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What Went Wrong At Yahoo

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the doing-it-early-vs-doing-it-well dept.

Yahoo! 162

kjh1 writes "Paul Graham writes about what he felt went wrong at Yahoo. He has first-hand experience — his company, Viaweb, was bought by Yahoo and he worked there for a while. In a nutshell, he felt that Yahoo was too conflicted about whether they were a technology company or a media company. 'If anyone at Yahoo considered the idea that they should be a technology company, the next thought would have been that Microsoft would crush them.' This in part led to hiring bad programmers, or at least not going single-mindedly after the very best ones. They also lacked the 'hacker' culture that Google and Facebook still seem to have, and that is found in many startup tech companies. 'As long as customers were writing big checks for banner ads, it was hard to take search seriously. Google didn't have that to distract them.'"

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Way to compete with MS (1, Funny)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237760)

'If anyone at Yahoo considered the idea that they should be a technology company, the next thought would have been that Microsoft would crush them.' This in part led to hiring bad programmers

Did anyone else read this as, they hired lousy programmers so they could compete with Microsoft?

Re:Way to compete with MS (0)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237774)

No.

What went wrong at yahoo: (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 4 years ago | (#33241064)

Simple: They had a marvelous tree of web sites, arranged so you could browse them by interest. I used it constantly. Then they stopped updating that, and finally abandoned it, and became useless. Eventually they used cash to buy things that were useful, like flickr, and so technically now have some merit again, but it is certainly not the usefulness they originally had. Which, I might add, search engines like Google really don't replace at all. Google's listings often do a terrible job of putting the actual relevant content first; Yahoo's tree typically had sites right where they needed to be.

But... WTF is Yahoo today? An aggregator of low-resolution pop culture? A venture capitalist? What? Why would I go there? I just did go there, and looking at the sidebar, can choose horoscopes, OMG!, dating... I see some cheesy sound-bite versions of news stories... there's a list of "trending" (which is pop culture nonsense)... really, I have no idea why I would spend more than ten seconds there after seeing the home page.

Re:Way to compete with MS (3, Informative)

Dancindan84 (1056246) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237820)

No. I read it as no one at Yahoo considering it a serious technology company because of a fear of taking on Microsoft, so they didn't bother hiring decent programmers.

Re:Way to compete with MS (2, Interesting)

linuxiac (1831824) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238890)

Yahoo also fears any "anti-Microsoft" comments in their answers, or in comments! So, the filter is set to DELETE any account that mentions the *BSDs, GNU/Linux... Made it to 2990 points in Yahoo Answers, before one of my dozen + throw-away Yahoo accounts was tossed out, when I mentioned Linux Mint, in answer to a Linux question! But, I did get to mention "Plan 9 from Outer Space" without another of my throw-away Yahoo accounts being tossed out! Too bad the dummy Microsoft fanbois who program and frequent FreeBSD driven Yahoo, don't have a clue! Fun part is that there is NO arbitration, no recourse, to the draconian rule of Yahoo "M$derators"! Hey, Linux users read advertising, purchase consumer goods, run businesses, drive the economy! Too bad Yahoo doesn't really understand marketing!

Re:Way to compete with MS (3, Funny)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237822)

'If anyone at Yahoo considered the idea that they should be a technology company, the next thought would have been that Microsoft would crush them.' This in part led to hiring bad programmers

Did anyone else read this as, they hired lousy programmers so they could compete with Microsoft?

I read it as: Yahoo bought a Mary-Kay Pink colored car so that Microsoft wouldn't steal it if they had to park on the street.

Re:Way to compete with MS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33237824)

Nope. I read it as, 'we're not going toe-to-toe with the big dogs, so lets cut some corners.'

Re:Way to compete with MS (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33237954)

As a lousy programmer and ex-Yahoo employee, I can confirm this.

Re:Way to compete with MS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33238110)

'If anyone at Yahoo considered the idea that they should be a technology company, the next thought would have been that Microsoft would crush them.' This in part led to hiring bad programmers

Did anyone else read this as, they hired lousy programmers so they could compete with Microsoft?

Unfortunately they weren't incompetent enough.

Re:Way to compete with MS (1)

luis_a_espinal (1810296) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238978)

'If anyone at Yahoo considered the idea that they should be a technology company, the next thought would have been that Microsoft would crush them.' This in part led to hiring bad programmers

Did anyone else read this as, they hired lousy programmers so they could compete with Microsoft?

No. Only you did. In other words, your reading comprehension skills are a sad indictment of our education system.

Re:Way to compete with MS (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 4 years ago | (#33241188)

Or I was just trying to be funny, and your lack of humor is a sad indictment on your lack of humor. Either way.

What went wrong? (1, Interesting)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237806)


Nothing "went wrong". Google happened. It's not complicated. To say what "went wrong" is like asking what went wrong in New Orleans when Katrina happened. Certainly with hindsight you can point out all the mistakes. Certainly you could say: "if we'd known...". But basically, and in a similar manner to Katrina, Google came and washed everything else away for a time.

Re:What went wrong? (3, Informative)

TheRealFixer (552803) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237844)

Or, you could read the article, where he mentions his suggestion to the brass to buy Google in the late 90s, and Yahoo's complete disinterest in doing so because they considered the search business to be mostly irrelevant.

Re:What went wrong? (2, Insightful)

Servaas (1050156) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238250)

So if they had bought it we would have no Google, seeing as their completely disinterested in search. It's swell that Paul realised its potential though, and if only it wasn't for those rotten managers he would have gotten away with it!

