When engineers cared about the content and product

20 years ago, while I was the lead engineer for Yahoo News, I was asked to build a very basic feature to allow users to send news articles via a simple email link. That feature was simple: let users click on a link to send the news article with the URL, title and a brief summary and email it to one or more people.

With this simple request, I built a generic ‘Mail To Friend’ feature that any web site at Yahoo could use with a simple set of parameters URL, property, country and everything else (spam control, sending the email, tracking what was sent).

After launching the simple feature, I was doing some validation of the system, looking at the data around what was sent. I looked at how many articles were sent, aggregated it by the top articles sent and I noticed that the top 20 articles were ‘interesting’ news stories that I normally won’t see on Yahoo News as a daily reader myself. Then I noticed the photos that people emailed, where the cute, or outrageous.

I built a script where I looked at moving window of the top 20 news stories and 20 news photos in the last 36 hours to keep the content fresh and showed it to my news producer (product manager) and that is how the most-emailed feature was borned. (NYTimes) https://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/29/business/new-economy-yahoo-charts-spread-e-mail-what-it-finds-itself-becoming.html

Published by Tony Tam

Senior Engineer Manager, Engineering Productivity @ Splunk, ImpactfulEngineer.org & SFBadminton.org