Tuesday, 28 May 2013

You can’t stand out if you’re trying to be like everyone else

"Last summer, the once-a-contender-but-fading-fast Yahoo! got itself Marissa Mayer to be its chief executive officer. (The imitation has gotten to where executives now must have the same first and last initials, it seems.) Marissa Mayer took office, issued an edict that all those Yahoo! people who were allowed to work at home must now work at the office or be fired, then said she would be going home now to have a baby. She had the baby, came back to work, and the baby is being raised in a nursery next to her office. I did not make any of that up.

Poor Marissa is doing the thing someone who isn't but desperately wants to be cool always does: imitate those who are the real thing. So she has decided to homogenize the various Yahoo! properties, and buy some more, and homogenize them, in a pitiful attempt to be like Facebook.

She spent $1.1 billion of other people's money to buy Tumblr, a cool-until-acquired-by-Yahoo! site made up in large part (though not entirely) of pornography copied from other sites. (It does have other stuff, and lots of it, but the porn is always nearby.) Without any warning to or consultation with its 80 million registered members (many of whom paid for the service), she converted Flickr, the Internet's premier photo display site, into a Facebook-ish, Tumblr-ish thing that resembles Windows 8 in both appearance and user backlash. People's carefully constructed sets and picture stories were all piled into one big lump, without their permission. Hello, Flick/Tumbl/r, one of the Internet's top-20 Facebook imitators.

And in case she had missed pissing off anyone, she announced at the big Flickr redesign rollout last week that "there's really no such thing as professional photographers anymore." No, just underage drinkers who want to post many fuzzy pieces of evidence that cell phones aren't very good cameras.

The nonexistent professional photographers fled en masse, many to a small but lovely site located in France called ipernity.com, whose staff of seven has been overwhelmed but has manged throughout to be calm, welcoming, friendly, and responsive, and they and their site are cool – in short, everything the new Yahoo! ain't. And the ipernity.com people will grow rich because they are who they are, not people trying to appear cool by trying to be something they're not.

That's the lesson, I think: imitation is an admission that you think you're behind, that you think whatever you are or have or produce isn't quite enough. And in the cases cited, the admission seems to be an accurate one.

You can't homogenize your way to success unless you're a dairy."

Old man, big kid note: Dennis E. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. His column appears on Mondays. You can reach him at dep@drippingwithirony.com

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