Thursday, 7 April 2016

The End of Yahoo?

I started my Internet journey in the mid-nineties when I was at university.  For the first couple of years it was all about passing files around using FTP and Gopher, but then one day in my final year, the department IT technician announced; "I've installed a Browser on the Sparcs" and right there, the World Wide Web changed my life forever.  I learned HTML and it started my career.  I was introduced to some of my dearest friends because of it and I even found my wife through it.  

But on that very first day, when I fired up Mosaic 0.9a on the Sun workstations, the very first Web page I saw was that of Yahoo! and it looked like this...

Yahoo Screenshot

For the remainder of the nineties, Yahoo! was the search engine everyone used, yes there were sites like Excite, Lycos and Webcrawler but Yahoo! was the big one and I suspect that they, along when many other tech startups around that time, thought their rise was unstoppable.  But it wasn't.  For Yahoo!, three things happened; AltaVista (which amazingly ended up being bought by Yahoo! via the purchase of Overture), the bursting of the Dot Com Bubble and finally Google.  In the UK at least, they never really recovered from those occurrences and Yahoo! lost all market share within a couple of years.  The brand hung around this side of the pond only because they did licensing deals with people like BT to supply email services, but when those ended so did any hope of Yahoo! coming back into the UK.  They fared better in their heartland of the US, but even there the business was severely damaged.

So, why am I pouring my heart out into a computer about an old Search Engine company?  Why am I lamenting the poor management of an organisation who delivered an average Webmail service?  Well, the truth is I have a real soft spot for Yahoo!  They were around when I started in this industry and after I started designing Web apps.  I stole their top level classification shamelessly and built it into my designs.  Also, to be honest, I loved their slightly jovial logo... It was the first company I'd seen that were, outwardly, a bit fun and quirky.  I mean,  who would incorporate an exclamation mark into their branding?  Well at that time, nobody.
  I also have a sneaking admiration for the attempts they've made at pulling themselves out of the quagmire they found themselves in.  In 2007 they bought the Zimbra Mail and Scheduling platform (although I suspect it was to cream off skills to enhance their Mail service) and now, they have a really well presented set of apps for Android and IOS which are genuinely lovely looking pieces of design... but I suspect that all of this is too little too late and according to the latest news reports, it's going to be split up or sold on to Time Inc., Softbank or some other bunch of asset strippers.  

Now, you may think that I'm being unfair to Yahoo! and that CEO Marissa Mayer is starting to turn things round, but when you consider that Microsoft were prepared to pay around 44 billion USD in 2008 but today the core business is only worth around 2.5 billion USD, it does appear to be terminal this time.  So, you know the old adage; "It's better to burn out than to fade away"?  It appears that the fate of Yahoo! will very much be the latter and for a company which was a trailblazer at the start of the Web, that is a real tragedy.

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