Posts Tagged ‘Google’

original yahoo

Did you know that Yahoo is an acronym for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle?  Most people just think of it as a search engine, an unsophisticated person, or both.

Yahoo!, the search engine, was founded in January 1994 by Stanford PhD candidates, David Filo and Jerry Yang.  It was originally called “Jerry and Dave’s Guide to the World Wide Web” and it  consisted of a directory of other websites.  The “yahoo.com” domain was created on January 18, 1995 and the company was incorporated on March 1, 1995.


In October 1995, one of my fellow product marketing managers at Lotus Development – John Briggs – left Lotus to join the founding team.  In John’s words, “then The Great Event happened. IBM bought Lotus and bought out my stock options. From then on, I was pretty much in job search mode while eagerly awaiting my bonus retention check”.  While at Yahoo!, he launched Yahoo News, Weather, Sports and Finance .  John also headed up their e-commerce unit (Yahoo Shopping, Auctions, Classifieds & Yellow Pages), and eventually became a VP & GM. He stayed until October 2002 and had quite a ride that included the IPO.

Yahoo! went public in April 1996 as YHOO.  The stock started $24.50 per share and hit a high of $43 before closing at $33.  It was the most closely watched IPO since Netscape Communications went public in December 1995.

With the influx of cash from the IPO, Yahoo began acquiring other companies.  Yahoo!’s first acquisition was the purchase of Net Controls, a web search engine company, in September 1997 for US$1.4 million. The acquisitions continued as Yahoo! competed against other companies and grew in company size and viewership.  As of May 2013, Yahoo! has acquired a total of 78 companies.

In February 2008, Yahoo! escaped becoming acquired, but not without some damage to the company.  Microsoft made an unsolicited bid to acquire Yahoo! for USD $44.6 billion. Yahoo! formally rejected the bid, claiming that it “substantially undervalues” the company and was not in the interest of its shareholders. Three years later, Yahoo! had a market capitalization of USD $22.24 billion.

Today, Yahoo! Inc. is a multinational Internet corporation headquartered in Sunnyvale, California.  Many of the original employees and executives have moved on to other adventures.  In July 2012, On July 16, 2012, Marissa Mayer, a former Google exec, was appointed President and CEO of Yahoo!.  The company has 11,500 employees in 25 countries, provinces, and territories.

— Carole Gunst


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In the annals of high tech, Google hasn’t been around for very long (1998); but as the successor to such World Wide Web search engines as Yahoo! and AltaVista, Google has in these few short years established itself as the pre-eminent organizer and purveyor of the web’s information.

According to Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of The Googlization of Everything (and why we should worry) and cultural historian and media scholar at the University of Virginia, there are numerous benefits of and many potential negatives with Google’s domination of the web’s infrastructure. As Siva notes, there is a certain “audacity of Google” insofar as it provides ease and pleasure of use; is free (we don’t have to write checks to it, unlike, say, Comcast), and it appeared to “solve the problem of the web”: it made the web infinitely more manageable and removed its “chaos” factor.

An over-arching symbol of Google’s might in The Googlization of Everything is Julius Caesar. Google is compared repeatedly to this Roman emperor who in many ways brought order to chaos in ancient Rome. In Siva’s words, “Chaos on the web demanded governance; it was said to be ungovernable, but we know better. Google (Caesar) came into a vacuum of chaos and declared ‘I will rule benevolently.’”

Siva suggested that he used the word “worry” in his book’s title and not “panic” because when one worries, he or she is capable of thinking; whereas with panic, irrationality is typical. He noted first that in undertaking the book, he found it difficult because of the company’s constantly evolving technology; that is, almost weekly, Google was adding a new attraction (or distraction) to its growing menu of services. Speaking to this point, Siva quoted Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benkler, author of The Wealth of Networks:

Google could become so powerful on the desktop, in the email utility, and on the Web that it will effectively become a super node that will indeed raise the prospect of a re-emergence of a mass-media model.

