Peter Nowak: Please let it be over, Yahoo – a letter to an old flame
Why won’t you die already?
I know it sounds harsh, but honestly, it’s long overdue and you’re taking up valuable space on the internet.
Stop prolonging it.
I was dismayed to hear this week that you’re pushing back Verizon’s US$4.8 billion purchase of your core business until the second quarter. That’s at least another three months of remembering how you messed up a good thing and how you became what is quite possibly the worst internet company of all time.
Please don’t get indignant. I assure you – it was all you, not me.
Our relationship started innocently enough. Like many other 20-somethings in the mid-1990s, I was only just starting to use the internet when you first arrived. I might never have found all those important Smashing Pumpkins fan pages and Fresh Prince of Bel Air episode guides without your help.
I also liked your email service, which was better than the decrepit Lotus Mail my employer at the time forced on us.
Your email was modern and accessible from any computer. You were “cloud” before it was cool.
You were the veritable king of the world in those days. On April 12, 1996, your shares closed at $33 each, up nearly 300 per cent from their initial public offering price. Nearly five years later, those same shares would hit an all-time high of $475.
Somewhere around the turn of the millennium – I can’t remember exactly when – it started to go sour. A colleague came over to my desk and told me to type the address of a new website into my Netscape browser. “G-O-O-G-L-E dot-com,” he spelt out. Up came a minimalist white page with a text field and little else.
I think we all know how that turned out. Historians will point to the arrival of Google as the stake through Yahoo’s heart. Unlike your Web directory, which was largely curated by humans, Google was powered by coldly efficient algorithms that determined the value of sites based on how many other pages linked to them. It was a genius system that worked brilliantly with the exponentially growing Web, which humans were quickly losing the capacity to index themselves.
Amazingly, your leadership decided against buying Google for a mere $1bn when Larry Page and Sergey Brin offered it to you in 2002. The only more boneheaded move of the era was Ross cheating on Rachel.
By the time you reconsidered the purchase, the asking price had skyrocketed to $3bn, which again was too rich for you. Isn’t it funny that Google is now worth $576bn?
Sure, conventional wisdom suggests that fateful decision led to your undoing, but for me it was email. I really did like Yahoo Mail, but it was hard to ignore the ever-increasing spam that was seeping into it.
When Gmail arrived in 2004, it was clean, searchable and, most importantly, devoid of junk. That was it for me and millions of other users. Unlike Ross on Friends, we never looked back. With the search and email battles lost, it was curtains for you.
Still, the bad decisions kept coming. You acquired Flickr in 2005, then did nothing with it while Facebook and Instagram became the de facto online photo-sharing apps.
You rejected a whopping $44bn takeover bid from Microsoft in 2008, despite having as much a chance of making a comeback as Hootie and the Blowfish. In 2012, you began reorienting your focus towards mobile. Good move, but about four years too late.
Through it all, you hired and fired a string of forgettable chief executives, desperately looking for someone who would rekindle your glory days.
Look, I don’t normally wish ill on old flames, but you’ve really made a case for it of late. In December you disclosed that a billion of your email accounts were hacked in 2013. That was just three months removed from a similar admission of another half-billion breaches.
And then there was the revelation in between that you had built software for US intelligence officials to secretly scan users’ emails. Are you kidding me?
Lack of foresight, bad decisions, inferior products and an attitude toward users that has bordered on hostile – yes, I do think it’s fair to consider you the worst technology company of all time.
That’s why I can’t wait until you’re gone. You will be remembered, but you won’t be missed.
The tech week’s winner and loser
Winner of the Week: Samsung. The company came clean about the battery manufacturing problems that caused Galaxy Note 7 phones to catch fire. While Samsung is ultimately guilty of poor quality assurance, its investigation of the issue earns points for thoroughness and transparency.
Loser of the Week: Net neutrality. The US president Donald Trump named Ajit Pai, who has said he wants to take a “weed whacker” to net neutrality rules, the new head of the Federal Communications Commission. Observers believe that gutting the rules will have global repercussions.
Peter Nowak is a veteran technology writer and author of Humans 3.0: The Upgrading of the Species.
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter