The rise and fall of the Yahoo! dynasty

"Jumping guy" Yahoo! logo used in 1995.
“Jumping guy” Yahoo! logo used in 1995.

Let’s get one thing straight before we get into it — Yahoo! isn’t closing, its assets are just being sold to Verizon. What’s the big deal then? The big deal is that while Yahoo! may have already been on the decline, this purchase can be considered the official end of the company’s reign over the Internet.

During Yahoo!’s golden age, it was a central hub for all things one would want to access on the Internet. Before becoming one of the most important places online, its humble roots began during the early web as a directory of web pages and other internet-related information.

From top to bottom

In 1994, two Stanford University students Jerry Yang and David Filo launched “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web”, a website which served as an organized directory of other websites, as opposed to a searchable index. The website was renamed Yahoo! not long after. The domain yahoo.com was registered in early 1995. By the end of 1994, Yahoo! had already seen over 1 million visitors and growing. The site had quickly developed into a web portal, similar to others at the time such as Lycos, AOL (also now owned by Verizon), and MSN. Yahoo! quickly became one of the largest web portals on the internet during the Dot-Com Bubble.

Yahoo! Founders Jerry Yang and David Filo in 1995.
Yahoo! Founders Jerry Yang and David Filo in 1995. (Photo from Flickr)

As Google rose to popularity in the early 2000’s, Yahoo! started to see a decline. The years slowly became less and less kinder to Yahoo! as Google, and eventually Facebook, were finding ways to come out on top. There was also a time when Yahoo! failed to purchase Google and Facebook, leaving Yahoo! that much more removed from any possible success with the two companies. Yahoo! was able to purchase Flickr and Tumblr, but neither proved to bring much success back to Yahoo! itself. The late 2000’s and the beginning of the 2010s spelled more trouble for the company, particularly financially. 2008 was a dark time for the company, as 2,520 employees were laid off. That year, Jerry Yang stepped down as CEO

Throughout the years Yahoo! has seen its fair share of controversies. From censorship, to journalistic integrity, to service closure and more, it’s built up quite the rap sheet over the years. This is likely to have contributed to its downfall.

The impact

For many, Yahoo! served as the go-to website during its height, especially for those who were new to the Internet. Even to this day, you can still find it set as many people’s homepage. (See also: my parents, and probably yours, too)

What Yahoo! brought to the Internet in the 1990’s and 2000’s provided users a showcase of all the web had to offer. If you wanted to find websites about your hobbies and interests, their search engine had what you needed. Sections such as News, Autos, Finance, and Homes appealed to professionals. Groups, and Yahoo! Messenger allowed a social aspect for people to stay in touch with their friends, or meet new people with similar interests. Yahoo! GeoCities allowed anybody to create their own website and share their online persona with the world. Even later creations such as Yahoo! Answers still provides both help and entertainment to users. No matter what you wanted to do online, Yahoo! had a resource for it.

Screenshot of Yahoo! as it appeared on May 7 2000.
Screenshot of Yahoo! as it appeared on May 7 2000. Whether you were looking to build your first website with Geocities, information on Prom 2000 ideas, or a link to finally download Yahoo! Messenger, the homepage had it all ready for you.

Beyond its features, Yahoo! continually found ways to expand worldwide by providing its services in almost 30 languages. It has even been reported that over 700 million people still visit Yahoo! daily. The worldwide incorporation of the company gave users from all places a chance to see what the web had in store for them.

Screenshot of Yahoo! Messenger version 4.1
Screenshot of Yahoo! Messenger version 4.1 (Screenshot from Brothersoft)

For myself, I grew up with Yahoo! right from the start of my Internet adventure. I made my first website through Geocities when I was about nine years old. For social entertainment, I would play games, use Groups and Messenger. LAUNCHcast (now known as Yahoo! Music) was a brilliant tool for finding new music (before discovering last.fm). The now-defunct Yahoo! Greetings were fun e-cards that I would send or play with (they were often interactive). Even two of my main e-mail addresses are still @yahoo.ca. Like many people, I rarely use Yahoo! for much in this day and age, but it will always stand out in my own net memories.

Users of Yahoo! in its prime know that it was a staple service that paved the way for future web portals and even social media services. Those using Facebook Messenger today might occasionally recall having conversations on Yahoo! Messenger years ago. A webmaster of a sophisticated site today may have made their first website through Yahoo! Geocities, No matter the service, Yahoo! provided a “first” for a lot of people.

Post-purchase

So what exactly does the Verizon purchase mean for Yahoo!? There’s not much information out there at this time. There’s speculation of a name change. Yahoo! Japan is likely to continue thriving on its own. As for Tumblr and Flickr, there is not much that has been said for the fate of those services either, but it is likely they will not see that big of a change.

Time will soon tell what’ll happen to Yahoo! in its last days. Unless by some miracle Verizon reverses the fate of Yahoo!, this likely means death, or at least official start of a death process. Yahoo! has had its fair share of criticisms and failures in the past. But love it or hate it, its influence on the Internet has solidified its place as an important piece of web history. And may its golden years rest in peace.

What did you use Yahoo! for? Share your story in the comments.

Have a suggestion for a future post? Have a net memory of your own that you’d like to share? Send an e-mail to thenetstorian@gmail.com.

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Author: The Netstorian

Internet culture enthusiast and creator of The Netstorian.

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