Re:What went wrong? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 4 years ago | (#33239546)

Well, Google was a good, but by no means unique idea. Had they been swallowed, one of their parallels would have filled the void.

Re:What went wrong? (5, Insightful)

gatzby3jr (809590) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237878)

Now, I'm not meteorologist, but I think comparing Google to a hurricane is a piss poor comparison.

Google came to be because there was an opportunity in the market, and a very large one at that.

Saying that "Google happened" like it was some inevitable event pre-planned on the timeline of the Earth is a very poor reason for why Yahoo failed.

Yahoo, in every thing they've done has had the upper hand, and let it slip away. They grab a market, and fail to innovate beyond that. They get greedy with big checks from advertisers and can't see beyond that.

I've been watching it for years. Yahoo lets another one of its markets or products just slip away as they refuse to innovate, and let another company sweep in and take it away.

Re:What went wrong? (4, Insightful)

ZeroExistenZ (721849) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238894)

Google came to be because there was an opportunity in the market, and a very large one at that.

Oh really?

Do you remember the internet around that time?
We had AskJeeves, Astalavista, HotBot, Yahoo, Ilse and a pile of other searchengines. Google was one of the pile.

Later google released gmail. We had millions of online email providers, hotmail was really hot that time with MSN-chat integration and your profile page (taking a throw at MySpace)

Google did bring innovation in searchresults and found a way to neatly advertize. But most of its funtionality was very much already existing. They played the same game as alot of others at that time, but just slightly better.

Yahoo, in every thing they've done has had the upper hand, and let it slip away. They grab a market, and fail to innovate beyond that. They get greedy with big checks from advertisers and can't see beyond that.

Every large cooperation at a certain point starts to work profit driven and do get greedy in a sense. I doubt someone sat at Yahoo thinking "ok, this is slipping away", no they thought they were doing the thing generating the most profit.
Alot of older softwarehouses have a product, they (suits) milk it for years to come and just "innovate" as necessary, not beyond that.

Re:What went wrong? (4, Insightful)

luis_a_espinal (1810296) | more than 4 years ago | (#33239174)

Google came to be because there was an opportunity in the market, and a very large one at that.

Oh really?

Do you remember the internet around that time?

Just because there were a bunch of search engines at the time, that doesn't mean that there wasn't a large opportunity on the search space that none one else did to the extend they did: For one, most of the contenders at the time were embedding their search engines in portals. Google did not. Secondly, and most importantly, the great opportunity that no one exploited until Google's time was the ranking of pages for the purpose of searching as opposed to textual indexing (be it with inverted or forward indexes.) The PageRank (tm) algorithm exploited a market opportunity that was there for the taking.

A market opportunity is not something that occurs because there aren't any competitors. It is *that* which is not done or not done well by your competitors, even if they exist by the millions.

Re:What went wrong? (1)

gatzby3jr (809590) | more than 4 years ago | (#33239644)

Where do I begin with this one?

Competition is not equivalent to lack of opportunity.

Google saw an opportunity to make profits while still innovating in an already saturated market, making it all the more impressive that they've been this successful.

Later google released gmail. We had millions of online email providers, hotmail was really hot that time with MSN-chat integration and your profile page (taking a throw at MySpace)

I'm confused, you're saying that there were tons of companies like this, and then Google released a better product. That looks to me like an OPPORTUNITY that Google capitalized on. God didn't come down and say "oh here Google, take this Gmail product and bedazzle the world with its all-mightiness".

I doubt someone sat at Yahoo thinking "ok, this is slipping away", no they thought they were doing the thing generating the most profit.

I never said they had an all hands on meeting and voted on whether or not to let the email business slip away. That doesn't mean it didn't happen.

Every large cooperation at a certain point starts to work profit driven and do get greedy in a sense.

Every corporation is profit driven...that's why they're a corporation.

Their short sightedness (re: my original post) is what caused them to fail.

Their up front greed, caused them to fail.

Their lack of understanding, caused them to fail.

Should I keep going?

Re:What went wrong? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33239232)

Saying that "Google happened" like it was some inevitable event pre-planned on the timeline of the Earth is a very poor reason for why Yahoo failed.

Yahoo, in every thing they've done has had the upper hand, and let it slip away. They grab a market, and fail to innovate beyond that. They get greedy with big checks from advertisers and can't see beyond that.

Especially since Yahoo! was an initial investor in Google:

        http://www.internetnews.com/bus-news/article.php/3392781

I'm sure if they made a reasonable offer, they could have bought out Google in its nascent stages.

Re:What went wrong? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33240270)

I'm an honest to god Yahoo! employee, so the coward goes without saying ...

Yahoo! does have a ton of good ideas, and over the years, has learned to snap up better and better people.

The problem that Yahoo! has had, and still has today, is that it doesn't know what it wants to be. And, as a result, does about a thousand different things simultaneously. Completely half-assed. They grab a certain idea or market, latch onto it, investing and innovating ... then suddenly, they stop thinking it is a priority, and they stop focusing on it. Low and behold, another company comes along, many of them sporting ex-Yahoo! employees or students that Yahoo! rejected, doing the exact same thing that Yahoo! is or was doing, only better or tweaking it, just a tad. It becomes a success, because its their sole focus, while the Yahoo! product falls even more by the wayside.

That is Yahoo! ... they half-ass everything they create, because some other new thing comes along and captures their interest. It makes Yahoo! a clusterfuck of products and services, technology and media; where one portion of a product works as intended but another interlocking piece is a huge pile. If you question that sentiment, look at their homepage. Host a site on Yahoo!. Use a paid product.

