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My Yahoo! Years, Part 3: OSHA and Ergonomics Were Less Important than Ideating

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When I started working at Overture, I was one of many contingency workers. I was hired after taking a typing test at the temp agency and then an editing exercise on site.

Like many companies that started as an idea and an agreement between friends, it was suffering growing pains. I had not applied originally because I noticed that, as with GoTo, it was always hiring and that used to be a warning sign of high turnover.

In GoTo’s case, it was that and growth. There never seemed, for a time, to be enough desks and I recall that some of the desks were just boards put across two file cabinets. There were some feel-good things: the free popcorn, free soda, free designer coffee, beer Fridays, instant pay. What do I mean by instant pay? You estimated when you would work, then turned in those hours a few days before payday and then were paid for those hours instead of waiting until next pay period. If you estimated wrong, you got to do historical edits. There would be, from time to time, more free food. When all the computers were down, we once went to have ice cream in Old Pasadena.

Yet, back to those makeshift desks—having planks on cabinets as a desk is acceptable for college students and newlyweds, but for a multi-million dollar business, it is actually not up to OSHA standards of safety.

I don’t know exactly how or through whom this came to the attention of the management, but eventually we were given real desks. Eventually, the instant pay schedule also went away, although the free popcorn, free soda and free coffee remained.
We were originally working on software designed for general usage, and then built up by our own software engineers to suit the growing business needs. As we became part of Yahoo!, that seemed to be something we also needed to leave behind.

As Yahoo! Search Marketing, it seemed silly to use what was meant for other businesses, and as Yahoo!, we were competing against Google. To be competitive, we needed to have our own unique software, apparently, and that would be Panama.

According to Wikipedia, Panama (a new online advertising platform created by Yahoo!) was an effort to close the "wide gap with Google in the race for search advertising dollars, a fast-growing and incredibly lucrative business that Google dominates." The platform provides advertisers with a dashboard on which they can manage their marketing campaigns and includes tools that can suggest how advertisters budget their money. It uses a quality index by which advertisers can see how the system will rank an ad and understand how effective their campaign is. This replaced the simplistic Overture algorithm that ranked text ads according to how much advertisers bid for keyword searches by users and this attempts to give higher ranking based on click-through rates as well as bids like Google. I paraphrase Wikipedia to ensure that I am not giving away company secrets.

The failure of Panama seems to be apparent when you hear that Yahoo! is now considering having Google do its search marketing.

If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll notice that I wrote up a freeware last year. Called Autohotkey, this freeware is used to program your numeric pad to do repetitive functions based on specific points graphed out on an x and y axis points on your monitor. So if you typed 0, you could double-click on something. That saves you two clicks. You would also have it click something on the right side of your screen and then automatically move to the left side of your screen to click something else.

I learned about Autohotkey as a result of the new software used for Panama—not one, but two. A supervisor recommended it and I programmed part of it myself. By that time, I had already filed a workers comp claim due to extensive mousing.

Later, a specific script would be provided to all listings editors. Freeware is not a Yahoo! company secret. I believe the provider can tell that it is being downloaded. I wondered how many people downloaded it during March of 2007 in Burbank. Perhaps that’s a secret, but I wonder how many other companies use this software.

The question becomes why should a large company, based on Internet and thus computer usage, require another program to make their custom-built software usable? Why weren’t standards of ergonomics and human interface considered? If Yahoo! couldn’t consider it for its own people, how much more aware is Yahoo! of its customers and their needs?

Yahoo! is also a source of information, including health information. According to an article listed on Yahoo! Health, computer usage can be harzardous to your health.

You can prevent RSI in its early stages by following these suggestions:

* Stop using the computer whenever you start to notice pain or fatigue.
* Watch your posture. Don't hunch your head and neck forward. Keep your back straight, your feet flat on the floor, and your arms parallel to the floor.

* Take regular breaks. One option is to install software that reminds you to take breaks.

Yahoo! actually allows its full-time permanent workers to order a software that will time breaks, RSI Guard. When, on the advice of my physician, in 2005, I requested it, I was discouraged from using it. I was told that I would never advance because I doodled during meetings and I did my “yoga.”

