For years I’ve been fascinated by the sheer number of startups and services Yahoo has shuttered, leaving behind a few rich founders and thousands of abandoned users. The process seems very cavalier, if not cruel.
This comes to mind because Yahoo recently announced the upcoming demise of Yahoo Messenger. It joins at least 52 companies and services Yahoo has shut down. Among them are GeoCities, Yahoo Kids, Upcoming, Webring, Pipes, Rocketmail, Widgets, Yahoo Directory, Delicious, ViaWeb, Yahoo Podcasts, and on and on. Were these bad ideas from the beginning? Or was it beyond the capabilities of Yahoo to manage them and eke out a profit?
Even the products Yahoo still maintains, such as Yahoo Search, are not what they seem. Yahoo Search ruined the landscape for search by buying Inktomi, then AlltheWeb and AltaVista as well as other important systems. Yahoo cast it all aside to use Google in a joint venture. Then it finally fell back onto working with Microsoft and just using Bing. That is where it is today.
The great irony is that Yahoo began with a kind of curated map of the internet, where categories of websites were catalogued and monitored by individuals. This idea took over the early web but got usurped by the modern search engine developed by AltaVista.
Nowadays the idea of a curated web directory is more appealing than ever because the web is filled with SEO-promoted garbage, fake news, fake reviews, and scams.
And after all this, Verizon buys Yahoo for $4.48 billion, less than the $5.7 billion Yahoo paid for Broadcast.com in 1999. And the bad luck continues as Verizon renamed the combined AOL/Yahoo as Oath for some unknown reason. Thus, the idea of a curated directory is over and who knows what will happen. I suspect abandonment awaits Yahoo itself. I say this because it makes no sense to me that Verizon owns any of these properties. It just seems random.
Yahoo always seemed like it meant well. And I’ve found the people who worked there at one time or another to be smart and entrepreneurial. There is no reason that all the creative acquisitions over the years could not have thrived and been successful or even developed and spun off at a profit. Instead, they are unceremoniously shuttered with a shrug.