Yahoo! is a great way to point your parents, maybe your grandparents. Yahoo! has every opportunity to be a great company, even today. They just need to finish one product at a time, focus on one segment of the market per department, and honestly, honestly after all these years ... decide what kind of company they want to be.

I doubt it will ever happen without some change in the leadership of the company. The board of directors ... all old people, all business-focused, all seemingly lacking the spark of ingenuity. They have aged, they're old people who think they're hip, but really they're just unwilling to take risks or attempt the new. It shows in everything they do and every product they touch. I have hope for Bartz, she seems to have a good head on her shoulders ... but with Yang there, waiting in the shadows, still pulling the strings, Yahoo! seems doomed to fail.

Re:What went wrong? (3, Interesting)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237900)

So, when Google came along, people climbed onto the roof of Yahoo headquarters and waited for the government to bail them out?

But seriously... the problem for Yahoo, and a lot of other companies, is/was as stated in the summary: They don't know if they're technology companies or media companies. Yahoo, Google, etc, are basically ad agencies which use their free services to honeypot people into their advertising ecosystem. I think Yahoo knew it was a media company when people thought they were a technology company, but didn't realize people thought they were a tech company. Google seems to be playing the "oh, we're just an innocent tech company making cool innovations n' stuff" game better, and minimized the impact of their ads.

Consequently, Google has become an advertising and content behemoth while people are still going on and on about how cool their "products" are. It's fucking stupid.

Re:What went wrong? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238068)

I don't think the leadership at Google has any illusions about where the money comes from, but I think they also realize that they can use technology to save money (even just on servers), and to give themselves new places to sell ads.

Throw in the realization that there is little point in trying to be a mediocre technology company and their helter-skelter 'product strategy' fits right in.

You keep getting it wrong. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33238540)

It is surprising how many /.ers keep repeating the nonsense about Goole being an Ad agency.

Are ABC, NBC (SKY, ITV and others in the UK) ad agencies? No, of course not, they arent. They are TV companies that support their broadcasting activities by means of advertising, and obtain a healthy profit at times for it, but they do not organize the advertising campaigns of anybody, they just sell slots of time according to demand in order to make money.

Google is a tech company, they study the data, and increasingly the metadata, and the interaction of people with them, arrive to conclussions, and monetize that knowledge.

Advertisements are one way to monetize that knowledge, but there are so many other ways to take advntage of it that it is scary.

A proper advertisement agency will provide a complete package about how to present a given product and will organize a campaign for you. Google by no means does that.

But go on, keep repeating this nonsense, it is a meme that clearly is sticking around here.

Re:You keep getting it wrong. (4, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | more than 4 years ago | (#33239640)

They are not ad agencies in the sense of creating ads, no. But the business is run by the advertising side in both cases. That is, if you cross the ads people, you get fired, not them. They decide on the tone of reporting, content of shows, etc. They get approval power over basically everything. If you don't think that's the reality ... well ... go work for any one of them for a time.

Re:You keep getting it wrong. (4, Insightful)

locallyunscene (1000523) | more than 4 years ago | (#33239734)

It is surprising how many /.ers keep repeating the nonsense about Goole being an Ad agency.

Are ABC, NBC (SKY, ITV and others in the UK) ad agencies?

The state of media being what it is, yes ABC, NBC, FOX, etc are ad agencies. When(if) they start doing journalism again I'll consider them more than that.

Re:You keep getting it wrong. (1)

NetNed (955141) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240780)

Have to agree. The NBC affiliate here uses every opportunity to put infomercials on, even trumping regular national programing some times. They also sensationalize every news story they can and break in to regular programing with even the stupidest, non-issue "newsflash" headlines that most times are things I can wait on hearing.

Add to that the severe weather updates that they break in for when they already have a map covering a quarter of the screen during regular programing, yet they still go to ads during this "create some fear" weather reporting. And what happens when they go to ads? The little weather map disappears. Guess it's severe enough to wreak whatever I was watching, but not so bad as to stop them from forcing every ad they can on to my TV.

Re:You keep getting it wrong. (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 4 years ago | (#33241062)

>The NBC affiliate here uses every opportunity to put infomercials on

There are people "here", dumb enough to be persuaded by infomercials.

I see a bigger problem than just "media companies."

The real product of Google (1)

cbraescu1 (180267) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240722)

A proper advertisement agency will provide a complete package about how to present a given product and will organize a campaign for you. Google by no means does that.

You seem to ignore the fact that we (the users) are the real product of Google, which truly makes it an ad company.

As for organizing the campaign, they automated that part for AdWords customers.

Re:What went wrong? (2, Interesting)

Buggz (1187173) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237908)

I disagree, I'd call failure to react properly to changing circumstances something that went wrong. Google didn't hit like a hurricane but grew steadily into a giant. Spending years hiring mediocre developers developing mediocre products and not being sure of the direction to take the company isn't exactly the business equivalent of a flash flood. I don't see any Yahoo executive saying "it all happened so fast, just *WHOOSH* all gone".

Re:What went wrong? (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237938)

There were things done wrong in New Orleans before Katrina, like not having the flood walls up properly.

Similarly, Yahoo didn't prepare for a competitor to make a better search engine. Any business has to imagine that they will have a competitor.

They were both fat and happy and ignored any doom-saying.

Re:What went wrong? (0, Troll)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238158)

Nothing "went wrong". Google happened. It's not complicated. To say what "went wrong" is like asking what went wrong in New Orleans when Katrina happened.

So you mean what happened to Yahoo was that oversilting and other pollution of rivers damaged the coastline? I never would have guessed.

