Ali Diab Interview, Part II
This is the second half of the Interview with Ali Diab
Q: Going back to the products you work on at Yahoo!. I know that Yahoo! Maps is about to introduce some new features. Can you talk about them yet?
A: Actually, we recently launched our new real-time traffic feature for Yahoo! Maps. It provides driving conditions, incident reports, the speed of traffic, the severity of each incident and a bunch of other things that help people get where theyíre going with less of a headache. In the future, I think you can expect Yahoo! Maps to become much more context-aware, user-friendly and inter-connected with other services and device interfaces, be they mobile phones or PDAs.
Q: Earlier you talked about the reviews feature of Yahoo! Local. This question came in from a blogger who questioned how Yahoo! would sell advertising to businesses whose customers might write negative reviews. He wanted to know why heíd pay to advertise and risk getting a bad review from an unhappy customer.
A: Well, the key concept behind Local is the idea of community. To build any community you have to allow people to hear and be heard. Ratings and reviews allow customers to voice their opinions about the businesses and services theyíve used. Of course, there will be a broad range of opinions from negative to positive and all the ones in between, but to add real value to the Local user whoís trying to decide whether to use a certain business, you have to have an open forum.
In some ways, I also see the reviews as a kind of checks and balances for the business. It holds them accountable to their customers who now have an additional platform to voice their likes and dislikes. People are going to talk about what was right or wrong with a business anyway. At least this way, the business can monitor whatís being said and maybe learn from it.
But ultimately, the businesses will have to weigh the pros and cons. When all is said and done, Local is still one of the best and easiest ways to reach a massive audience that would cost a bundle to target in the traditional marketing world.
Q: So the reviews arenít censored by Yahoo! to create a kind of biased, business-partial directory?
A: Again, itís about providing honest feedback from real customers. If we slanted them in anyway, they wouldnít be reliable. We do provide guidelines for what to write and not write in the reviews, but for the most part, we trust that customers will use the platform responsibly.
Q: I heard you just got married a few months ago. Is there any similarity between planning a wedding and launching a product?
A: I did learn some very interesting lessons planning the wedding that Iíve applied to my job and vice versa. First you need to go with the people you trust will do a good job and who have a good track record. Then you have to let them do their job. You canít try to micromanage them because you canít control everything. If they enjoy what theyíre doing, theyíll put their heart into it and go beyond the call of duty.
In terms of what I learned from the wedding, obviously Nora has great taste and is very strong willed -- like me. (laughs) But our tastes differed on a lot of things so we came up with a rule that I think is very important in the work place as well: if it matters more to that person than it does to you, then let them have the final say--obviously within reason. Thatís something Iím increasingly applying in my work and I find that the results are great because people who care passionately about something typically have thought about it a lot more than you have and may have more insight into it than you.
Q: I understand that you have a Math degree from Stanford and youíve talked about always having a passion for computers and technology. When did you first realize that this was something you truly loved?
A: Well my parents always say that when I was a toddler, my dad had a really old micro-computer and I was fascinated watching him work on it. In addition Iíve always been interested in taking things apart and putting them back together again. Iíve also always been product oriented. I used to make furniture when I was in high school and build my own bikes (I've been racing motorcross since I was a kid). I must have torn down and built up probably a half dozen cars and motorcycles.
I like building things that have a purpose or that lead to a certain outcome. I find it interesting to research the best materials and resources to figure out the most effective way to build something. Itís really fun.
Q: So what are you working on right now? What are you building?
A: Iím an avid skier and Iím trying to get my hands on an old ski-press so I can create my own pair of skis. I bought these really phat powder skis for the season and theyíre nice but I donít think theyíre going to have the edge-holding characteristics I need. Skis that are very good for holding an edge on ice tend to have a lot of metal or a lot of wood in them. They also tend be heavy and narrow so they can hold an edge against a mountain. Whereas powder skis tend to be wider and lighter to float and keep you above the powder so you donít sink.
Iíd like to build these kind of hybrid skis that have the best of both worlds. I want to use a certain type of wood that is very porous and lightweight so that itíll float well on powder but at the same time have very good vibration dampening characteristics so that it will hold well on ice and chattery snow.
Q: As we wrap this interview up, what do you look for when youíre recruiting for the Local team?
A: We recruit all the time and weíre always looking for smart, self motivated people. I especially like recent grads. I feel like theyíre hungry and I like watching people evolve and teach themselves how to do things. Its fun to see people just getting out of school. They make mistakes but itís seeing that energy and honesty and that effort that makes it really really satisfying.
I also look for people who have a passion outside of workóbe it sporting, musical, philanthropic, whatever, because I think that kind of balance is important.
But balance doesnít always come easily. At first you go from one extreme to the otheróitís like a pendulum, and then eventually you find that happy mediumóthat harmonic frequency that works.