Mashups and teaching dinosaurs to dance

ad astra logo by Nathan Vogel The hot pink beanbag chairs are a dead giveaway: Ad Astra (Analysis and Development of Awesome STRAtegies) and Mashups are in the news!

In the Yahoo!?!?! thread, Michael Foster posted about Jessica Mintz’ Microsoft-Yahoo could skip culture clash, relevant no matter how the potential acquisition came out:

SEATTLE – Yahoo‘s walls are awash in bright purples and yellows, while Microsoft‘s campus is coated in drab neutrals. Yahoo’s co-founder holds the cutesy title of “chief Yahoo,” while Bill Gates was “chief software architect.”

Yahoo epitomizes California cool; Microsoft is still trying to get over its competition-crushing past. But the culture clash may not be as big a stumbling block to the software giant’s rich buyout bid as some critics may think.

Indeed. Ad Astra’s first event was an immersion workshop, and we had a session looked at the culture of Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Google as part of a very cool project with McKinsey a couple years ago: a “competitive simulation” where teams of Microsoft employees played MS, Y!, G as well as telecom providers, media companies, and consumers. [For those at Microsoft, the videos and slides are around somewhere; there’s also a research talk “Holistic System of Systems 2”.] Yahoo!’s a very interesting mix of a media company and a technology company; the techier parts’ culture has a lot of similarities with Microsoft Silicon Valley — and directions Microsoft Redmond is going. One of the overlooked strategic advantages of an acquisition is that it would accelerate these changes, and in the process significantly decentralize power and distribute development.

Good article, including excellent quotes from Matt Rosoff of Directions on Microsoft, and Ali Diab of Ripple TV who was GM at Microsoft and VP at Yahoo! so has an interesting perspective.

The more I think about the deal, the more I think it’s a good one from Microsoft’s perspective if it goes through — depending of course on the price, and as always with the “as long as they don’t screw it up” caveat. Presumably Google will counter. We shall see. But I digress.

Because the most important thing in this article is the mention of Microsoft’s “experiment with Silicon Valley-style events, including inviting programmers to gather once a month in bean bag chairs to brainstorm and collaborate on cool Web projects.”

Why those would be … Ad Astra mashups! The beanbag chairs are indeed a key. Jessica and I had talked for quite a while at the MVP Mashup last spring while sitting on said hot pink beanbag chairs; they did tend to make an impression.

As Michael says,

Well, it’s official then…we changed MSFT culture…it’s in the press!

Yay us!

And we also helped introduce Popfly, so it’s equally delightful to see the John Markoff’s Mashups Are Breaking the Mold at Microsoft about Popfly in the New York Times yesterday. Popfly launched on campus at Ad Astra’s May Mashup, and I remember hearing non-programmers putting together mashups in 45 minutes and thinking … wow. We synced our summer intern mashup to their intern contest and it was impressive how far things had come. And now brights big city. To think: we knew them when.

TUCKED away in a building on this forested corporate campus, John Montgomery and his team of 17 programmers might be more at home in Silicon Valley than at Microsoft.

They seemed pretty at home to me.

Although it is not yet widely visible to the outside world, some people inside Microsoft are beginning to break that mold.

Mr. Montgomery, a veteran product manager who has also worked as a computer industry writer and editor, is an example of how it just might be possible to teach dinosaurs to dance.

I once gave a talk about Microsoft’s software engineering called “Steering the Pyramids” … same deal. Good article, well worth reading. I agree with Tim O’Reilly’s point about how Popfly would be more successful if it weren’t so closely tied to Silverlight; one of Ad Astra’s strategic principles was “prefer to be platform agnostic”. One more reason Microsoft should hope the Yahoo! deal goes through.