Re:What went wrong? (0, Offtopic)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238222)

So you mean what happened to Yahoo was that oversilting and other pollution of rivers damaged the coastline? I never would have guessed.

How the Hell are all the sensible arguments pointing out problems or contentious issues in my post sitting around at Score: 1, and you've been modded up +5 for crass absurdity? Just how many accounts do you have?

buh? (0, Offtopic)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238776)

did you miss? or just misinterpret comment scoring based on relationship?

Re:buh? (0, Offtopic)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240450)

did you miss? or just misinterpret comment scoring based on relationship?

And low and behold the 1 line post above gets another +5.

Re:buh? (0, Offtopic)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240806)

If you can't figure out your comment score modifiers, which you can change in preferences, I am going to have to unfriend you :p

Hint: Part of my comment score is because you have willingly set yourself as my fan...

Re:What went wrong? (1)

omar.sahal (687649) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238772)

But basically, and in a similar manner to Katrina, Google came and washed everything else away for a time.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin must not have looked at it that way. They could see the answer, they had studied the problem of internet search and had found the solution. While Eric Schmidt knew how to monetize it. But your right it is easy to say with hind site look at the mistakes they made. They would have looked at the problem of Google being better. Looked at how, if they did the same thing they would threaten their revenue stream as (at the risk of stating the obvious) large companies would pay large sums to advertisers, to them its chump change, but to me and you its to large a pile of cash to compete with.

Re:What went wrong? (1)

Beetle B. (516615) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240206)

To say what "went wrong" is like asking what went wrong in New Orleans when Katrina happened. Certainly with hindsight you can point out all the mistakes. Certainly you could say: "if we'd known..."

Except, of course, they did know.

10 months before Katrina, I was part of a geography competition (multiple choice). One question was: "Which of the following disasters which, if occurred, would be considered so damaging that the Red Cross refuses to have a permanent branch prepared for it?" The answer was a hurricane hitting St Louis (the other options were either really unlikely, or ones where the Red Cross did have a permanent branch associated with it.

When I went home that day, 10 months before Katrina, I looked up why that was. And so I knew. The Red Cross knew. They knew because many other people knew, including local officials. People had been warning about the scenario for years.

Re:What went wrong? (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240228)

If you'll RTFA you'll see that Yahoo could have been the Google, but they fucked up.

Re:What went wrong? (1)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240242)

Disagree; Graham has some useful insights if you bother to RTFA.

There's no insights or understanding in saying "Google happened". Understanding what was going on inside Yahoo! and Google at this time does provide useful insights.

My only fault for Graham's analysis of Yahoo!'s downfall is he fails to mention how poorly Yahoo treated end users of their services, and the end users of services that were acquired by Yahoo! I think this figures into it as well.

It's not just that Yahoo! had poor strategy and didn't hire the best programmers and were blinded by their business model at the time; Yahoo! also treated its users like cattle, screwed them repeatedly by changing not only ToS, but default profile preferences. They bought many really promising, cool web services and ruined them this way.

Nothing went wrong at Yahoo (2, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237816)

Nothing went wrong at Yahoo because Yahoo never had anything of value to sell. It was all Internet bubble hype. They had a semi-decent email offering and a web catalog. It's amazing they did as much as they did.

Re:Nothing went wrong at Yahoo (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238066)

Actually, their directory was very useful in the early days of the web. Back then, search algorithms sucked and their was nothing like Google around. You could go over to Alta Vista and type in "Independent Film" and get a bunch of sites back about independent contractors, film stock, etc. Yahoo was the only reliable way to consistently find good topic-oriented sites. So they WERE quite valuable in those early days, and could have (and, to some extent, did) make a lot of advertising money. The problem was that Google came along with its much improved searches, and Google's infrastructure wasn't nearly as labor-intensive as a human-edited web directory.

Re:Nothing went wrong at Yahoo (5, Informative)

edremy (36408) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238230)

It was even more than that. Search engines didn't suck back in the day. Search engines *didn't exist* when Yahoo started.

I was a couple of buildings over from Filo and Yang in (chemistry) grad school back when this weird little program called Mosaic appeared. But it was a toy- you couldn't find information on it. You ended up posting lists of your bookmarks so that other people could find the neat stuff you did. Then we heard about these two guys over in Engineering that were collecting links and indexing them (by hand). It was great- finally a place where you could find literally thousands of organized web links as opposed to our crappy lists of a few dozen.

Yahoo's kind of seen as a pathetic loser these days by the "digital elite" but they had a massive effect on the early web

Re:Nothing went wrong at Yahoo (2, Informative)

kriston (7886) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240362)

I think Webcrawler would disagree that search engines did not exist when Yahoo started.

Furthermore, Yahoo wasn't spidering until they licensed Inktomi in the late 1990s and eventually bought them outright in 2002.

Every little bit of history helps.

Re:Nothing went wrong at Yahoo (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240976)

>It was even more than that. Search engines didn't suck back in the day. Search engines *didn't exist* when Yahoo started.

We Archie users can argue.

Re:Nothing went wrong at Yahoo (3, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238394)

In other words, the problem with Yahoo is that it didn't scale. Failure was designed in. If the internet succeeded then Yahoo had to fail. That is not a good business model. The problem with Yahoo was Yahoo. Business models based on limited success are stupid.

Re:Nothing went wrong at Yahoo (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#33239400)

In other words, the problem with Yahoo is that it didn't scale. Failure was designed in. If the internet succeeded then Yahoo had to fail. That is not a good business model.

