Back in the early days of the Internet, going online for kicks had less to do with what you were interested in and more to do with what the website you were going to would allow you to do. And in this sparse desert of limited functionality, one site towered above the rest as an oasis for all. Yahoo was the default homepage in many an Internet café in the late 90s and early 2000s simply because anything you could do on the Internet could most likely be done on Yahoo. Email, news, search, chatrooms, classified listings, jokes, horoscopes, stock quotes… you name it, Yahoo had it.
Today, Yahoo has over a billion users but is on its last legs. The plug will be pulled as soon as the sale of the bulk of its assets to Verizon is cleared. What remains of the company will then be rechristened as Altaba Inc. The company’s sheer breadth, which once encompassed all useful (and many less useful) possibilities on the web, is the chief cause of its downfall.
In the mid-2000s, Yahoo’s first line of competitors, Google chief among them, aggressively invaded its space in core areas like search and email. The site began haemorrhaging users, but the impact was still hard to quantify since it still offered so many other services which users kept coming back for. By the end of the decade though, the writing was on the wall for anyone who cared to read. Startups were mushrooming
in every corner of the web and each of them were extremely focused on getting a specific function right. Among these nimble movers and shakers, Yahoo resembled a doddering dinosaur, with its portfolio of offerings still ranging from dating services to real estate listings. Yahoo conceded vertical after vertical to more focused websites until all that was left was a shell of a site that catered largely to elderly users who had come online in the first wave of the Internet and were simply too old to keep up with its progress.
Along Yahoo’s path downhill, the company hurtled past a series of milestones, each of which represented a missed opportunity that could’ve fundamentally altered the company’s future. They missed opportunities to buy Google, Facebook, YouTube, Skype and series of other companies that would go on to become cornerstones of the Internet. Instead, it acquired dud after dud and even rejected a $45 billion buyout offer from Microsoft.
Its value has clearly fallen in the time since. The current buyout is worth less than $5 billion. It is not yet clear what Verizon intends to do with its new acquisition. The domain name is still immensely valuable – the Internet equivalent of beachfront property with a helipad and a private football field – and there are bound to be a bunch of valuable patents and copyrights, not to mention talented programmers, that the company is sitting on. All of which points to the new owners most likely deciding that the best thing to be done with Yahoo is to strip it down and resell it for parts. Which would be a sad but not entirely unexpected way for the Internet’s first ever giant to conclude its chequered journey.
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