Yahoo! (1994- ), so spelled, is the number two search engine on the Web. In the early days it was the best there was, but now most people use Google. Yahoo! must kick itself daily: in 1998 and again in 2002 it could have taken over Google but thought the price was too high.
By some measures Yahoo! is larger than Google. Its website, for instance, gets more visitors than even Google. Yet it is Google that is making the real money on the Internet, not Yahoo!
Like Google, Yahoo! started out as a student web page at Stanford University. It was Jerry Yang’s web page on akebono.stanford.edu, called “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web”, later renamed “Yahoo!”
The name comes from “Gulliver’s Travels”. They added the “!” because plain “Yahoo” was already taken as a trade name.
Yahoo! not only had a search engine, but also the best listing of some of the best sites then on the Web. You could look up sites by field of interest. Of course, it did not have everything, but it was a good place to start.
But in time the Web grew too large for such a listing, no matter how many people Yahoo! had working on it. The geniuses at Google found out how to get a computer to come up with listings almost as good in a split second. Yahoo! has been eating Google’s dust ever since.
Where Google has largely grown from within by applied genius, Yahoo! has grown by gathering bits of the Internet into one company:
- 1997: RocketMail (web email)
- 1998: ViaWeb (online stores)
- 1999: GeoCities (user web pages), Broadcast.com (radio and music)
- 2002: HotJobs (want ads), Inktomi (search)
- 2003: Overture (the old GoTo.com – search-based advertising)
- 2005: del.icio.us, Flickr (online pictures)
- 2007: MyBlogLog
Those are just a few. The crown jewels are Inktomi, which has a search engine almost as good as Google’s, and Overture, which was making money on search-based advertising long before Google even knew how.
But putting all these pieces together into one, everything-for-everyone website that works well and makes money has been difficult.
Yahoo! has been led by Terry Semel since the dark days of the dot-com bust of 2001. He is a Hollywood deal-maker from Warner Brothers. He knew how to gather the pieces but not how to put them together. (He resigned a month after I wrote this.)
Google avoided doing it this way. For the most part they have built everything for themselves. They even tried to build their own YouTube. Instead of gathering Internet companies, Google has been building a brain trust, perhaps the best the world has seen since the Second World War. So far it has served them well.
Now there is talk of Yahoo! taking on Google by joining forces with Microsoft (third place) or eBay.
To its credit, Yahoo! has not gone the way of curiosities like Lycos, WebCrawler and AltaVista. Remember them? They still exist, you know.
– Abagond, 2007.