An Open Letter to Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!

March 4, 2013

Image source: User gaku on flickr.

Dear Ms. Mayer,

First, a belated congratulations on the birth of your son. Congrats, as well, on your new job. Speaking of the new job, it seems your “no work from home” policy has generated a lot of commentary and discussion. Some are in your camp, while others disagree with you.

Image courtesy of Planning Startup Stories and Huffington Post

It seems most organization’s internal memos find their way “out,” so I was reading the one announcing the policy change (posted at AllThingsD). In the memo, a number of goals were outlined:

  1. We want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum.
  2. To become the absolute best place to work.
  3. We need to be one Yahoo!

With respect – and, knowing what your goals are, here’s how I would have done it.

1) Create an awesome office environment.

Image source: Robert Banh on flickr.

Look to your competition (Google – a place you may know a thing or two about). They provide office environments that workers love (perhaps more than they love their homes). Google provides free food, of course (and many other free services), but it really goes beyond that. The free stuff provides a foundation on top of which a flourishing, in-office culture develops and grows.

How you create awesome office environments depends on Yahoo’s culture and personality. Just copying Google won’t necessarily work. But here’s the great thing about doing it this way: you’ll be able to draw in those remote workers because they’ll decide that the perks of being in the office outweigh the conveniences of working from home.

So don’t compel them to come into the office, but create an office environment so awesome that it’s hard for them to stay away. An awesome office environment will naturally lead to higher morale and job satisfaction scores. On the flip side: if your current office environment remains unchanged, but you compel employees to come in and work there, can you really expect to achieve great things?

2) Identify the teams for which collaboration is most productive.

To be a rock star in Accounts Payable, you don’t need to collaborate (with others) as much as the rock star in Development or Product Management.

And while I can understand that HR policies need to apply to the entire herd, I think the “spirit” of driving more collaboration should be aimed at the particular groups for which it’s most productive and valuable. I think these teams should sit in the same physical space:

  1. Engineering and Development
  2. Sales (based on region)
  3. Products (product management, product marketing)
  4. Marketing
  5. Customer and End User Support

I’m a firm believer that a great idea can surface from a product manager speaking to an attorney and an accounting director. So I understand why you want all groups in the office together.

To start, however, focus on initiatives to get particular groups collaborating – then, find opportunities for cross-collaboration (e.g. product management and customer support, to help build better products based on what customers are telling you).

3) “Hack” your way to new products (in the office, of course).

It’s a “what have you done for me lately” world and I’m sure you’re focused on delivering results now. But consider things like overnight hackathons and Google’s “20% time.”

Hackathons can produce long term gains, while adding fun, excitement and “bonding opportunities” to your office environment. After all, with a hackathon, employees are required to come into the office – but this time, there’s an explicit purpose or goal. It’s not just, “come in, go to your desk, thank you very much.”

With regard to the separate activity of “20% time,” recall that without it, the world may not have Gmail.


Full disclosure: I’ve never run my own company before. So take this advice with a grain of salt. While some have disagreed vehemently with your policy, you’ve taken a stand. Best wishes on achieving your goals. The new home page looks pretty nice.


Dennis Shiao

The Future Of Book Publishing

December 11, 2010


I recently published a book, “Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events“.  I wrote a prior blog posting that described the process of self-publishing the book.

Like other industries (e.g. newspapers, music, entertainment, etc.), the web will have a transformative impact on book publishing.  In fact, my belief is that the coming 2 years will see dramatic shifts – the book publishing industry will never be the same.

Production / Printing

Self-publishing has arrived and it’s here to stay.  Moving the book publishing process into the cloud significantly empowers the author.  Now, authors “prepare the print run” via the web, making tweaks and edits as they see fit.  The cloud has ushered in an era of on-demand printing – or, what I call “agile printing“.  With traditional book publishing, the Second Edition of a book may come out a year later.  With agile printing, it’s possible for the Second Edition to be published the next day.

This does not mean that traditional book publishers will face complete disintermediation.  Instead, I believe savvy publishers will incorporate “cloud technologies” into their publishing process, streamlining the process for editors and authors.  Publishers will rightly conclude that the publishing process could leverage a lot of the same convenience of blog publishing.

Crowd-based Editing

You can put the power of the crowd to work for you and sustain results as good as a single expert. That’s just what Facebook did to enable to be available in 64 languages.  You can add the Facebook Translations application and “join our community of translators and make Facebook available in your language”.

