For some, it’s hard to believe there was a time when Yahoo was the Emperor of the Internet. But for those of us who remember its former importance, the news of its sale to Verizon was shocking. Or was it?
Yahoo’s rise preceded a slow fall that was almost painful to watch. It culminated earlier this week when it sold its email services, news aggregators, and Tumblr— everything that made Yahoo, Yahoo— to Verizon for under $5 billion. To put that in perspective, total shares of Yahoo stock were valued at $125 billion at the beginning of the millennium. We saw this coming, and no doubt did upper management Yahoo see it coming, too. The question then, is what could it have done to stop it?
According to a recent opinion in The Week, nothing. Yahoo is the embodiment of the “jack of all trades, master of none proverb”. They wanted to be everything. Yahoo had a search function that couldn’t compete with Google. When on-demand streaming video became a reasonable expectation, Yahoo! Screen lost out to Youtube. They even tried their hand at social networking. And the fact that you probably aren’t aware of their beta for maps speaks volumes about the company’s current state.
There are just too many cooks in Yahoo’s kitchen, but there had to be. That’s why, in a way, there wasn’t much Yahoo could do to prevent its fall. Yahoo was conceived as a “web portal”, a singular place you could go to access the best the web had to offer. Co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo’s first conception of the Yahoo platform was as an aggregator of their favorite websites. You weren’t searching for anything— it was already handed to you. This kind of navigation made perfect sense in the 90s. The digital frontier was just as wild as its 19th-century Western counterpart. It was slow, “search engine” sounded like an esoteric phrase of cyber-alchemy, and we typed in “.com” after any keyword in the hopes that a site existed for it. For most people, it was much easier to be given options of trustworthy web content rather than go mining for it on their own.
But we grew more comfortable with the internet. We learned how keywords and searches worked, and companies plugged their sites in advertisements:
Grade school students realized you could use the internet to search for information and answers to your own questions, much to the chagrin of their sometimes skeptical teachers. “Google” became a verb, and before long the internet was a daily part of our lives. The idea of sitting in front of your desktop to “plug into the internet” was foreign. It was safe to assume you had a computer precisely so you could access it.
Yahoo’s brand identity was about making the internet accessible. But technology and public knowledge are always improving. We no longer need Yahoo as we once knew it. Verizon hasn’t absorbed the company, so maybe it will pop back up as a solution to a new digital problem.