Laaker Joins Yahoo! Developer Network

(Sunnyvale, CA) – While some had already heard the news via a LinkedIn profile update, Micah Laaker today officially announced his joining of the Yahoo! Developer Network.

Laaker is joining YDN to build and lead the new user experience group for the team. The Sunnyvale-based company, now 10+ years old, began as the web’s Yellow Pages, and now has grown to be the #1 start page, #1 email service, and a host of informative, entertaining, and addictive services. Its Developer Network provides tools, code, and assistance for people outside the company to utilize Yahoo! services (such as Search, Maps, CSS and JavaScript, and even the insanely popular Answers).

To announce this move, Laaker was interviewed by good friend and colleague Matt McAlister. A portion of this interview has been made available for public consumption:

  1. What is your biggest user experience pet peeve on the Internet?
    Data duplication. As a user, I am forced to pay a data surrender toll with every new site I visit: my name, email, password, zip code, photo, and sometimes much more. While I’m probably a little too comfortable sharing such information, it becomes frustrating when I move, change job titles, switch photos, etc., as I then have to revisit and update every site I’ve entered such info. Further, if I then decide I don’t want people to know where I live, or what I look like, I’ve got a similar distributed information management issue.

    Managing these profiles also carries risks for all the individual companies/startups that maintain and store such info; if their accounts are sabotaged, and sensitive information is revealed, they’re liable. Looking forward, if there’s a way for everyone to access a common platform for user profile, preferences, and basic information (with the appropriate security controls and management interface), we can make our users’ online lives easier to maintain and control. Providing that sense (and reality) of control, as well as the benefits of recognition (such as automatically knowing what ZIP code to use for weather, movie theater locations, and maps, or providing quick access to your address book), will be a great leap forward for our online experiences.

    We want to make users do as little work as possible to get what they want from our products (and yours). Instead, we should shoulder the burden behind the scenes, listen to what our users tell us (both in what they say, as well as what they do), and provide experiences that excite and engage them everyday.

  2. What web site do you wish you had designed?
    ClaimID. They took a leadership position around connecting users’ various identities across multiple sites using the MicroID microformat. The beauty of their approach was twofold: 1. allow users to make claims to their various profiles without requiring verification, and 2. leverage an easy-to-implement, open format that is simple for the developers to integrate. They’ve kept their interaction simple and minimal, their scenarios in context with the action just taken, and play nicely both with the competition (such as other OpenID providers) and the collegial (e.g. support for Gravatars and multiple microformats).
  3. Show us one of the more clever user experiences you’ve seen on the Internets recently?
    I would encourage folks to check out the Upcoming/Flickr integration. For an example, check out the YUI 1st-Year Anniversary Party. The photos shown near the comments area are sucked in by users adding a tag to their Flickr photos. Further, once such a tag is entered on the Flickr side, it is hidden from users (as its in computer-readable but human-ugly format) and instead is reflected with an Upcoming.org icon and a link to the associated event.

    Simple, community-powered cross-site integration is a beautiful thing. By emerging from the community, Upcoming and Flickr were able to add useful functionality for their users (i.e. photos shown on events’ pages, and event listings linked from photos) that allows best-of-breed tools to focus on what they do best, rather than trying to build competing offerings inside of each that don’t quite do what users want. By doing so, users can pivot off of photos/events (via hidden tags) and better represent the activities in which they are participating.

  4. What’s the best invention in man’s recorded history?
    The newspaper. As a medium that cuts its cost-to-entry so as to provide the masses with vital information, critical thinking, and calls-to-action every day, the newspaper wins it hands down for me. I would rate books highly, as well as free hosting/publishing platforms (like Blogger and WordPress.com) for similar reasons. I also think very fondly of my Nintendo DS Lite; it’s too early to tell on that one, though.
  5. Who was your favorite band in 8th grade?
    Public Enemy, if I remember correctly.
  6. If you were a Muppet, who would you be?
    Statler. He always heckled with a smile.
  7. What does your wife find most annoying about you?
    Good question. My guess? Including her in the press releases I write. (I usually have to edit her back out; she’s not as liberal with sharing her info online.)
  8. If you had to listen to the collective works of one musical artist over and over again until you died, who would you listen to?
    Time and again, Paul Simon seems to win out for me, so I would have to choose him. My Last.fm profile, however, tells a different story, with U2 blowing everything else out of the water. Secretly, though, Justin Timberlake would probably be the least melancholy way to go out.
  9. Does altruism exist?
    One of the most enjoyable benefits of being a Yahoo is our Yahoo! Employee Foundation… its a self-sufficient, not-for-profit organization that is funded entirely by Yahoo! employees. It’s not a company mandate, and it wasn’t spawned by the company. Rather, it was spawned by those fortunate to work here who wanted to use the platform of this company as a means for good. So, does a corporate-affiliated organization prove altruism exists? No. But the people who’ve I met behind that organization, as well as my family and close friends, have repeatedly proven it time and again.
  10. What interested you most about working at Yahoo!? How about YDN?
    If you don’t work inside Yahoo!, you may be surprised that we have more than 350 designers working worldwide (with 200+ here in California alone) to craft our users’ experiences. I came to Yahoo! to join an amazing group of designers, researchers, and analysts (not to mention fantastic product managers, engineers, and marketers) with a common goal: approach problem-solving from a user-centered perspective and iterate quickly while learning from actual users.

    I’ve long been a fan of our Developer Network as it provides a means of extending Yahoo! as a platform. For having “Web” in the title, the World Wide Web is a pretty disconnected experience. Yahoo! exists in a much larger ecosystem, but there’s currently very few examples of a connected experience (i.e. what a user does on Amazon affects what they see/do on Yahoo! and what they see/do on a personal blog). And, if Yahoo! begins to serve not only as a user-facing destination but also the glue between numerous online destinations/services, we’ll have a fair bit of work ahead of us to ensure a solid, trusted, and enriching experience that our users associate with the Yahoo! brand. (Side note: I’m looking to hire talented designers and prototypers to help define Yahoo!’s off-network experiences ; if you’re interested, please drop me a line with examples of your work.)



·