Google, for its part, says that its mission is “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.” This causes Siva to worry because it appears so all-encompassing and grandiose. I myself would term this phenomenon a kind of “secular divinity.” The feeling that Google manipulates the world’s information as opposed to the web’s is a “game changer.” Having at one’s fingertips a pipeline to the world’s information makes Google seem omniscient, omnipotent and all-benevolent all at once. Sort of like the “man behind the curtain” in the movie The Wizard of Oz. This, as Siva observes, has resulted in an unhealthy “blind faith” in Google’s ability to solve almost any problem. The public has lovingly embraced them with a deep trust in and a suspension of disbelief of their ability – in a technological sense, we’re being cradled in the arms of Morpheus.

A question of regulation

Eric Schmidt, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, when asked if Google should be regulated, offered a predictable denial by saying that the wrong question was being asked, and that Google was “regulated” in a number of ways – including multiple levels of responsibility. He asserted that Google is

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. Courtesy, SocialMediaSEO.net

run on a set of values and principles upon which the company was founded. Siva noted that this was not a case of “Ayn Rand versus Joseph Stalin”; Google presents a more complex conundrum than just one political extreme or another’s approach toward regulation and responsibility.

According to Siva, Google acts within three different models of content processing: 1) Rank and link; 2) Host and delivery (i.e. YouTube), and 3) Data capture/publishing/content creation (i.e. Google Earth, Google Books and Street View). The integration of these three types of content processing gives Google a roadmap to the whims, desires, interests, and yes, consumer habits of its users, which it uses to sell advertising. As Siva asserts, we are Google’s “customers.” They take our information and provide advertisements that are very specifically targeted to our individual tastes. Google’s algorithm – their method of ranking search results – has made this a reality.

SEO Arms Race

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, has been a battleground on Google’s site where largely commercial websites have employed questionable tactics to achieve greater ranking in searches. Sites like JC Penney and Overstock.com have been specifically cited for inserting content in their sites (such as .edu hyperlinks) that deems them, in Google parlance, a “high-quality” site. Siva also cites the Huffington Post as a site that has mastered SEO techniques. They engage in “repurposing” original material from other websites in such a way that it will give them priority in any search.

Google is constantly innovating and evolving. It concentrates on speed (they say 1/10th of a second matters to consumers), and has begun to take on Bing.com as the conduit to shopping. Siva declared that Bing has consistently been the search engine for shoppers; but that Google has made significant inroads. And as a result, information and learning have both been subjugated. In this manner, according to Siva, consumer satisfaction has been used to short-circuit political involvement and awareness. Google has combined this with an overt appeal to “corporate social responsibility” – an essential component of both libertarianism and neo-liberalism, which hold that market forces and consumer choice are instrumental to the exercise of social responsibility. Siva quotes the late economist Milton Friedman, who said “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”

Siva Vaidhyanathan, courtesy Univ. of California Press

In the lightning-quick evolution of the World Wide Web, stemming from its origins with MIT’s Tim Berners-Lee, it’s important to recognize and understand that Google’s influence as a start-up company was vastly different than it is today – a global institution. And the functions that comprise it today will likely considerably evolve in the next ten years. With the rate at which Google has penetrated both the consciousness and information consumption habits of the world’s computer users, there is always room for healthy concern. Siva, though predominantly an optimist who acknowledges Google has positively revolutionized the way we access information, also believes we should temper that by looking at the company more closely and realistically than our rose-colored glasses might ordinarily allow us to.

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Tim Wu's "The Master Switch." Courtesy, Knopf.

After reading Columbia University professor Tim Wu’s groundbreaking book, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, and after hearing him speak this Jan. 11 of the motivations of technology entrepreneurs, one word best applies: perfection. The drive of inventors and innovators to design the perfect system – one that would satisfy the needs of consumers most perfectly while at the same time eradicating competition – has historical precedent. Wu is a confident and engaging speaker, and he held the packed lecture hall at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society in rapt attention throughout his address.

