It’s staggering to think that Verizon now owns AOL and Yahoo for the combined sum of nine billion dollars. I don’t know why they want to corner the market on the 1998 Internet, but that’s not really my problem. I come here not to bury Yahoo, but to remind people who it used to be.
One of my friends once said, circa 1999, that he automatically disrespected anyone who didn’t just have Yahoo as the startup page. I concurred. The personalized portal at My Yahoo was my homepage for years, just for the sake of the instant dashboard for ball scores, weather and at one point even TV listings. Now all that stuff is on the phone, which probably explains why Verizon bought it – it’s a content provider of sorts for a company that is at its root a dumb pipe and wants to be more.
Thing is, I often wonder why Apple didn’t just buy Yahoo, as an instant user base for services that Apple has struggled to provide. Yahoo’s weather (itself sourced from God knows where) was the back end of the Weather app in the iPhone for time out of mind anyway (not to deny Yahoo credit for a very nice free-standing weather app themselves). Yahoo was the first and at the time only provider of push-enabled mail on the original iPhone. Everyone in Gen X has a Yahoo account, even if they haven’t logged into it in years. Yahoo was perfect Google insurance for Apple, at a time when the name still had a little cachet. But Apple apparently isn’t interested – the service offerings are still only what’s necessary to sell hardware, and search isn’t their thing, so Yahoo winds up under VZW.
But Yahoo let itself get lapped by Google, mostly because of AdWords – the one true innovation on which Google is built is better and more precise advertising than anyone else was able to muster, and it let them club Yahoo to death with simplicity. Meanwhile, Yahoo struggled to provide meaningful content – it wanted to be a media company but couldn’t produce any media people wanted to consume. That’s where Tumblr came in – but that wasn’t nearly enough. Millenial Livejournal wasn’t going to save Yahoo. Maybe if they’d bought Twitter instead…but that didn’t happen either. They could have turned their guns on trying to be the Facebook alternative that offered granularity and didn’t gorge itself on your personal information. Instead, we got Yahoo 360 and Yahoo Meme and Yahoo Buzz, and unlike Google Buzz or Google Wave or Google Latitude or Google Reader (still mad) or Google+ or half a dozen other things, Yahoo didn’t have the cash cow and resources to keep throwing unlimited shit at the wall until something stuck.
So here we are. They’ll still exist – hell, AOL still exists and by some accounts is still clocking two million dial-up users a year, probably accounts that never got cancelled by people who never look at their credit card statements – but Yahoo isn’t going to be around anymore. One of the last major stalwarts of Web 1.0 is going down at last. They aren’t where the future comes from any more, which is about as Silicon Valley an epitaph as you could ask for.