First a disclaimer; there’s one elsewhere on this blog but this post merits another. I used to work for Yahoo! as part of the Geo Technologies group. I now work for Nokia as part of their Location group. The opinions and ideas expressed in this post are absolutely just my own, and should not be confused with, or taken for, those of my current or past employers. It’s just me here.
You may not have realised it but Friday May 27th. was a sad day for the Geo industry in London. Even without the benefit of knowing what was going on from ex-colleagues inside the company, the signs were there if you knew where to look for them and how to read them.
Before the Internet, companies, teams and projects could fade quietly into anonymity and into oblivion. But on the Internet, everything is in public and it’s much harder to hide the tell tale signs. API updates and bug fixes cease. A web site or blog stops being updated or goes down altogether. A Twitter feed stops being an active living thing and becomes merely a historical record. Ex-colleagues start following you on Twitter or you start getting connection requests on LinkedIn whilst other colleagues start polishing and updating their LinkedIn profiles.
And May 27th. 2011? That was the day that the last of the remaining members of my old team at Yahoo! Geo Technologies left the Yahoo! office in London and that was the day that Yahoo! ceased to have a Geo presence in the UK.
I joined Yahoo! in 2006 as Engineering Manager for Geo Location Targeting, also known as GLT (and not standing for Gay, Lesbian and Transgender, a mistake once made by someone at a conference with hilarious consequences), a group formed from the acquisition of WhereOnEarth.com a year earlier in 2005. As the name suggests, GLT was formed to use WhereOnEarth’s technology to build Panama, Yahoo’s geotargeting ad platform, a task which the technology was well suited to and a task at which the team succeeded.
But post Panama, we faced the challenge that most acquisitions face … “we’ve done what we were acquired for … now what“? In 2008 we started to answer the “now what?” question. With Tom Coates and the Yahoo! Brickhouse team, we provided the back-end geo platform for Fire Eagle. With Aaron Cope and Dan Catt, we provided the back-end geo platform for geotagging photos on Flickr. And with Martin Barnes, Tyler Bell and Mark Law we launched the GeoPlanet geodata gazetter API and the Placemaker geoparsing API. These were heady days for geo; GPS was reaching critical mass in consumer devices and web service mashups were ready to take advantage of powerful geo APIs and with Chris Heilmann evangelising furiously as part of YDN, the Yahoo! Developer Network, we were well placed to take the lead in the explosion of interest in all things geo that was starting then and continues to this day.
Yet the company didn’t seem to know what to do with their Geo Technologies group. We were reorganised more times that I can remember, starting again with another Vice President and another group. The promising lead in this area started to loose ground and the long promised investment never seemed to materialise. In May 2010, Nokia made me an offer to be part of the their location group that I couldn’t refuse and I jumped ship. TechCrunch seemed to like this; twice to be exact. Over the next 12 months the group in London continued to shrink and continued to lack investment. The signs were all there for anyone to read … the YahooGeo Twitter feed was last updated in January 2011 with a total of 5 Tweets since I handed over the reins on May 28th. 2010. The blog at www.ygeoblog.com has been down for almost a year as well.
And on Friday May 27th. 2011, the last of the London team left the office in London’s Covent Garden for the final time as the Geo Technologies group transitioned and relocated to the Yahoo! corporate headquarters in Sunnyvale, California and to Bangalore; a sad day for the team in London and a sad day for the Geo industry overall. Hopefully the future will yield more developments of the YDN Geo APIs and the WOEID geoidentifier and while Geo Technologies in the company continues to live and to power the successor to the Panama geotargeting platform, the London presence where the technology grew and was developed is over.