May 28, 2023

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This is the Long History of Yahoo

Shouting the word “Yahoo” is known as an expression of great joy and passion. However, what did Jerry Yang and David Filo have in mind when they named their site? Apparently not. Yahoo is actually an acronym that stands for “Yet Another Hierarchical Offcious Oracle”, describing the web portal and its news aggregator characteristics. On top of that, Filo was nicknamed “Yahoo” by her college sweetheart; came from the slang for “someone who is rude and old-fashioned” commonly used by students in Louisiana where Filo studied.

David Filo and Jerry Yang founded the website in 1994, which later became known as Yahoo. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, web portals were all over the world, and Yahoo was an icon of the dot-com boom and a milestone in the history of our online lives today. In its heyday, Yahoo provided services such as Geocities, AltaVista search, news aggregation and Yahoo Mail. Products like del. and Flickr were the pioneers of the link exchange and photo sharing sites we see today. At the turn of the millennium, Yahoo’s power seemed unstoppable. However, today’s young Internet users may not remember Geocities or AltaVista, although that is not the main issue. Over time Yahoo’s mistakes became more and more obvious.

From the internal memo, which was leaked in 2006 during the early days of Yahoo’s decline and is now known as the Peanut Butter Manifesto, it was revealed that Yahoo was scathingly criticizing the lack of focus. In addition to the stability of existing products and services, Yahoo is also expanding into other areas, including job search, advertising, social media and music. With resources and investment thin, no single Yahoo product or service could make it successful. At the same time, new companies continue to keep tabs on the traditional Yahoo cradle. Google and its search engine beat Yahoo Search by a landslide, and that’s the main reason Yahoo tried to buy Google for $3 billion in 2002. Facebook meanwhile presented a new way of living a digital life, showing Yahoo Communities how to network properly. Smartphones and mobile lifestyle are becoming popular among the people. Yahoo World has helped create, and changed dramatically but has not kept up. Much of Yahoo’s success came under Jeff Mallet’s leadership as President and COO, beginning with Yahoo’s public introduction in 1996. It is also no coincidence that the beginning of its decline can be traced to its successor, Terry Semel in 2001, who became Chairman and CEO. Respected in Hollywood thanks to Warner Brothers, Semel helped Yahoo expand its wings by securing partnerships with various dot-com companies. But unfortunately, he is also known to have missed the opportunity to invest in a small company owned by Larry Page and Sergei Brin called Google.

It can be said that a company is defined by its CEO. For example Steve Jobs at Apple, Bill Gates at Microsoft, and Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook. You can see clues to the personality of the leader in each company. And if you believe that the choice of CEO is representative of the type of company, then Yahoo doesn’t look so good. After Semel, Yahoo founder Jerry Yang returned to helm in 2007 for a brief spell, before handing over the CEO role to Carol Bartz in 2009. Unable to overcome the slump, in late 2011 he was fired over the phone, after he sent emails to Yahoo staff around the world. the world to personally update developments, instead of waiting for official company statements. The next incumbent CEO is Scott Thomson who was appointed in early 2012, lasted for four months then was fired for falsifying a bachelor’s degree on his resume.

Marissa Mayer was originally a Google employee. Graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in Symbolic Systems and a Master’s in Computer Science, he also specialized in artificial intelligence in both degrees. She is the 20th employee hired by Google, and also Google’s first female engineer. After a year working in the web server group, he transferred to the user-experience and human interaction department. Then move again to the marketing and branding department, and handle Google Doodles. In 2001, he officially moved from engineering to product, and was responsible for leading user interactions for Thanks to Mayer’s hard work and vision, Google’s appearance has become simpler, which attracts attention. Google’s new look is said to be inspired by a Swiss army knife. It’s simple, all the tools needed for any situation can be found, just waiting for the user’s activation. There’s no doubt that Mayer has had a strong impact on technology with the Google Search homepage. While ensuring Google’s search engine was on top during his tenure, Mayer was also involved with a number of other products. His background in artificial intelligence has been instrumental in making Google products smarter and more adept. Google News, Google Desktop Search, Gmail, iGoogle, Google Maps and many other products benefit from its involvement. In 2010, Mayer was appointed Vice President for Local and Location services and is involved with the inner circle of 12 people who make up the operations and decision-making committees within Google. But in 2011, he was overtaken by Jeff Huber in the promotion to the senior leadership team. At the same time Larry Page took over as CEO of Google, and Mayer was dropped from his new inner circle. His old boss, Jonathan Rosenberg, also resigned. In 2000 when spider bots and web-crawlers started stealing the spotlight, Yahoo noticed their search engine was not very efficient, and decided to turn to Google for help. One of the employees associated with Yahoo is none other than Mayer. Mayer’s impressive streak, combined with his more than twelve years of accomplishments, led Yahoo to offer him the CEO position in 2012.

After getting caught up in a personnel change at Google and being offered a promotion, it was the perfect time to move on. There’s a reason Microsoft was willing to spend US$44.6 billion to buy Yahoo in 2008. Even though it’s declining, Yahoo still has some intrinsic value. What’s more, the strong focus over the past few years on news aggregation has seen Yahoo regain relevance, thanks in part to Facebook integration. Additionally, features such as Yahoo Pipes have allowed users to create their own news aggregator/RSS feed applications, offering a level of customization not found anywhere else. The company’s commitment to research is well known and they still operate an extensive research laboratory. Flickr may have skipped the “post photo” session for a lack of immediacy, but the service still has immense appeal for photographers. It seems as though the existing infrastructure at Yahoo is working, but there is no one with the same vision as a leader. Yahoo’s focus over the last decade has shifted from news, to search, music, social networking and more. Fortunately for Yahoo, Mayer has grown its products. He built a search engine from scratch, then linked it to Google News, Google Books, and Google Desktop Search. Yahoo hoped Mayer could control product development as tightly as search engines for their company. However, it is not easy. By selecting Mayer instead of former interim-CEO (and Ross Levinsohn’s favorite), Yahoo is clearly throwing down the gauntlet, and will be going head-to-head with Google. Mayer’s expertise lies in search engines and product development, while Levinsohn has a reputation for being media-savvy.

Even though the two could work very well together, Levinsohn, who served as Vice President Head of Global Media, resigned of his own accord. Media is one aspect of Yahoo’s portfolio that Mayer was unable to reach to analyze and seek significant change. However, having been in the technology space for more than 10 years as well as being an involved mentor on Google’s Illustrious Associate Product Manager program, Mayer should have no problem putting together a new top team. That said, Mayer had started something he called a “Google-fcation” at Yahoo, a few weeks after taking the helm of the company. For example, Mayer states that all canteen meals are free, starting at the Silicon Valley office. In addition, the entire team is also involved in routine Friday meetings in order to strengthen relations between employees. Yahoo has been through a lot in the last decade, with the share value peaking back in 2000 at $475 per share. Now, Yahoo is trading at just over US$16 per share (at the time of writing), only a fraction of Yahoo’s previous price. Obviously, a few changes to the corporate culture won’t change Yahoo’s fortunes for the better. But for that, Mayer has not fully spread his wings as CEO. Not to mention the fact that she’s pregnant. Nevertheless, the rhetoric from within Yahoo seems to indicate that it is gaining a sense of what it means to lead Yahoo in the years to come. Of course, only time will tell

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