The Master Switch is an intriguing study of  both historical and contemporary examples of monopolistic tendencies in media and information companies. The title derives from a quote by the longtime CBS News producer Fred Friendly, who said that what is at stake is not the First Amendment or freedom of speech, but control of the “master switch;” that is, the predominant means of creating and delivering media content.

Wu looks at examples of early media empires such as AT&T, NBC and Hollywood movie studios, and concludes with more contemporary companies such as Apple Inc., Microsoft and Google. In the case of the latter, he poses questions about the future of the Internet – particularly with regard to “Net Neutrality,” or the availability of Internet content in the face of media conglomerates and access providers.

AT&T President Theodore Vail (with telephone) joined the opening ceremony for the first transcontinental telephone line from his home in Jekyll Island, Ga. With Vail (L to R): Architects Welles Bosworth and Samuel Trowbridge, banker J. P. Morgan Jr., and businessman William Rockefeller. Courtesy, AT&T.

Wu commences with a biography of Theodore Vail, the longtime president of AT&T, which was the single most important provider of telegraphy in America, which eventually became the Bell telephone system. Vail was imperious, but also imbued with a civic sense that saw his corporation, intertwined with the daily lives of American citizens, as having both a “responsibility” and “acccountability” to the public. But AT&T’s monopolistic destiny was sealed in 1907 with the arrival of John Pierpont Morgan, Jr., the primary investor of AT&T. Morgan and his fellow board members installed Vail as president, and as Morgan was arguably the single most important capital source in America, this thwarted any serious challengers to AT&T, basically ensuring its predominance.

Wu considers entities like AT&T, traditional movie studios and Radio and TV broadcasters “closed” monopolies; that is, they might originally have been open sources of entrepreneurial innovation and cross-polenation with competitors; but later, once established, close their systems to outside competitors. In a more contemporary sense, Wu sees Apple Inc.’s Steve Jobs as having the closest resemblance to the traditional media mogul. Everything about the modern Apple devices, though beautifully designed and as close to “perfection” for what they do as anything currently produced, are completely closed; that is, one cannot obtain software or peripherals without dealing with Apple directly. Jobs is contrasted with Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder, who as a member of the Homebrew Computer Club, out of which Apple originated, favored devices such as the Apple II, that was open to outside software and peripherals designers and which he hoped would serve as a tool for the betterment of mankind and  “social justice.” Today’s Apple, as Wu wryly notes, “… guards technical and managerial information the way Willy Wonka guarded candy recipes.”

Joseph Alois Schumpeter

Wu, in the course of his arguments, returns repeatedly to the economic theories of  Joseph Alois Schumpeter (1883 – 1950), An Austrian-American economist and political scientist. Schumpeter was particularly focused on the symbiotic relationship between capitalism and innovation. Where companies often feared innovation under the belief that it would destroy their existing core business, Schumpeter felt that innovation was the key to survival. Companies needed to grow or die. AT&T’s acquisition of telephone technology (thereby guaranteeing the marginalizing of its telegraph system), was the fulfillment of Schumpeter’s theory.

Schumpeter’s theories can be closely applied to today’s evolving computer and Internet industries and their entrepreneurs. Google, Wu asserts, is a “switch of choice”, as opposed to AT&T’s “switch of necessity.” The capitalistic forces of nnovation and risk taking are often the keys to success. For example, sometime in 1996, Google, in seeking to prepare a search index, photographed the entire World Wide Web. No one at the time knew whether or not it was legal, which caused Wu to wonder if Balzac’s oft-quoted criticism, “Behind every great fortune is a great crime” was being borne out; but there were no legal challenges – then, or now. But Wu has other, quite positive things to say about Google in that its Android phone, together with its open source application platform, allows software entrepreneurs an open field for their innovations. Wu believes that Google’s open standards are the antidote to monopolistic abuse, and that the Android system is emblematic of those standards.