No, the problem with Yahoo was/is Google. Google serves/served up semi-garbage results very fast, while Yahoo served up very good results fairly slow - and one truism of the net is that the denizens thereof will eat almost anything, so long as it's fast.

Re:Nothing went wrong at Yahoo (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#33241074)

No, the problem with Yahoo was/is Google. Google serves/served up semi-garbage results very fast, while Yahoo served up very good results fairly slow - and one truism of the net is that the denizens thereof will eat almost anything, so long as it's fast.

Look, I was making webpages before Google, before Altavista, before Hotbot. Yahoo was the only game in town. Crawlers were research projects. Back then the total number of interesting websites was very small, so a managed directory approach was viable. As the web grew, it became more dynamic, but Yahoo kept using the same old approach instead of crowdsourcing (the term hadn't yet been invented, but the idea had) ratings. Consequently, the amount of work they had to do kept increasing, where if crowdsourcing were used it could have remained nearly fixed.

Anyway, I used to be listed in Yahoo's directory, both my personal pages and the overall site for the house in which I and others lived (at the time, www.circus.com.) I ran the internet's largest archive of drinking games, which is still/again up on my site (same database) and the house was then notable for our geek culture, which you can now buy in a bubble pack at Hot Topic. So I well understand the value of Yahoo. But the simple truth is that a directory can only give you the barest overview of what is on a site. From a list of "blogs" where I would probably mention drinking games and diesel autos you have no way to know that I'm going to give you specifics of installing MioPocket 4.0 on Magellan 4050. del.icio.us provides a more meaningful "directory" of sites, where users generate user-meaningful metadata. That's as close to the Yahoo concept as you can reasonably get without becoming totally nonviable.

Google has an "I'm feeling lucky" button for a reason. I don't bother to use it because I WANT to see multiple results, but what I want is often the top result.

Re:Nothing went wrong at Yahoo (1)

cappp (1822388) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238480)

Ahhh directories - every lad of a certain age's favorite offering, made one hand surfing all the easier...just don't forget to clear the history.

Re:Search Algorithms (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238600)

Advanced Search.

The "boring" search box stopped being useful to me ... in 1998.
I have had a link to Yahoo Advanced search close by on my home jump-pages. Then you just type your phrase in the second line which is "this exact phrase". If you want "Independent Film" ... you got "Independent Film" plus some weirdly wildcard SEO'ed pages.

Lately I have found a use for Yahoo as an Anti-Google in the Privacy Wars. I am still just fine with my Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Advanced Search, and a couple of other Yahoo items.

Only this year have I begun to check some Google Search pages, but only if the Yahoo Search sinks.

Re:Nothing went wrong at Yahoo (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 4 years ago | (#33239274)

I actually like web directories for somethings.
Suppose you are thinking of moving. Or just want to find out about a town.
You could go to the directory and find all sorts of links to that things in that town or about that town.
Now I just Google the town and hope the chamber of commerce site doesn't suck.
Also search doesn't usually find new sites.
If you create a great site on a subject it will be a while before it shows up in the search ratings until other sites like to you and you rise in the rankings.
I still use my.yahoo as one of my home pages along with iGoogle which looks a lot like my.yahoo

To me Yahoo just got too cluttered. It became a bit of a mess. The good services are hard to find and those big banner ads drove me away "or to use adblockers".

Re:Nothing went wrong at Yahoo (1)

metamatic (202216) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240150)

I think the real problem was that at some point, Yahoo decided to de-emphasize their search directory and turn themselves into a portal site, because that was the latest hyped-up trend.

First they started filling search directory results pages with unrelated crap to push their portal concept. Then they got rid of the search directory entirely, and I stopped visiting their site.

Could they have kept the directory working? Maybe. dmoz.org was an attempt to do so, but by that point everyone had come to rely on Google.

Re:Nothing went wrong at Yahoo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33240378)

No, their web directory sucked. If you were looking for FooWidget you could certainly drill down and find a list of providers but the best one(s) were usually not even on that list. I never could figure out the basis of inclusion - maybe payola or maybe something else but it certainly wasn't *relevance*. That's one difference between Google and Yahoo.

One might argue that due to technological constraints at the time they were doing the best they could and that was better than nothing but I'd disagree. They had the *pretense* of relevant results but never actually produced them - that is not better than nothing, IMO.

Excellent Article (1)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237840)

Found this to be a brilliantly written piece of work from someone who knows what he's saying.

Re:Excellent Article (1)

bleeware (799336) | more than 4 years ago | (#33239164)

Hmm, I worked there for about 4 years. I found this piece to be simplistic at best. True, some of the software developed at Yahoo in the late 90's was lame and yes, Yahoo can't decide whether to be a media company or a tech company. Both are symptoms of leadership failure, not a root cause. --Bruce

I Remember (3, Insightful)

techsoldaten (309296) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237852)

I remember the days when Yahoo search was the only search engine you worried about (97 - 2001-ish).

This reads as a cautionary tale about being a first mover. You may be on top one day, but you are trading the flexibiltiy of a start up for predictable lines of revenue that may not last. There are times when it is better to let someone else go first and build your strategy around what they are doing wrong.

M

Re:I Remember (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33237960)

What universe did you live in? There was a little thing AltaVista in that time period.

Yahoo! *didn't have* their own search-engine (3, Interesting)

Rozzin (9910) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238036)

What universe did you live in? There was a little thing AltaVista in that time period.

Indeed: as I recall, the `Yahoo! search-engine' *was* AltaVista (with Yahoo! decorations, but a little "powered by AltaVista" footnote at the bottom)--at least at some point; I think there were different back-ends that they used at different points.... Yahoo! may have actually done their own thing for the last few years, but only for the last few years.