I see a similar opportunity for basic copy editing.  Authors can tap into crowdsourcing providers to have a network of hundreds (or thousands) of “workers” collectively provide copy editing of their manuscript.  To cut costs, traditional book publishers may look to crowdsource copy editing, with a smaller staff of editors in place to “quality check” the resulting work.

Collaborative Writing

What’s better than one author?  Two or more authors.  The beauty of “publishing from the cloud” is that your social graph can be invited directly into the manuscript.  I published my book via FastPencil and it gave me the option of inviting in project managers, co-authors, editors and reviewers to collaborate on my project.

I believe that authors will increasingly bring their social graph into the publishing process.  Survey the suitability of your book to a prior generation by inviting your aunt to review Chapter 2 and then invite past business partners in to write a few chapters.  With self-publishing, we’ll see more “chapter books”, where a collection of experts each write one chapter.

Migration to Digital Readers

While some will insist on sticking to the printed format, we’ll be reading more and more books via digital form.  The combination of digital plus “online” will dramatically change the reading experience in the coming years.  Already, the Amazon Kindle 3 allows readers to copy a selection from the book and share it on Twitter or Facebook.  With digital devices, the reading experience moves from solitary to social.

In the early days of Facebook, I interacted with friends, but it was asynchronous.  I’d post, then an hour later, they’d respond. With Facebook Chat, I’m now noticing that certain friends want to interact in real-time, directly on Facebook.

Book reading will take on similar dynamics. I’ll carry my social graph onto my device (if I choose to) and see which friends are reading the same book as me – right now.  I can start a chat with my friend to discuss Chapter 3.  Or, I can perform a “scan” to see a list of other online users who are reading the same book right now.  The “book of the month club” becomes virtual and global.

Subcription (Rental) Model

On college campuses, Chegg is innovating with a textbook rental business.  With digital books, someone will come along soon (Netflix more likely than Amazon) to disrupt the market with a cloud-based subscription model.  I think the days of “purchasing to own” digital books are numbered.  I think of a digital book like a DVD – I consume it, I enjoy it, I move on.  I don’t need to own it.

With a subscription model, I may get up to 10 digital books per month.  The book content is served up from the cloud, which means I can read it from any device – and I can bookmark the page and move from my laptop to my smartphone.

When I’m done, I “return” the book and can access my next book.  Of course, the challenge will be in the licensing agreements with book publishers – something Netflix has been working through with movie studios for their streaming service.  And, we’ll need an “offline reading mode” for times when users are not connected to the net.


As a new author, I’m excited to see what lies ahead for book publishing.  Based on the web, the cloud and social media, it’s never been a better time to be an author.

What Virtual Events Really Do

September 9, 2010

In the book “Duct Tape Marketing” by John Jantsch (subtitle: “The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide”), there’s a paragraph in Chapter 2 titled “What You Really Sell.”  Here’s an excerpt of that paragraph:

“Here’s the funny thing about business. You don’t sell what it is you claim to offer.  You sell what the eventual buyers think they are going to get from your product. For instance, insurance sales folks don’t sell insurance; they sell peace of mind.  Chiropractors don’t sell neck adjustments; they sell some form of relief.”

Virtual event platforms sell a lot of things.  To some degree, the term “virtual events” is an injustice (or misnomer), based on the wide variety of applications supported by today’s platforms.  In fact, I wrote previously in a “virtual events futures column” that the term “virtual events” would disappear by 2011.

I don’t know whether my 2011 prediction will come true, but I do expect that by later this year, the “virtual” qualifier will start to be dropped, in favor of broader names.  With that being said, and in the spirit of Duct Tape Marketing, here’s my Top 10 List of what virtual “events” really do:

  1. Sales Pipeline Fueler
  2. Learning Platform
  3. Analyst Relations Venue
  4. Product Launch System
  5. HR Recruitment Engine
  6. Partner Community Enabler
  7. Corporate Training System
  8. Content Distribution Platform
  9. Revenue Generator
  10. A Marketer’s Ultimate Dream

Each of these terms better describes “what the eventual buyers think they are going to get from your product” than the term “virtual event.”

Share with us your thoughts – when you “purchase” a virtual event, what is it you’re really getting?

