Yahoo!, or Yahoo, or just yahoo… There’s less and less to be excited about as time goes on, and Yahoo, too, has become more unenthused as its once-bright star waned over the past three decades. Once the most popular online directory and search engine on the web, Yahoo turned 30 years old last week, Jan. 30, and nobody gave a damn.
You see, Yahoo and I share a birthday, or nearly so. We were both given life in January of 1994. Back then, founders Jerry Yang and David Filo envisioned a web directory. While it didn’t get its full name until March, Yahoo itself was an acronym for ‘Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.” It’s a word salad, a searchable page index, making finding different pages on the still-nascent internet easier.
While I was teething, Yahoo added its first official search function. This was a time before search optimization. The directory was a spidered index, organized like any physical library. The “Web” was precisely that, a connection tree.
We all feel like gods in our nascent years, and Yahoo certainly did. Google wouldn’t come on the scene until 1998. Yahoo’s biggest search competition was from services like Alta Vista, but no matter which service you preferred back then, Yahoo! was at the top of its game. Its web portal fought tooth and nail with America Online along with Excite and Lycos, and it looked like it was winning. Remember, this was a multi-billion dollar company. It could buy the likes of Geocities and Broadcast.com for $3.6 billion and $5.7 billion, respectively. Those purchases are worth $6.5 and $10 billion in today’s money.
But then the Dot Com bubble sapped the company of its reverie. It spent the next near-decade as the waning star against Google’s waxing nebulae. Yahoo created its own search engine in 2004, then its own unlimited email in 2007, all to compete against Google, which had given rise to Gmail in 2004. Microsoft almost bought out Yahoo! for $47 billion, but the legacy search index company rejected that initial offer.
Then, in 2012, Marissa Mayer took over as CEO. This was the same year I graduated high school. I thought I would turn over a new leaf. I would open myself up to the world. Instead, I was running in place, and as it happened, so was Yahoo. As I was dropping thousands on student loans, Yahoo was buying Flickr. The company bought Tumblr, then subsequently ruined Tumblr. It turns out Mayer was a rather dislikable boss known for overt displays of wealth. The worst was yet to come. The company was struggling. It was spending money on strange work parties, all while bleeding money.
Mayer was taking hit after hit, but in 2016, just around the time I was entering my senior year of college and finding I regretted the friends and decisions I made, the company had its biggest screw-up yet. A massive security scandal shook the company to its roots. At that time, it was the largest hack on any single company, and ne’er do wells managed to walk away with the personal details of what we would eventually learn was 3 billion users in a 2013 breach. It took the company years to admit its services were breached. Mayer received her golden parachute and left the company, riding her Zamboni into the sunset.
Verizon made the very odd decision to buy Yahoo! for much less than the billions the company was valued at a decade before. Verizon bought only certain parts of Yahoo and dumped the rest. Verizon even went so far as to dumb down the company name to simply Yahoo Inc. That year, in 2017, I was beginning to realize what my journalism degree meant, working 50- to 60-hour weeks, making what was barely above minimum wage as a local reporter.
Yahoo spent its mid- to late-20s in twilight of regret, but it hasn’t stopped bleeding. In 2023, during a new wave of tech layoffs, the company cut 20% of its staff, close to 1,600 employees.
Then you turn 30, and the one-third life crisis hits not with any bang of decompression, like a hole in the side of a space suit, but with the dim pop of a limp balloon. That’s three decades gone, and if it once seemed like a milestone, you now realize the zenith of that mountain you spent years climbing was actually a plateau. Your world was large, but now it’s smaller and still—somehow—just as flat.