Yahoo Should Become a Directory Again

Monday, July 23, 2012

In 2004, I came out of Stanford with a Master’s degree in Computer Science. All of my friends were going to Google, many of them to work for Marissa Mayer in her excellent PM program. I went to work for Yahoo.

While I was at Yahoo, we purchased several amazing properties and hired some of the best product minds in the world. One by one, an organization run by Hollywood execs and then Wall Street execs broke the products and broke the spirits of the brilliant entrepreneurs that they aqui-hired by forcing them to justify their design decisions to a panel of executives who had no clue about product.

After years of stagnation, what should Yahoo do now? Everyone notes that the company’s vision is unclear and focus is necessary but where does it go? Yahoo has two extraordinary assets, a distribution engine and a monetization engine. It should use these assets to re-build the world’s greatest directory of online content.

Yahoo can monetize better than any individual website because (1) ad revenue goes up when you have a name brand and buy in bulk and (2) ad revenue goes way up when you can do smart targeting across many different properties. Yahoo also has a massive global distribution engine in the form of their homepage and user base.

Why does it point that awesome user-base, that incredible resource base at second-tier properties just because Yahoo owns them? Why not make the “Yahoo Travel” button go to Hipmunk? Why not make the “Yahoo News” go to Prismatic? There’s no need to buy all of these companies, just setup revenue sharing – the incentive structure works much better!

What if web developers saw Yahoo as an enormous distribution and monetization platform? More importantly, what if users knew that the Yahoo homepage would send them to best of breed in every category? Everyone would have a reason to use the Yahoo homepage again. What are the best sites for buying cars, playing online games, checking the weather? I don’t do any of these things enough to know, and today Google just sends me to the sites with the most advanced SEO.

Yahoo can learn from and emulate the success of Apple and Facebook’s app stores. Curate and promote high quality applications to give users a great experience and take a share of the revenue from the featured applications.

Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter all offer identity platforms but without an integrated advertising/monetization solution and without the ability to strongly promote high quality apps. Developers on the Facebook platform often spend their time bolting on unwanted viral features to their applications in order to acquire users. Yahoo could use its homepage to become the internet’s largest driver of user traffic and help promote the highest quality applications while making a ton of money in the process.

Drawing Cartoons

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

For some reason in the last few months I’ve had an urge to draw cartoons. It’s been really fun!

How to Sketch a Polynomial

Monday, July 25, 2011

Note: This is a repost of a post from back in 2008 when I was working at Powerset and did more math. I love how this trick is so simple yet completely mystifying.

I’ve been swapping cute math tricks with my coworker Paul Pedersen, and recently he showed me this beautiful method for sketching polynomials:

As an example let’s pick a random polynomial:

y4 + x3 – y2 + x – 1 = 0.

Plot on the x axis of a graph a point for every x power. For example for x3 plot the point (3,0). For x1 plot the point (1,0).

Now label “+” the positive coefficient’s points and “-” the negative coefficient’s points. Do the same for the y axis.

Now connect the lines.

Now reflect across both axis. If you have an even exponent flip the sign.

Now draw a line between every positive and negative sign.

Now connect the lines. My freehand splines are a little sloppy, but you get the idea…

And there it is. Compare with an actual graph:

Let’s try with some simpler curves where we know the answer: take x2 + y2 = 1 or x2
+ y2 – 1 = 0:

Connect the lines:

Circle!

Just for fun, try x2 – y2 – 1 = 0:

Connect the lines:

Wow. Why don’t they teach this as part of the high school math cannon? These kinds of simple inexplicable patterns remind me why I loved math in the first place.

Note – If you want to plot a function like y=x^3, transform it into 0=x^3-y and follow the above steps and it should work.

Rahul points out an interesting counterexample in x^2+y^2-4x+3=0, but I might argue that in some sense it does work. You end up with a diamond and the x axis has a + at (0,0), a – at (1,0) and a + at (2,0). No other edges should have lines through them. So you would draw a circle. I think it’s clear that this method can’t make any claims about x intercepts and y intercepts, just the overall shape. Same comment about x^4-3x^3+x^2-x+20.

Can anyone find a counterexample where the shape is completely “wrong” (for some definition of wrong that doesn’t include intercepts or stretching)?