Re:Yahoo! *didn't have* their own search-engine (2, Informative)

pinkushun (1467193) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238602)

That would have been around 2003:

In February 2003, AltaVista was bought by Overture Services, Inc.[10] In July 2003, Overture itself was taken over by Yahoo!.[11]

ref [wikipedia.org]

However it's interesting to go back in time and look at altavista.com [archive.org] and yahoo.com [archive.org] :)

Re:I Remember (1)

pedantic bore (740196) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237998)

It's OK to be a first mover, as long as you keep moving.

Re: Keep Moving (0, Offtopic)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238728)

Western Religion seems to have a problem with this.

That's why the eastern ones are so much more fluid.

Re:I Remember (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33238024)

I remember the days when Yahoo search was the only search engine you worried about (97 - 2001-ish).

Yahoo still had a search engine in 2001?

Bad programmers and bad designers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33237882)

Yahoo must have intentionally hired the worst designers they could find. Everything about that site is a cluttered mess.

Jerry Yang (3, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237884)

Not taking a $33/share buyout from MS, with Google snapping at your heals? But hey, you got to thumb your nose at the evil MS, right? Of course, it was at your shareholder's and company's expense.

Re:Jerry Yang (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#33239524)

Not taking a $33/share buyout from MS, with Google snapping at your heals? But hey, you got to thumb your nose at the evil MS, right? Of course, it was at your shareholder's and company's expense.

If you believe Microsoft is evil, or even if you just believe that they are a blight on the face of computing, then either you turn down their offer, or admit that you're a corporate whore who will do anything for money.

Re:Jerry Yang (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 4 years ago | (#33241036)

or admit that you're a corporate whore who will do anything for money

Yang should have admitted that then, because at first he was just demanding more money, and after Ballmer called his bluff, he tried to woo him back. Like the old joke, we've already established that Yang is a whore, the rest is just haggling over price.

Great memories, though (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33237922)

I remember when the WWW was still nascent back in the early/mid 90s. Yahoo was the premier destination for me - the one portal that was always in touch with what I wanted. Then came Excite and others.

Could it also be that the other companies mentioned are largely using Linux, which engenders a sort of "hacker" culture. Yahoo historically has been a BSD-centric company, and the BSD guys I know tend to be far more conservative and less "hackerish". I don't know if the platform has anything to do with it, but a lot of guys and girls that consider themselves hackers tend to be in the Linnux camp. I could be off base here, but I think the underlying toolsets engender a certain mindset among those users.

Re:Great memories, though (1)

mikael_j (106439) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238276)

I know plenty of BSD guys who are very much "hackerish" and consider themselves hackers, they just tend to be a bit more picky about things working properly. Yeah, I remember the late 90s as those dark days when every other app I downloaded wouldn't compile or run because it was written under the assumption that every *nix was just like x86 Linux in every way, and when the devs wouldn't even accept patches to fix their apps because it wasn't a problem for them that did breed a bit of resentment toward the average Linux application developer...

Customers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33237928)

Google is good (well, at least okay) at treating both AdSense and AdWords users as partners instead of someone that just are forced to deal with. Yahoo on the other hand, treated YPN users (the FEW that it let in to its infinite beta test) as criminals who were just looking for ways to screw Yahoo over. Instead of building a critical mass, it built nothing. Yahoo also was even worse than Google in communications with opposite messages 4-8 weeks apart in many cases. In short, a place that no one wanted to deal with and no one who had half a brain would deal with if they wanted stability for their business. There were high hopes for Yahoo, but it was NOT just a case of "Google came along" but a case of "Google came along and Yahoo royally screwed up."

Google is headed that way with many of its recent "evil" disclosures (WiFi, China until recently) etc but so far they are doing a much better job than Yahoo did.

Facebook (5, Insightful)

Danieljury3 (1809634) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237950)

Correct me if I'm wrong but what "hacker" culture does facebook have. Somehow I can't connect social networking and stupid flash games to "hacker" culture.

Re:Facebook (1)

Tei (520358) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238004)

For once, "not fear of changes". Something that user *****HATE***** is changes, Facebook suffer lots of changes, some bad, some good, on the long term is better for everyone. Is exactly the same changes you may expect on a service labeles "BETA", withouth the label. Facebook is running somewhat like how Gmail is running, always testing new changes and enhancements.

Note: I *****HATE***** the latest changes in gmail :-)

Re:Facebook (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33238022)

Are you calling my l337 sheep-clicking skillz into question?

Re:Facebook (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33238334)

They mean the employee culture, not the user culture.

Re:Facebook (1)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240322)

I don't really think so, but perhaps he was referring to the tendency of Facebook to disregard boundaries with regard to sensitive information. That would make some sense...

I think more likely he's talking about their corporate culture -- lack of hierarchy, just getting things done, not needing or asking for authorization before you do something cool that you thought of 5 minutes ago, that kind of thing.

Oh Yahoo (3, Insightful)

js3 (319268) | more than 4 years ago | (#33237972)

The only thing I remember about yahoo was back in 1995-96 when it was nothing but a single webpage with lots of links maintained by some chinese guy. Essentially that's what it remains..

Re:Oh Yahoo (2, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#33239538)

The only thing I remember about yahoo was back in 1995-96 when it was nothing but a single webpage with lots of links maintained by some chinese guy. Essentially that's what it remains..

  Oh, really? [yahoo.com] You, and the folks who modded you up, need to get over your prejudices and get out more.
 
