John Battelle, the Yahoo! TechDev Speaker Series, and the "Flickrization" of Yahoo!

John Battelle visited Yahoo! yesterday and wrote about it on his blog (see perspectives on the talk from Jeremy, Matt, and Nate. I took the blurry photo you see on your right). I invited John to speak for somewhat obvious reasons (he just wrote a book about search) but it was more than that. As the old saying goes,”journalism is the first draft of history.” If you look at John’s track record with Wired, the Industry Standard, the Web 2.0 conference, his Searchblog and now his book, John is the rare journalist who often seems to be writing the first draft of the future. That’s impressive.

John Battelle @ Yahoo!

Originally uploaded by jchaddickerson.

As Nate notes in his blog, these talks are a regular weekly feature at Yahoo! known as the “TechDev Speaker Series” — “TechDev” because it’s run by the Technology Development Group within the Search division at Yahoo! (that’s my group). Bradley Horowitz (our leader extraordinaire) started it last summer and handed it over to me a couple of weeks after I started at Yahoo! in August. His only instructions were: “Find interesting people for the series. Surprise me.” Bradley had already set the bar high by bringing in people like Chris Anderson, Mark Pauline, and Philip Rosedale (among others).

Since I took over the series, other than John Battelle we’ve had (in no particular order):

An impressive list without a doubt (and thanks to the folks within Yahoo! who’ve helped me bring some of them in). The subject matter of the series is intentionally broad and multi-disciplinary in nature. Chris Anderson spoke about the Long Tail, while Mark Pauline told us about hacking together fire-breathing robots for his performance art pieces with Survival Research Labs. Lawrence Lessig talked about how broken U.S. copyright law is in the digital domain and was followed the next week by Mark Hosler of the experimental and sound collage “band” Negativland, who gave us the artist’s perspective on the issue.

I think the multi-disciplinary content and focus of the speaker series as it continues to develop hints at something I’ve been noticing about Yahoo! in my first four months there. While Yahoo! continues to attract top talent with stellar computer science backgrounds, there’s another type of person Yahoo! seems to be attracting as well in what some have called the “Flickrization” of Yahoo!: folks who skipped the CompSci degree but built amazingly cool things on the web (I think the two complementary sides of Yahoo! are evident in the backgrounds of two Yahoo! employees recently named as top technology innovators under age 35 by the MIT Technology Review, for example). To me, working at Yahoo! these days is a heady mix of art and science (just like the web itself), and I’m glad to be a part of it. It rocks.