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July 20, 2012 / ryancshih

What is Yahoo?

As many are aware, Marissa Mayer was recently appointed to the basically cursed CEO office at Yahoo! This is after several CEOs have already made their rounds: Terry Semel who as a Hollywood insider ran it as a media company, co-founder Jerry Yang who had great ideas for taking the company forward on the platform front but was foiled by a failed Microsoft acquisition and an inability to execute, Carol Bartz who probably made the fatal decision to outsource their search technology to Microsoft, and most recently Scott Thompson who in addition to lying about his experience, was so clueless as to think it was a good idea to wage a patent war against Facebook. If Mayer can use her political capital to take big risks and build innovative products instead of trying to micromanage the bottom line in the next several quarters, and hopefully attract back some of the amazing talent they have lost in the past several years, perhaps they still have a fighting chance. As an ex-Yahoo!, I’m rooting for them.

As she gets started, Arrington of Techcrunch has announced he will ask her the same question at Disrupt that he asked Bartz two years ago: “What is Yahoo?”. To be fair, that’s not really the easiest question to answer because Yahoo! actually does many disparate things moderately well. They have large audiences that uses the different parts of Yahoo! (Mail, Finance, Flickr to name a few), but at the same time, they just don’t tie together that cleanly. And really by doing the smart thing, which is to pick one thing and do it well, they are basically forced to sacrifice short term growth for the long term health of the company. And that’s something that shareholders of publicly held companies tend to get all noisy about. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to hear what Marissa Mayer comes up with.

In any case, I thought it would be fun to take my own stab at stating what I think Yahoo! should be: a great discovery company. What is discovery? Discovery is about getting ideas about your options. You should ideally go to Yahoo! to find out what’s hot or not about entertainment, culture, restaurants, events, vacations, and whatever else. It’s a place you go to find out what others have done and liked, and then you can use that information to decide whether it’s for you. It’s not, on the other hand, a place you go to do a bunch of research and optimize your choices. That’s Google or Amazon. And if you look at the company as a whole, you actually will see a lot of the parts that can help them become that. There’s Flickr which was the most fun to use photo-sharing product of its time. They have the pieces of what was once the solid #2 web search product after Google. They have made decent investments into mobile, which really is the ideal gateway to discovery products. They have one of the top visual design presences on the web. From their iconic smiley faces to their general upbeat and friendly vibe, this is something that they have a history of doing well. And they still have one of the largest audiences on the Internet on the web (despite what tech snobs otherwise believe.)

Certainly, they need to reverse course from when they signed that search partnership with Microsoft in 2009. At that point in time, they summarily went from competing against Google in the search space to competing against AOL in the portal business. Everybody knows portals are dead or dying as mainstream users get more comfortable with navigating the Internet so it boggles my mind why you would go from an industry that is growing to one that isn’t just to say you are winning against your competition. Despite Terry Semel thinking that Yahoo! should have been a media company, and the rumblings through the years about it being a top destination site or a content site, you need to invest in technology if you want to build up long term value. That’s just the way of the world. There’s a reason why the New York Times, one of the most prestigious publications in the world, is only a $1B company. Pure content, even quality content, retains little value due to its disposable nature.

So I think Yahoo! would be a great discovery company. Envision a place that you first check out to get great ideas from your friends, critics, and the world. Imagine that it pulls in a lot of interesting data together and does a lot of optimization and collaborative filtering behind the scenes, and makes it accessible to you in a fun, simple, and intuitive experience. And it does really well or even better when you are on the go by taking into account contextual signals. That is the Yahoo! that I think has always been around from the very early days when Jerry Yang and David Filo curated Internet links together; through the years when they invested in search, and platforms, and content; when they acquired companies like Flickr, Delicious, and when they tried to acquire Yelp; and is the Yahoo! that I would love to see again.