Let’s Collaborate On: Virtual Events Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

July 14, 2010

I’m inviting the community to engage in a PBworks wiki – the idea is to maintain a living FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) document on virtual events.

Ask any question you like – if it’s appropriate and relevant, the virtual events community will answer it.  If the question is not relevant or inappropriate, one of us is likely to delete it.

You can find the wiki here:

How can you participate?  Let me count the ways:

  1. Ask a new question!
  2. Edit existing content
  3. Add new questions to the FAQ
  4. Add new “topical categories” to the FAQ
  5. Answer questions that have not yet been answered

Below, I’ve listed the initial “skeleton” of the FAQ.  Please view the wiki and participate!


  1. What is a virtual event?
  2. What are the different types of virtual events?
  3. What are the benefits of virtual events?
  4. Why are virtual events popular?
  5. What’s the difference between a virtual event and a virtual world, such as Second Life?


  1. What are the technical requirements (prerequisites) for attending a virtual event?
  2. What technology serves as the foundation of virtual event platforms?
  3. Can virtual events incorporate live video streams?
  4. What third party technologies do virtual event platforms integrate with (e.g. CRM, ERP, etc.)?

Technology Providers

  1. What companies provide virtual event platforms?
  2. What companies provide complementary technologies to virtual event platforms?
  3. Are there any independent analyst reports on the virtual event platform providers?
  4. What criteria should I use to evaluate virtual event platforms?
  5. Are there any independent measurement providers (e.g. like a Keynote for virtual event platforms)?


  1. Where do I go to get more information on virtual events?
  2. Are there any online communities around virtual events?
  3. Are there any good introductory White Papers on virtual events?
  4. How do I experience a sample virtual event?

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Let’s Collaborate On: Evolution Of Virtual Event Platforms

June 21, 2010

Let’s collaborate on how virtual event platforms (and their associated experiences) should evolve.  I’ve set up a wiki on PBworks that will allow all of you to chime in with your thoughts.  Here’s the link to the wiki – I invite you all in, to add your thoughts and make edits:

Be part of a collaborative blog posting

To edit the wiki page, you’ll need to register for a free account with PBworks.  Suggested ways to participate:

  1. Edit any of the existing material
  2. Add new paragraphs or sections
  3. Delete existing material (although I’d rather you re-write existing material than delete it outright)

Below, I’ve posted the current text of the wiki page.  If you have thoughts on this topic, be sure to visit the wiki and chime in! Based on the amount of activity this week, I may choose the publish the final version of this post here on this blog.  All contributors will be acknowledged.  If you do not wish acknolwedgement, simply skip the inclusion of your name in the list (bel0w).

Lastly, if you’d like to contribute, but would rather not use a wiki, leave a comment below and I’ll apply your comment(s) to the wiki (with proper acknowledgement).

Initial Draft – Visit the wiki to add your thoughts

To evolve their platforms for enhanced experiences and broader adoption, virtual event platforms should consider the following:

Make it easier to experience

Most virtual event platforms are easy to use – on a first-time visit, users tend to grasp the overall user experience and can figure out where to go (and how).  That being said, for wide scale adoption, virtual events needs to be as easy as Facebook.  That is, our grandmothers need to be able to access the site and figure things out.  On Facebook, grandmothers can update their profile, read their “friends” posts and write updates to their Walls.  Can a grandmother login to a virtual event, update her profile and participate in a group chat?  We’re not so sure.  Similarly, navigation and interactions need to be easier.  Most virtual events are intuitive to navigate (e.g. Lobby, Auditorium,  Lounge, etc.) – but may not be so intuitive with regard to message boards, chat, blogging, rating, etc.

Make it easier to find

The typical “location” of a virtual event is quickly becomin outdated – microsite with registration page, with no ability to experience the event prior to completing all mandatory registration fields. The registration page serves as a “wall” not only to potential attendees, but to search engines as well.  Virtual event platforms need to move “outside the wall” and expose their technology on Facebook, on blogs and on publisher web sites.  Platforms should widen their distribution via widgets, embed code and application programming interfaces (API’s).  Facebook is not limited to – it has Facebook Connect, Facebook Open Graph and much more.  Virtual events platforms, on the other hand, seem to be restricted to “”

Make the experience available on more devices

Most virtual event platforms support Windows, Mac and Linux.  They need to support more platforms, especially mobile.  On the mobile front, it’s important to consider iPhone/iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Windows 7 Phone and WebOS (listed in our order of importance).  To start, we don’t believe the entire virrual event experience needs to be “ported” to mobile devices -rather, vendors should determine the most critical features for attendees and exhibitors – and prioritize based on importance.  For instance, chat is an important element of virtual events, so why not make a mobile app that allows exhibitors to staff their booth via their smartphone.

