactly what I wrote in my story about the leak yesterday, having to work without any clarification from Yahoo:

But it’s a terrible mistake to have let the news leak out this way. I think it’s just going to create doubt among those loyal users about the future of their bookmarks, what do they do next and whether it’ll be closed permanently, closed to new users or — hopefully — shepherded to a new company that will maintain it.

Others wrote similar summaries. So what exactly was “wrong” other than — of course — Yahoo making a mess of things?

Moreover, if this has been “the plan for months,” then Yahoo could have said everything it put out in its blog post today yesterday, when the news broke. Instead of crying about a lack of context. It could have provided that context itself, when it was most needed. It failed to do so.

As a result, Yahoo — not the press — generated all this worry that it’s now apologizing to Delicious users about.

When Asked Specifically, No Comment

Let me go back to our own questions to Yahoo. We saw the news making the rounds. We emailed Yahoo about the slide and whether Yahoo was closing the “sunset” properties. We did this at 11:29am Pacific Time.

Now to be clear, we would have run the story even if we hadn’t had the Yahoo response. Often, big companies are slow to respond to rumors — or just don’t at all. As a media outlet, you try to weigh up how likely a rumor seems to be. If you do go with one, you try to provide the best context you can around it.

As it happened, we got a response shortly before we posted our story. That response came in at 12:13pm — about 45 minutes later after we asked. We got the statement I quoted at the top of this story.

The statement said nothing about Delicious. So, I went back at 12:28pm with a follow-up question. Was Delicious part of the shutdown plans?

At 12:40pm, I got back this response:

We’re not commenting on Delicious specifically at this point.

That’s two different ways Yahoo failed to get “context” out about Delicious — both through Irving’s tweet and through its formal public relations channels.

Nice Job, Yahoo — You Devalued Delicious

Here’s some unsolicited advice for Irving. If you’re the chief product officer — and you’re going to tweet — then the next time you see something going around about one of your products that you think is incorrect, say so. Otherwise, stay off the channel. Certainly don’t break in to complain after the fact that everything was wrong when you and your company failed to communicate properly.

I’m with Mike Arrington over at TechCrunch about this. Yahoo just seems in disarray, as he wrote earlier today. This is yet another sign of that. Moreover, this disarray has massively devalued a company asset that Yahoo now hopes to sell.

Consider this snapshot of the most popular items being shared on Delicious today:

Multiple items explaining how to get out of Delicious are currently popular on Delicious. Our own 10 Alternatives To Bookmarking story was at the top of the list, and it has been our most read story here at Search Engine Land for nearly a day now.

By the time Yahoo gets around to selling off Delicious, there might be few people left actually using it. That’s all due to Yahoo’s own ineptness, in assuming product news wouldn’t leak and in not being prepared in case of such a leak to communicate clearly that the service’s near term future wasn’t in doubt.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Features: Analysis | Yahoo: Delicious


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://fjpoblam fjpoblam

    Write on, Danny. +1

  • Doug Cranmer

    Having watched this unfold by following on Techmeme, I felt that Yahoo bungled this, then immediately started blaming others. If it was a valuable asset (as one would suppose based on their hope of selling the product/it’s IP/user base), something more than deny/deny/deny/hedge/be outraged might be a better plan. Perhaps the rumors of Carol Bartz’s abrasive management/PR style aren’t off the mark and the culture has filtered down to her lieutenants.

    Good, fact-filled recap that shows a good objectivity Danny.

  • Doc Sheldon

    You hit it on the head, Danny! This was mismanaged by Yahoo before, during and after the widespread panic-attack, and it’s left Delicious standing in the mud. If Irving want’s to complain about something, he might want to look in his own camp, beginning with himself.
    Personally, I don’t see any problem, whatsoever, in the way you handled it.

  • BlogWorld Expo

    Great post Danny. I’m not exactly sure why but I have been rooting for Yahoo to turn things around and succeed for a long time now. I think it’s because they actually have some great products like Flickr, Delicious and MyBlogLog. Every time I get my hopes up (hiring of Carol Bartz) they find a new way to dissapoint.

    I have never met anyone above a middle manager from Yahoo. All of them seem to be great people, nice people, smart people. Many of them are now former Yahoo employees. I always ask them “what exactly is the problem with you guys?” or something to that effect. No one ever has an answer.

    As an outsider looking it, it just seems like the senior management is completely incompetent and has no idea what kind of product and services they provide to their customers, or even who their customers really are. They seem to think their customers are the people writing checks for advertising, and taking a very simplistic view they are, but thats the rub. Their real customers, the people who help drive the traffic which in turn drives ad dollars are the communities who love and support Flickr, Delicious and other great Yahoo products. For some reason Yahoo keeps alienating and driving these communities away one by one.

    I hope they do eventually find someone with some vision to lead them.

  • instaright

    Still, I think people should migrate and distance thenselves from dissarrayed company. I’ve build tool for Delicious export to Instapaper

  • Miles Carter

    Excellent analysis, this is a really well put together article. One wonders how much in real monetary value this slip up will cost Yahoo. A great illustration of how less than perfect business organisation and handling of procedures can end up costing massive amounts in an unexpected crisis.

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