A requiem for Yahoo

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the swift rise and long, slow fall of one of the internet's flagship companies.

Once upon a time, like a lot of people, I was a huge Yahoo user. I spent weeks building the perfect MyYahoo home page that I visited every day. I had a Yahoo Mail account. I found everything from websites to news and gossip at Yahoo.com. I relied on Yahoo Sports for the inside story traditional sports journalists often missed. I stored and shared my pictures on Yahoo's Flickr.

But I didn't just use Yahoo, I really liked Yahoo. I felt they were trying to do their best to create useful, fun products and services. I enjoyed the bright purple color scheme and the cheeky attitude.

Professionally, several of the technology news outlets I worked for syndicated content to Yahoo, which occasionally sent significant traffic back to our sites. Several of my friends and former colleagues worked there.

It's not me, it's Yahoo

Now, also like a lot of people, not so much.

The pioneering internet directory and portal isn't dead yet, of course, but the company's decision last week to spin off its core business caps a lost decade of mis-steps, leadership trauma and, worst of all, diminishing relevance.

I haven't checked my MyYahoo page in years (it may not even exist anymore). I don't remember my Yahoo Mail address. I've abandoned the pictures stored on Flickr. I now try to get my news from less frothy, less click-baity sources. And Yahoo Sports seems to carry exactly the same stories that you can find on every other sports outlet. 

Today, I mostly use Yahoo to check the weather on my smartphone. The Yahoo Weather app looks awesome, but it is consistently pessimistic on local temperatures, forecasting highs of an average of about 5 degrees colder than other services. (I have no idea why, but it seems like a sign.) I also have a blog hosted on Yahoo's Tumblr, but between my day job and writing for Network World, I haven't posted anything to it for almost two years. (Not that Tumblr feels very Yahoo-y anyway.) Professionally, today's Yahoo would hardly be the first site I'd think about sharing content with.

A long time gone

I'm not sure when I first realized that Yahoo was dead to me, but it probably started around 2008, when the company spurned Microsoft's generous—if unsolicited—buyout offer. I get that Yahooligans didn't want to be owned by a bunch of operating system and productivity application folks in Seattle who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the internet age. But Yahoo has spent years trying to prove it was worth more on its own, and it has failed disastrously. By some measures, Yahoo's core business, outside of its lucrative stake in China's Alibaba, is now essentially worthless, a far cry from the more than $44 billion Steve Ballmer was offering. (The whole company's current market cap is a little more than $30 billion.)

Things only got worse when Yahoo started cycling through CEOs—and CEO scandals—like most people change underwear. I got renewed hope when Google exec Marissa Meyer took over in 2012, but her tone-deaf moves to restrict telecommuting even as she installed a nursery in her own office didn't help. More to the point, she hasn't managed to deliver the turnaround she promised when she took the job. 

Still, I'd love to see Yahoo return to its former glory, but it's hard to imagine exactly how that's going to happen. The company still enjoys massive traffic to its sites and services, but they're no longer considered cutting-edge. With big-ticket hirings like David Pogue and Katie Couric, Yahoo is now a media company, and a pretty mainstream one at that.

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There's much more to Yahoo's story, of course. And there's nothing wrong with being a media company (I've worked for plenty of them in my career). But the distance between Yahoo and companies like Google and Facebook that took its place atop the internet hierarchy seems to widen every day.

Yahoo will likely linger on as a company and a brand for while yet. But when Mayer sells off the core business, its days as an internet leader will be officially over.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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