Make the platform more adaptable and flexible

Related to our point about mobile support, platform vendors have important decisions to make regarding the development platforms.  Virtual event platforms today are based on Flash, Silverlight, Java and JavaFX.  Are those the “right” platform technologies for the future – or, should platforms move in the direction of HTML5?  Does a combination off HTML5, Javascript and Ajax create a more adaptable and flexible platform?  What do we “lose” by shifting away from Flash, Silverlight, etc.?  And what are the mobile implications with the chosen direction?  All good questions for the platform vendors to consider.

This article was developed collaboratively via PBworks.  Contributors to this article include:

  1. Dennis Shiao, Blogger at “It’s All Virtual”

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A Virtual Battle To Combat Swine Flu

April 28, 2009

Source: US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

Source: US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

The number of deaths in Mexico has surpassed 150.  The Department of Homeland Security has delcared a public health emergency in the United States.  The European Union’s health commission urged people to avoid non-essential travel to the affected areas.  Confirmed cases have now been reported in the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions.

Clearly, the rapid spread of swine flu has become a serious, global issue.  With scientists and government officials (across the globe) leaping into action, now is the time to leverage web and virtual technologies to faciliate the global effort to combat the disease and outbreak.

To get through a crisis, information sharing is paramount.  To combat swine flu, it will be critical to faciliate:

  1. Information distribution – real-time updates, to help all parties have a global view of the situation.  We need to understand where the illness has spread, along with in-country updates on how (and how severe) the illness is affecting the local population
  2. Information exchange – experts in the field of medicine, outbreak, crisis management, etc. need to provide their insights to those who need it
  3. Collaboration and dialog – related to information exchange – key parties need to have real-time dialog and collaboration to discuss current conditions and strategize on next steps

Here’s why a virtual event platform would be effective as a crisis management platform:

  1. Global access – with travel a limited option, participants can access this platform from any location with an Internet connection.
  2. Simple technical requirements – a basic PC (or Mac) with Adobe Flash should do the trick, which means that most Internet-connected computers will be fine.
  3. Tracking and transcripts – collaboration among participants can be tracked, with transcripts of communications saved for later review.
  4. Facilitates document sharing and access control – virtual event platforms can store, index and catalog documents, presentations, rich media, etc.  In addition, some platforms provide for user-level access controls, which allow the administrator to provide sensitive or confidential documents to a selected set of participants.  While I’d argue that in a crisis, all information should be shared, there may be certain information during this crisis that is provided early on to selected members, to review before others.
  5. Facilitates ad-hoc discussions – place 25 scientists and government officials into a text-based group chat area (giving some the option to participate via webcam) and I think that many benefits will follow.

Here are some of the primary components that the platform could offer:

  1. Resource Center – make the platform the “home page” for crisis management.  Have the US CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the WHO (World Health Organization) place updates, documents, links, presentations, etc. into a folder structure – and, provide a robust search capability for participants to find the information they need.  As new information becomes available, it is placed in the Resource Center.
  2. Auditorium – allow those same organizations to provide live, streaming broadcasts (audio or video) to participants, to cover breaking news, status of the outbreak globally, etc.  In addition, representatives from the pharmaceutical industry can provide updates on the development of a vaccine to combat swine flu.
  3. Lounge – create structured chat areas for participants to exchange information and collaborate.
  4. Private Chat – for conversation that need to happen outside of the Lounge, private, one-on-one chat can be faciliated.
  5. End User Search – during times of crisis, it’s often useful to find and connect with others, who may be able to provide information, assistance, etc.  You might need to find an in-country expert in Asia Pac to help assess the situation there.  Or, you might be in need of an expert to analyze conditions that are unique to your region.  With the virtual platform, a robust end user search (based on users’ profile information) can facilitate these connections.

What are your thoughts – would such a platform be useful to help battle swine flu – and, how could this be organized in order to faciliate global participation?

Note: The World Health Organization has a useful FAQ on swine flu here:

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