Yahoo is a lot more than just links - and is the primary reason why Google has added Gmail, iGoogle, News... and all the other things that aren't search.

Media vs Tech (3, Interesting)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238002)

If you walked around their offices, it seemed like a software company. The cubicles were full of programmers writing code, product managers thinking about feature lists and ship dates, support people (yes, there were actually support people) telling users to restart their browsers, and so on, just like a software company. So why did they call themselves a media company?

You'd see the same thing at an insurance company, auto company, or any large company that has large in-house development department. And yet, they're not conflicted about if they're a tech company or an insurance company.

Here's a hint on how to decide. How are your revenues generated?

Sell software, hardware, algorithms? Tech company.

Sell advertising? Media company.

Yahoo! Is a media company and so is Google.

It's not rocket science.

Re:Media vs Tech (1)

sorak (246725) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238166)

I think you just shifted attention away from the real question:

What area should they focus the most resources on? Should they hire the best developers to start working on the "Y!phone", or should they concentrate on coming up with news content, tweaking and maintain the chat rooms, and to creating contests and gimmicks to sell more ad impressions? It looks like they went mostly in the later direction, so I guess you're right about them being a media company.

Switch to Google (5, Interesting)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238006)

I remember switching to Google back in the day (28.8) and it wasn't because Google was giving better results it was because the Google page would load substantially faster than the Yahoo page.

Re:Switch to Google (5, Insightful)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238050)

That''s what actually made google the most popular.

You had competitors who were cramming all they could into a page - then google came out with their "Banner + two buttons" and that was it.

I used to use Altavista before.

Re:Switch to Google (2, Funny)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238218)

I used HotBot.

Then again, I used HotDog Stand as a windows colour scheme. I now only see in greyscale.

My favorite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33239204)

My favorite back in the day was wherethehell.com. It actually gave good results too.

I was sad when it stopped being a search engine.

Re:My favorite (1)

lennier1 (264730) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240548)

In my case it was alltheweb.com which always got me the best results.
But when their system was gutted and replaced with Overture/Yahoo I abandoned it since that change had made it pretty much useless.

Re:Switch to Google (1)

alen (225700) | more than 4 years ago | (#33239038)

that was because wall street was telling everyone to become an internet portal and crap the homepage with crap to try to get people to stay longer than 10 seconds

Re:Switch to Google (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33240108)

I was using yahoo and I switched over to google because google was highlighting the search terms in the results page with colors. At that time you had to click on "cached" to see that. In 2010, 10 years later, it is still exactly the same.

From what I gather... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33238074)

...Paul Graham is the ESR of the "Lisp Community." Comments?

Also, Arc is the Daikatana of dialects

The problem is who bought yahoo... (1, Informative)

Ex-MislTech (557759) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238098)

Yahoo was bought by Southwestern Bell, a family member of mine worked
for them for over 20 years.

The "suits" for the most part did not understand field operations,
and so the ppl making the big picture decisions did not understand
some of the key things going on in the field.

When the field techs tried to get the info to them they were basically ignored.

Alot of US companies go thru this, its nicknamed the Ivory Tower theory.

Southwestern Bell acts like the ATT of old, and now that ATT bought
all the Bells back up Yahoo is effectively owned by ATT.

So for me the bloated entrenched top heavy mega-corp is a slow
and cumbersome dinosaur with ppl at the top that liken themselves
to a Noveau Royalty.

Start ups will continue to out pace and out think them.

The means and methods will continue to be MBA group-think
while the upper crufties will look down there noses at those
who don't wear a suit and have short uniform hair.

Re:The problem is who bought yahoo... (2, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238608)

The means and methods will continue to be MBA group-think while the upper crufties will look down there noses at those
who don't wear a suit and have short uniform hair.

Yes, but they'll actually be looking down from 10,000 feet in their company-owned Gulfstream jets.

You might think those people are incompetent, self-important douches, but by some measures they're doing something right.

Re:The problem is who bought yahoo... (1)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240642)

The only thing they're doing right is bleeding money from the people at the bottom and funneling it into the fuel tanks of their Gulfstreams.

Re:The problem is who bought yahoo... (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240052)

Just to be accurate here, ATT was the one that got bought out.

SBC acquired ATT in 2005, and to prove that they did it just for the name, they re-branded themselves as ATT.

What Went Wrong At Yahoo (1)

omar.sahal (687649) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238288)

Bellow is an email I sent to Paul Graham
Hi

In the article "what happened to Yahoo" http://www.paulgraham.com/yahoo.html [paulgraham.com] you said

There's not much we can learn from Yahoo's first fatal flaw. It's probably too much to hope any company could avoid being damaged by depending on a bogus source of revenue.

At the risk of saying the obvious if Yahoo had been looking to please the consumer, and solve a problem that they were having (in regards to finding information on the internet) they could have avoided bogus sources of revenue. Media companies have a split business model where consumers (the people buying the goods) and customers (those providing the revenue, the advertiser) are different groups. Perhaps they should have looked at pleasing the consumer, as there is no business if the media company has no eye balls to distribute adverts to.

Regards Omar

I can't post the replies as I have only just asked permission.

Re:What Went Wrong At Yahoo (1)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238488)

At the risk of saying the obvious if Yahoo had been looking to please the consumer, and solve a problem that they were having (in regards to finding information on the internet) they could have avoided bogus sources of revenue.

I'd tweak that a bit: they should have taken the bogus revenue, but been wise enough to plan ahead for when it dries up instead of assuming it would continue indefinitely.

