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Yahoo! Brickhouse closes – People get upset – I think it’s okay

(I’ve updated my thoughts on this here)

Among the announcements coming from Yahoo! today is the close of Brickhouse, the “new product development” incubator set up two years ago. Reading tweets and notes in the blogosphere, a lot of folks are upset, thinking this is a foolish decision.

I think it makes perfect sense, and I’m surprised they hadn’t done it sooner.

Brickhouse essentially served as Yahoo!’s research and development arm. The thing is, stuff in Brickhouse rarely, if ever, made any impact anywhere else in Yahoo! Over four years ago, I wrote about the folly of r&d groups, and it still holds.

I’ve always been suspicious of the value of Brickhouse. From the outset, it seemed to be where Yahoo!’s most talented designers and developers went in order to avoid working on anything with accountability — and Yahoo! let them, because they didn’t want to lose that talent. The same thing happened to Yahoo!’s Design group back in February — when it became clear they were delivering no value to the business, they were let go.

So, unlike many of my friends and colleagues, I have trouble shedding tears over the demise of Brickhouse. It was apparent for a very long time that most of the efforts within Brickhouse were not delivering value, and it seemed as if the majority of folks within Brickhouse were perfectly fine with that. We have to accept the consequences of our decisions, and if we decide to work in an organization that has no demonstrable connection to value, we have to be prepared to be the first with our backs against the wall when hard times come.

Andy wrote that Yahoo!’s management “would be better served firing themselves,” but that’s true only to the extent that management should have never let the playground that was Brickhouse exist in the first place. Those who were in the Brickhouse should consider them lucky to have been able to play for 2 years while their colleagues turned the cranks that kept revenue coming in.

(this was dashed off in haste, and I’m sure it’s missing much nuance.)

  1. Wow, that’s pretty harsh.

    For your information, I didn’t bust my ass simultaneously at Brickhouse and Upcoming because I was avoiding accountability. Neither did anyone else on my team. I realize that it’s very easy to generalize about what goes on in such a vocally promoted R&D group in a big organization, but I think you’re overstepping here, in addition to assuming erroneously that all the value delivered by Brickhouse-style mandate is public.

    I’m not shedding any tears about it being shut down, but I wouldn’t be so quick to judge the motivations or goals of people who worked there.


  2. I know it’s harsh. And I know there are many nuances and many qualifications that can be made, and that I’m making a generalization. But I think the fact that Brickhouse closed down is the proof in the pudding — apart from Fire Eagle, from what I can see, it wasn’t generating anything that the rest of the organization considered valuable, at least, not valuable enough to save it. It wasn’t part of the warp and weft of Yahoo!’s business, and it was probably an easy decision to cut it.

    I know this sucks for the people in Brickhouse, and I know my commentary is not particularly empathetic. But, honestly, the writing has been on the wall for Brickhouse since at least February, when it became clear that Yahoo could no longer support that which wasn’t directly contributing to the business. And who can blame them?

  3. I’m not objecting to a lack of empathy, but i’m saying that not all of the desired effects of Brickhouse work were supposed to be public and outward facing.

    In any case, your excoriation of Brickhouse staff as people who “avoid working on anything with accountability” is not only wrong, it’s somewhat offensive to me personally. It’s fair to say that it was the right thing to cut (I’ve been gone since March, and I would generally agree that it’s fine to cut R&D in times of business downturn), but you’re going too far to make attacks on the character of people who worked at Brickhouse, either those who tried to come in from the mothership, or those who accepted jobs specifically to work on the BH projects of others.

    I’m not going to defend the amount of money that Yahoo! spends supporting projects corollary to the main cash cows, but if you’re objecting generally to ALL people who don’t work on search monetization, you have a problem with a much wider group of people than just Brickhouse.

  4. Completely agree!! Thanks for calling a spade a spade.

    You really nailed it on “accountability part”…folks working in Brickhouse may have been great but many were spent force, past their prime who just wanted a cozy setup where there is no accountability, no nothing.

    Heck I know a guy who roamed around the world (check his exploits at on Yahoo!s dime while he was supposed to be working on new ideas in Brickhouse. Absolutely no accountability and it was like throwing money down the drain.

    Guys there worked in their own world. Yahoo Live was supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread for these folks!!

  5. I think you’re wrong about them not creating value. Your other criticisms are likely justified, but as a FireEagle user, I feel that they certainly _did_ create value.

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