Posts Tagged ‘Yahoo!’

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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