If someone wants to pay you $100 for something that's worth $1, by all means take it -- but also understand that, one way or another, that won't continue forever.

Better service, customer loyalty, and management (3, Informative)

Rivalz (1431453) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238310)

Service
1) when google came out and I first heard of it I thought wow what a silly name.
2) I got past the name and tried it to see how it was different.
3) It was immediately obvious it was better compared to yahoo.
4) I stopped using yahoo and other search engines immediately.

Customer Loyalty
1) I told my friends and family about google (I rarely suggest anything)
2) I've had issues with some things google has done over the years but nothing major enough. (I dont use chrome all that much because I don't see it as a far superior product compared to firefox. At least not in terms of Google vs Yahoo when it first gained popularity)
3) They've built up a certain level of trust that I don't associate with many companies.

Management
1) I wouldn't go as far to say they are charismatic but I would say they have a ideology that appeals to some people that could make a lot of money without the help of google but still decide to work for the company.
2) I've used their service and I'm a loyal customer but the only thing I have to go on for their management is what I can infer from news. But I still think management was a key part to their success.

Other victims? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33238510)

How were they to know that Netscape would turn out to be Microsoft's last victim?
Who were the other victims? Were there any others at all?

Where they went wrong (4, Insightful)

3ryon (415000) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238720)

Probably none of you youngsters remember this, but Yahoo! initially didn't do search as much as handmade lists of interesting sites. To make it into their search results your page would be evaluated by a member of their staff. Talk about quality control! In a sense it was an early, massive, blog. I'm not saying that it's a good business model but it was good for the end users. They went away from that model and to spidering the web like all their competitors. Ten years later they're on life support. Coincidence?

Now Get off my lawn!

Re:Offtopic - Sig (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 4 years ago | (#33239084)

Offtopic,

I'm getting a Not Found for your sig link.

Re:Where they went wrong (1)

buck-yar (164658) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240318)

Not entirely accurate. I had a website up in 1996 and it worked like this. Yahoo used a faceted browse, similar to ebay's organization. If you wanted your site on yahoo, you'd go to a form on the site and submit your url, what descrition you wanted, and what category it would go under. The "QC" you talk about was just making sure it wasn't spam and was in the correct category.

They didn't select good site and reject bad ones. You could tell this because there were some pretty terrible websites up at the time.

what went wrong? The investment bankers came along (1)

alen (225700) | more than 4 years ago | (#33238744)

i remember the early days of the internet. i remember the days before Internet Explorer when you had to buy a browser at retail and it was something called Internet in a Box.

I remember the days when Yahoo was king of search. it had a cool name, the results were pretty good and for whatever reason it gained mind share from the other 20 or so search engines around at the time. back then everything was on internet time and wall street analysts thought they knew everything and it was right after Yahoo's IPO. Wall Street decided that search was dead and the next thing was the Internet Portal where people would spend more time and see more ads. So Wall Street told Yahoo to expand or see it's stock punished. then of course wall street needed to peddle the worthless stocks of all the dot coms they sold and they needed suckers to buy companies like broadcast.com.

I bet the investment banks made a fortune on naive kids like Yang by first taking worthless dot coms public, charging huge investment banking consulting fees to find worthless companies to merge with, and then more money to arrange the sale of these worthless companies.

Yahoo made the classic mistake of buying a lot of properties or getting into a lot of different areas and not staying focused and letting the code fragment. or just being a middle man in reselling content.

Just like Microsoft. some VP starts a project like the Kin or the Zune and the rest of the company doesn't want to support it so it's a pariah project that doesn't work with other products the company is making. or it competes with other products.

Look at Apple, they sell two OS's. OS X and iOS and several minor variations of each depending on the device you buy. and iOS is essentially OS X Lite.

Google was just a search engine when wall street was telling everyone to be an internet portal. and they were making money on it. then they expanded into Gmail and other areas with the original business still being key. they took Apple's and Microsoft's strategy or releasing a beta product but with the features that a lot of people wanted to work better than the competition. and finish it later.

Well... (1)

ITBurnout (1845712) | more than 4 years ago | (#33239184)

What do you expect from a company with a bunch of Yahoos running it?

Seriously, though, they just made a combination of bad choices, or in some cases no choices (indecisiveness about what the company should be). A common scenario in companies that rise and fall as Yahoo did. I remember reading many years back that Yahoo headquarters had whimsically named its conference rooms things like "Decisive," "Competent, and "Sane," just so they could say things like "Anyone know where Paul is?" "Yeah, he's in Competent...he's in Decisive...etc."

Sloppiness, Bad Design, Wussiness (4, Insightful)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 4 years ago | (#33240366)

Yahoo news stories used to universally take comments from readers. They were actually early with this, but then they cut it off. Fear of lawsuits is all I can think of. Now almost every news outlet on the web lets you comment on the stories. The legal staff and management at Yahoo simply hadn't the balls for even the slightest amount of risk.

They've also become the poster child of bad web design. The mail login goes through changes every month. They're not an improvement. Currently, you load 3 pages of noise filled unread ad droppings before you can actually log in and look at your mail. They used to have an easy to use weather and TV Guide. The were changed from simple, usable HTML pages to automated, advertising filled junk that made them almost unusable. Then they didn't measure the amount of use after the changes and modify accordingly. In fact, I doubt if they pay significant attention to users at all.

And they're just *sloppy.* I don't know how else to describe a company of that size that can't even keep its comic pages updated consistently.

Google, in contrast, has a clean look, usability and no ad droppings randomly scattered on pages.

And they have one more thing. Success.

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