February 4, 2010 / ryancshih

Dreamers, Doers, and Guardians

After spending a number of years in software development of varying organizational sizes, I’ve noticed tendencies towards three types of roles. Because of these differing viewpoints, conflict can occur. However, by realizing and successfully leveraging these personalities, the whole becomes greater than its parts. These three roles are the Dreamers, the Doers, and the Guardians.


The Dreamers are the innovators. They focus on fresh ideas, and get most excited about what is possible. In short, if it’s been done before, a dreamer will become restless and bored. Some dreamer engineers move into product roles to work on ideas at a more strategic level. The nice thing about having a dreamer around is that they ensure that the work at hand is meaningful. The irony of dreamers is that while they are most likely to *want* to start a company, they aren’t actually the ones most likely to do so. Often times, they’d probably make much better tech bloggers than entrepreneurs. If not checked, they become lost in their ideas and move on to the next idea before they start even implementing their current idea.


These are the guys you definitely want with you in a new venture. The reason being, quite simply, they get stuff done and they get it done fast. They’ll crank out work, and while it may not be pretty and it may not necessarily work in six months, it mostly works today and that’s enough to test out a hypothesis. Those who gravitate to early stage startups tend to have this attitude, and it’s precisely this trait that helps smaller startups out-maneuver the big guys. They usually can do a lot of different things reasonably well, but are less likely to be an expert in any specific domain. Jack of all trades, master of none.


Guardians are the ones who wrap up the work. They make systems maintainable and keep systems running. With a guardian on point, you can sleep soundly knowing that things are humming along just fine and if changes are to be made, they map out Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D before doing anything. Guardians thrive in the largest companies where large amounts of revenue are at stake. Since they are risk-averse, they always try to figure out how to minimize risk. However, because of their tendency to over-analyze, they lose sight of the big picture and often spend too much time obsessing over minor problems.


Each role provides a valuable perspective into a project. However, the difficulty is getting each role to agree that there is a middle ground and defining what that middle ground should be. For instance, doers may believe that dreamers are overly critical yet don’t follow through with tasks, and that guardians slow down the project. On the other hand, a guardian will think the doer doesn’t think things through and plays things too fast and loose. By being cognizant of these varying viewpoints, and understanding how to take advantage of the strengths each role contributes, what results is a smoothly running, nimble and powerful team.

August 29, 2009 / ryancshih

Cloning an Ubuntu drive

Recently I picked up an upgrade for my hard drive that was getting short on space, and I had to figure out (again) how to clone a drive. I keep forgetting between each time I do it, so for those looking to do the same thing, here’s what you need to do.

1. First boot up on a Ubuntu LiveCD if you can since that will let you keep both drives (old and new) unmounted and you can do a copy in peace.

2. Open a terminal and type the following:

  • dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/sdb bs=4k

“if” is the source, and “of” is the destination. You can figure out the right devices to use by doing a sudo fdisk -l to get the list of available drives. I would also recommend putting in the block size (bs) since the default is 512 and there is a significant performance difference by specifying it. I think it’s something like 4x.

This will start the copy, and you shouldn’t see any output until the end. At that point it will tell you how much was copied over.

3. Once it is done, you will have to resize your partition, and you can use gparted if you are using the LiveCD. You may have to turn off swap in order to move your swap partition.

  • sudo gparted

4. Finally, you will need to tell grub to install into the MBR that you will be using. You can do the following.

  • sudo grub

This will get you into the tool. From here you can just find the list of available hard drives for which you want grub to install on. The list of available devices can be found by issuing the following command.

  • sudo find /boot/grub/stage1

Typically it will look something like (hd0,0) or (hd1,0). If you have multiple drives, you can figure out which one is which by typing “geometry (hd0,0)”. From there, start the installation

  • root (hd0,0)
  • setup (hd0)
  • quit

And you’re done. The first accesses the hard drive, and the second does the installation on it. You can also use something like setup (hd1,0) to get it on a specific partition but it’s not necessary in this case.

5. You can reboot and everything should be as you hope for.


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