However, as a rule, Wu believes that the open system, if it produces superior products or services or fulfills some other need better that its competitors, will ultimately become monopolistic. Regarding the Internet, Wu isn’t really convinced if this model applies, but at his talk posed several reasons for and against this theory:


1. The core technologies of the Internet are so innovative that they cannot be controlled by one entity. Innovation is constant.

2. We’ve opened markets to the point where monopolies are obsolete, and so government is less committed to anti-trust and monopoly because there’s widespread feeling that any monopoly will ultimately crumble – as in the case of Microsoft.

3. Our capital markets are much more diverse than they once were. Numerous venture capital firms are always looking for the next “Google” or “Apple” and are constantly funding new ventures. In the days of AT&T, J.P. Morgan (as previously discussed) controlled the funding of companies, and so capital was centrallized and discouraged competition.

4. Sheer size of a company is not revered or trusted as in the past. Frederick Winslow Taylor, a foremost scholar of “scientific management” took issue with “economies of scale”; that is, the cost advantages that a business obtains due to expansion. In other words, we prefer the “upstart startup”, to coin a phrase.


1. Neither human nature nor economics have changed. Those who control the infrastructure control the process and the profits. Power still lies in the local loop, or access to the telephone exchange infrastructure, which requires huge capital investments and discourages competitors.

2. Monopolistic tendencies haven’t gone anywhere. Companies like Google or Facebook are as influential as they are because everyone uses them. They have all the classic qualities of what makes something a monopoly – great production values, reasonable price, convenient and easy to use. As Wu says, “Americans want Hollywood content – not ‘Amateur Hour'”.

Tim Wu. Photo courtesy Knopf

When considering the “For” arguments, Wu, as the man who coined the phrase “Net Neutrality,” is encouraged by the recent FCC ruling to establish guidelines about which and how content is made available to end users on the Internet. Because one company controls the infrastructure for delivering content doesn’t mean that it should favor (or speed up) certain content providers over others. Abuse is the natural by-product of influential companies who feel they can restrict access to the system. This is the inherent danger that Wu expertly exposes in The Master Switch. It is a powerful document showing us how history can potentially repeat itself – even with information entities that are constantly evolving and innovating.

Tim Wu recently appeared on the Charlie Rose program to discuss The Master Switch and “Net Neutrality.” You can see that segment here.

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Today, AOL stock begins trading on the NYSE on the S&P MidCap 400 Index as it spins off from Time Warner.  Back in 2001, when the merger of Time Warner and AOL took place, AOL stock was valued at as much as $165 billion.  Today, AOL stock is valued around $2.8 billion.

AOL was one of the first Internet stocks added to the S&P 500 Index in the 1990’s which gave a lot a credibility to the hot new Internet stocks that were displacing more established  firms on the stock exchange.  Today, AOL doesn’t qualify for the S&P 500 Index because its value is below $3 billion.  If the stock crosses the line, it can move up from S&P MidCap 400 Index and back to the S&P 500 Index.

Who’s Place Did AOL Take On The New York Stock Exchange?

AOL replaces Imation Corp., whose market capitalization dropped below the $750 million minimum requirement to remain on the NYSE.  Imation is a spin-off of 3M  that designs, manufactures, and markets a wide range of recordable data storage media and consumer electronics products.

Will The New AOL Make It?

We’ll find out how AOL makes it on its own.  Today, AOL has a new look, new logo, and new ad campaign.  Its CEO, Tim Armstrong, joined AOL last March from Google and has plans for AOL’s growth that include delivery of premium content that include news and local information, communications like instant messaging and online advertising.  AOL is way beyond “You’ve Got Mail,” but we’ll see if it’s got enough mojo to propel it back to the S&P 500.  Let’s just hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.

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