Scripting News: My one talk with Marissa Mayer.

It was 2003. Google had just bought Blogger. On the acquisition, they said they wouldn’t do anything to tilt the table in favor of Blogger. There was concern in the wider blogging community that Google might use its power in search to give people an incentive to use Blogger over other publishing platforms. They said this would never happen.

But a few weeks after the deal they broke the promise. They added a BlogThis! button to Google Toolbar. It only worked with Blogger. It would have been a simple matter to make it work with any blogging tool. But they didn’t see why they should do that.

  • It would have been okay if Blogger was the default. But give the users a preference to set the address of our blogging platform.

Back then Google cared a little about what I thought, so the result was a conference call between me and an exec at Google, Marissa Mayer. I was driving cross-country from California to Boston, so I stopped in Utah, in the parking lot of a 7-11 just east of Salt Lake City, and we had the call.

All I remember of it was there came a point in the conversation when Mayer had had enough. She just got up and left. I think the people remaining in the conference room were a little embarassed. Google didn’t do anything to change the BlogThis! button.

All this is to say that the promises execs make on acquisitions are meaningless. They own the thing, they will do what they want to with it. It doesn’t matter how many nice sounds Mayer makes on the deal. At the core she cares not one bit what the users of Tumblr think. She’s saying what she needs to say to make the deal happen. To avoid a PR crisis on Day One. To make the team at Tumblr feel like their work has value to the new owners. That somehow this acquisition isn’t actually an acquisition.

I have some intuition about this myself, because I sold a company. We were bought because we had a presence in the Mac market, which was highly coveted at the time. I negotiated for myself a role as the “Chief architect of Symantec’s Mac strategy.” A few weeks after the deal I made a presentation to the exec staff about what our Mac strategy would be. Only one person showed up, the president of the company, Gordon Eubanks. He watched a couple of slides and thanked me for the input. I asked What about my chief architect role? He told me that was something they told me to get me to do the deal.

He left the room. What was I going to do? What could I do? Nothing, that’s what. 🙂

Moral of the story: When you sell your company, no matter what promises were made, you sold it. It’s theirs now. They will do what they want to with it. Promises don’t matter.


About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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