Yahoo, the once great search site, has lately been an also-ran, but it’s making news now in trying to turn itself around.
It has become the new default search engine in Mozilla Firefox, replacing Google, which had occupied that position since 2004. It’s not difficult for users to change the default search tool in a web browser, whether it’s Firefox or any other. But many don’t bother, and being the default brings in ad revenue.
But Yahoo is also shuttering its famed search directory to focus on its other activities.
The Firefox move isn’t surprising given that Google has stopped financing Firefox to concentrate on its own browser, Chrome. The Yahoo Directory closing is eventful. Yahoo was the first comprehensive directory of the World Wide Web, letting you browse through websites by subject areas such as health, politics, and entertainment.
Yahoo was founded in 1994 by Stanford University graduate students Jerry Yang and David Filo. Quaintly, they first named the directory “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web.” Three months later they rechristened it “Yahoo!”—with the exclamation point.
The exclamation point was needed, according to the company, because companies in other industries had already trademarked the name without the exclamation point. Most people, and publications, don’t use the exclamation point. With or without it, the name never did effectively represent the seriousness of Yahoo as a business enterprise.
On the other hand, the Internet has a history of zany naming conventions. Still, what would you have more confidence in, a company named after the number 1 followed by a hundred zeros, connoting its ability to make sense of the huge data repository of the web, as in Google, or a company whose name is synonymous with oaf? Another meaning of “yahoo” is “whoopee.”
Yahoo’s first major diversification effort was to buy the online communications company Four11 in 1997, renaming its web email service Yahoo Mail, which competed initially with Microsoft’s Hotmail. Soon afterward it also bought eGroups, which became Yahoo Groups, a popular email-based discussion group platform. At about the same time, the company launched Yahoo Messenger to compete with AOL Instant Messenger.
Yahoo survived the dot-com bubble of 2000–2001, but its stock price plummeted from a high of $450 a share in January 2000 to a low of $8.11 in September 2001. It’s currently at around $50.
To deal with web search juggernaut Google, Yahoo first licensed Google’s search engine. Then Yahoo began buying other search engines, including Inktomi, AltaVista, and AlltheWeb. Four years after partnering with Google, in 2004 Yahoo dropped it to return to using its internal search technology. In 2009 it began using Microsoft’s Bing search technology, sharing ad revenue with Microsoft.
In response to Google’s launching its highly regarded Gmail web email service in 2004, Yahoo first expanded the storage limits of Yahoo Mail users and then began offering unlimited storage. At the same time it also bought email provider Oddpost to create a new Yahoo Mail interface.
Yahoo has continued to buy some businesses and shutter some of its own. In 2013 Yahoo bought the blogging website Tumblr. In 2014 it bought the social diary company Wander and the technical recruiting company Distill.
Some of Yahoo’s services have been better executed than others. Its Yahoo Shopping service has long been a convenient way to shop online and bargain hunt. You can browse in numerous departments or search for a particular type of product or brand name.
Yahoo closed Yahoo Auctions in 2007. It was never positioned well to compete against eBay. From the outset it limited buyers’ ability to communicate and warn one another about scams in the works, and it let sellers automatically extend auctions if a bid was received shortly before an auction’s close, eliminating “sniping,” a key benefit for buyers.
It’s also now shutting down Yahoo Education, a site for connecting people with colleges and degree programs, and Qwiki, a movie-making app that Yahoo bought in 2013.
Google remains the market leader in a number of categories. It accounts for 67% of U.S. searches, compared to 19% for Bing and 10% for Yahoo, according to research firm comScore. Google Chrome has 33% of the browser market, compared to 20% for Internet Explorer and 10% for Firefox, according to tech data firm StatCounter.
Yahoo remains a significant Internet presence, offering a wide range of services. The better it’s able to compete with Google, the better the choices and service web users will receive.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or reidgold.com.