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If a team of entrepreneurs tried to sell venture capitalists on a business that sought to organize all the information on the internet, it would be laughed out of the room today. But during the early years of the web, which are not all that distant, Yahoo did exactly that â and did it well.
On Monday, Verizon announced that it would buy Yahooâs core internet operations and land holdings for $ 4.8 billion, a relative pittance for companies in Silicon Valley. Many analysts and former employees bemoan the missed opportunities and bad decisions that left Yahoo far behind younger and nimbler companies, like Facebook, whose shares are worth about $ 348 billion, and Googleâs parent, Alphabet, which is worth about $ 507 billion.
However, I come not to bury Yahoo, but to remember it fondly. In the 1990s, when I started writing about technology, the company was a central pillar of the internet. Yahoo was referred to as a âweb portal,â and millions of people began their explorations of the online world through its home page. Internet connections were generally slow and unreliable, and there were no iPhones or Androids. It might sound terribly antiquated now, but it felt new and exciting then.
Yahoo categorized and brought order to the fast-growing forest that was the web. Its curators carefully hacked through the weeds and jumped across the ravines to bring us to the digital equivalent of exotic plants and wildlife. Search technology was in its infancy, and people needed someone to help them find what this new, or new to them, world had to offer.
Yahoo also allowed its users to create their own versions of the web through its My Yahoo service. Many people, myself included, diligently designed our personalized pages. On the top of the left-hand column I placed my email inbox, below which was a Yahoo Finance box, which displayed stock prices. In the middle I had news headlines. And in the right-hand column I placed the weather and sports scores. I would look at that page several times a day to catch up on things I was interested in or had to keep track of for work.
Google, Facebook, Twitter and other sites gradually displaced Yahoo because they offered better ways to find information and interact with others. I still have a Yahoo email account, but I rarely check it. The My Yahoo page I carefully tended no longer exists.
I might have stayed loyal to Yahoo if it had acquired or built a really good search engine or social networking site. Still, there is no denying that Yahoo was a pioneer that cleared the thicket for those other businesses to flourish.