Later, when another co-worker finally got it, she told me a supervisor discouraged her from using it, explaining that if she wanted to remain at Yahoo! she would stop complaining about her repetitive motion pain.

In my case, I was admonished for my low productivity on the day I reported the workers comp injury, and the next day back when it became obvious that the wrist braces were too big. I was also suspiciously moved in December 2007 to a position that would be eliminated in February 2008. My HR representative would neglect to tell me that I could refuse such work as it went against my physician’s restrictions and even a month after I had complained about the pain it was causing, my HR person was not able to move me back to a position that my physician had cleared me to work full-time.

This is not to say these were all problems inherent to Yahoo!. Overture also had problems listening to the workers, and most of the managers I worked under had been there during the Overture days. Training in the Overture guidelines was confusing and if it was confusing for college graduates — most of whom, like myself, held higher degrees — how much more confusing was it for people who had trouble comprehending what a superlative was?

If you’ve noticed, now as Yahoo! Search Marketing, the move has been to make the guidelines easier to understand and more like Google. Although search marketing should be essentially a service-oriented business, there was a lack of concern for the customers as compared to more traditional service jobs that I had worked at, such as retail sales or food service. This is why later Yahoo! would make a move to be more “customer-centric.”

Yet Panama also showed how some of that arrogance that came from forging a new type of service and business remained. How long do you think the managers were ideating over what to call the ads—things we once called ad titles and descriptions? They came up with the label, "creatives" (among other things). That didn’t last long. What customer service person or marketing person wants to waste time explaining to a customer what a creative is and why you’re calling an advertisement a creative?

Kevin Lee of ClickZ Network looked at Panama in September of 2006 and had this to say:

Phase one of Panama is an updated DTC that allows for a more flexible Ad Group structure, permitting a single creative (or group of creative units) to be shared by a basket of keywords. Yahoo! even goes as far as to expand the targeting definition beyond keywords to reflect that the DTC (like Google and MSN) is evolving beyond search. Yahoo! calls the keywords "targets" in one presentation, but in the DTC they're still called "keywords" within the publicly shared tabs, so there's no need to start freaking out yet. When one thinks about marketing, much non-search marketing is really about reaching a target market: home buyers, music enthusiasts, in-market auto buyers, new moms, and so forth.

If you look at the current information about Yahoo! Search Marketing, such as their introduction and their guidelines, words like targets for keywords and creatives for ads or ad creatives are no longer used.

By March 2007, some bloggers had a list of complaints, including StraightUpSearch.com's post with a wish list that included dayparting, ad position reporting by time frame, time of day and time zone specification, along with the ability to choose on which sites you want your ad to appear and which ones you do not.

The post concluded, “Think like your customers and give them what they really want — transparency and control.”

TechCrunch also had a pertinent question: Why can’t Yahoo! Search Marketing block fraudulent transactions? According to Duncan Riley in a December 17, 2007 post, a leading affiliate of Yahoo! Search marketing’s program was earning five-figure monthly returns until he received an e-mail from Yahoo! saying that 65 percent of his traffic was signing up for YSM with stolen credit cards, and so Yahoo! canceled his account.

Riley didn’t think it made sense to cancel the affiliate’s account.

I have to admit that I applied for Yahoo! Search Marketing for one of my blogs but was rejected. Google, however, accepted my blog for its free Adsense ads.

I notice that for pay-per-click (PPC) ads, you can also be shown on Google Maps, something that doesn’t seem to be available on Yahoo!. Yahoo! maps, like Google's, can give you live or real-time traffic, but this isn’t has good as SigAlert.com. Google took their maps and improved them with features such as terrain and street view. The street view is great for someone who’s going to a new place and wants to know what landmarks to look out for.

Why didn’t Yahoo! think like map users? Why didn't Yahoo! think to make software easier to understand and easier to use, not only for its customers, but also for its workforce? Too busy ideating?

While busy ideating, Yahoo! failed to consider simple things like ergonomics in its new software design. If Yahoo! can't think of their own employees, can they really know what people need or want?

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