Yahoo! turns 20; we look back through the years

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

Making it two decades in the “here today, gone tomorrow” world of the internet, and surviving more than its fair share of corporate turmoil along the way, is no small feat; so it makes sense that the folks at Yahoo! would want to do something special for the web portal’s 20th anniversary.

So, as reported earlier this week by CNET, CEO Marissa Mayer and more than 3,400 Yahoo! employees gathered outside the company’s Sunnyvale, California headquarters to perform the sound byte that has become synonymous with the website – the yodel. In the process, they set a new world record for the most people simultaneously yodeling.

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“The act capped off a day of Yahoo! celebrations,” the website added. “When the Nasdaq opened on Monday, the bell yodeled instead of rang – the first modification of the bell in the stock exchange’s history. The company is one of the most iconic in Silicon Valley history, but it has been in turnaround mode after several years of flagging revenue.”

Let’s go back to 1994

The web portal now known as Yahoo! was the brainchild of David Filo and Jerry Yang, a pair of Ph.D. candidates in Stanford University’s electrical engineering department. Looking for a way to keep track of interesting sites on the internet, Filo and Yang first launched “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web” in February 1994.

When the lists became too long, Filo and Yang decided to divide them into categories; and when those became too long, subcategories were added.

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By April, the changed the name of the website Yahoo!, which is officially an acronym for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle”. The name, however, was apparently selected because the Stanford students liked the dictionary definition of a yahoo (“rude, unsophisticated, uncouth”).

Not to be confused with barbecue, knives, or human-propelled watercraft

Word spread and the website started to gain popularity, as it became evident that people were looking for a single repository for useful Web sites. By the end of the 1994, Yahoo! had its first ever one-million-hit day, which translated to nearly 100,000 unique visitors. Thirteen months after creating the website, Filo and Yang incorporated the business, and secured $2 million in funding from Sequoia Capital, the same firm that funded Apple, Oracle, and Cisco.

Interestingly enough, though most of us simply refer to the website as Yahoo, its full name includes the exclamation mark (“Yahoo!”). The reason for this, according to a 2004 report from internet marketing and search-engine optimization blog BPWrap, is that when Filo and Yang went to trademark their company’s name, they found that Yahoo had previously been claimed for barbecue sauce, knives, and human-propelled watercraft. Thus, in order to assume control of the trademark, they had to add the exclamation mark, making it an official part of the name.

Like so many other companies, Yahoo! enjoyed the fruits of the dot-com boom of the late 90s and early 2000s, with its stock peaking well over $100 per share, and when the bubble burst, it struggled along with many of its rivals. Yahoo! survived, but it has yet to come close to its peak popularity, and has seen CEOs and business plans come and go over the last decade or so.

A guide to the web

Despite its struggles in recent years, Yahoo! remains one of the most frequently visited sites on the Web. In 2012, data tracking firm Alexa named it the fourth most popular website in both the US and the world. In 2013, it surpassed Google in terms of US web traffic for the first time since May 2011, with the a 21 percent increase in visitors over a span of just one year.

On Tuesday, Filo wrote a Tumblr post reflecting on the past 20 years.

“In 1995, Jerry and I started Yahoo to help people more easily navigate the web. We wanted to build a guide,” he said. “When we came up with the idea, it wasn’t designed to be a business, it was simply something we found useful. When we realized other people found it useful, we were motivated to work on it even more.”

“Twenty years later, the core of Yahoo is still the same. We are driven by the same purpose – to be your guide around the web,” he added “You may not know how much you motivate us every day by using our products and sharing your ideas, but you do. Thank you… for coming to Yahoo every day and inspiring us for the last two decades. I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years brings.”

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