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Microsoft bids $44.6B to buy Yahoo (2008) (reuters.com)
243 points by tosh 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 219 comments



I worked at Yahoo! when this was going on, I’m amazed the share holders didn’t sue Jerry Yang and the board for avoiding this sale. Yahoo had very little of technological value and was actively trying to destroy its own search business amongst other properties at the time. They really were in a prime position and bungled it extremely badly, I think they had maybe 20% of the search market at the time.

Carol Bartz later came and told everyone it was pointless to be in the search business because Google were too big and impossible to compete with on investment. She made it very clear the equation for success was money spent === great search engine results, ignoring how Google came into being in the first place. Pure Harvard Business School spreadsheet stuff.

It still feels like a wasted opportunity to me, it seems so weak to just throw your hands up in the air and say it’s too hard to make your extremely successful search engine better.


If you are flabbergasted by the fact Yahoo, and everyone else for that matter, thought it absolutely impossible to disrupt Google (except for perhaps a handful of hubris-riddled people at MS), please remember the general sentiment HN used to have towards Google who according to us, at that time, could do no wrong. They were infallible. They were the brightest people in the world. They were The Good Guy (TM). They were so good that when they launched a browser later that year, no one blinked before installing it. You didn't blink. I didn't blink. We just drank the cool aid and clicked "install".

Chrome was an excellent browser when it launched... It might not be able to compete with such a wide gap against all the Chromium based clones out there now, but it was rightfully an amazing experience. Initially its only competition felt like Firefox

a list of shockers

- streamed install process (download a shim of 300kB which will stream the rest)

- obviously the chromeless ui

- the dynamic status bar (ok that was the point above)

- downloads shown below (as cute as the status bar, actually I miss that thing)

- something about tab closing that was more regular (no need to move your mouse)

- option / printing lean and fast


One of the big features was also the fact that it was running multiple processes. Back then, if the browser crashed it just took down the whole browser with all tabs, which was also a bit more common with the numerous plugins that were required to browse the web.

You forgot speed - both when launching the app and general responsiveness. Launching chrome was shockingly fast - clicking the launcher and having the browser chrome show immediately without the crutch of a loading window was downright revolutionary. Once loaded, Chrome was really snappy (e.g. switching between tabs).

Yes. There would be a chrome process always running in the background, visible in your taskbar on the right.

Chrome had a lot of smart people put in a lot of thought into it. It was a sea of difference when it came out.

Not to mention their original Chrome OS pitch was also amazing.

I really wish we had THAT Google now.


yes indeed, it's so ingrained that I forgot. And to this day, chromium/chrome is still the fastest (even though it got bloated in other places).. I hate to admit it for I wish firefox could get up to par but everytime I use chrome I sense it; and it was shocking at the time.

Also the update release pace, for better or worse, was also a new kind of fast.


Counter-points:

1. At the time, Firefox’ total installer size was ~4-5MB.

2. Much lighter than the contemporaneous IE8 and default Firefox skin, but it just came down to removing the menu-bar and status bar. Chrome’s lack of a traditional menu-bar put me off for a while, I’ll admit. I also disagreed with Chrome having its own visual-style on Windows instead of using the system theme. I know Chrome integrated with Aero Glass on Vista-and-later, but I was an XP hold-out until 2013 when I jumped to Windows 8.1.

3. “Dynamic” is overselling it. Internet Explorer had an auto-hiding status bar since version 4, albeit only in full-screen mode.

4. How is that a good thing? It wastes a thick line of screen space if you downloaded a single file. I preferred Firefox’s separate download manager window.

5. IIRC, Chrome’s “close-everything-without-moving-the-mouse” feature wasn’t in its earlier releases - and I had that functionality in Firefox (back when Firefox had a single close-current-tab button on the far-right instead of close buttons on each tab)

6. Who prints web-pages? Even in 2008.

-

But yeah, Chrome’s attempt at cutting down unnecessary UI was bold - and prompted Microsoft to redo IE9’s UI to look like Chrome’s in 2011 (despite that, they never fixed the “snappy” feel that Chrome has - why does IE still freeze briefly for 1-2 frames every time you switch tabs? Why is the address bar still so fiddly? Oh well, IE is dead now so we’ll never know...)


- no horrible mem leaks from tabs like firefox :/

Remember this video?

https://youtu.be/nCgQDjiotG0

Chrome was seriously fast when it launched. It made everything else seem a decade old.


Well I'm not going to apologize for installing Chrome then or now lol. It was a fantastic piece of tech with the tab process isolation and V8 helped to revolutionize what "webapps" were capable of.

I wish for us all that some day the internet as it is today would fracture and split into one webapps realm and one hypertext realm so that those who can't stand it when you want to click on something and you do, once the page finishes loading you end up clicking the top page ad instead of the button you aimed at, could go on doing the things we thought we could do, back in the day.

The Gemini protocol is actively doing this.

Sure, but if you had 20+% of the search engine market it seems terrible to not even try. Maybe it would have failed and bankrupted the company but I still think it would have been an exciting sell for the employees to try to compete. There were so many extremely talented people working there.

> We just drank the cool aid and clicked "install".

That's misrepresenting the search market's reality though. For most people, they never clicked install.


> That's misrepresenting the search market's reality though. For most people, they never clicked install.

The author was talking about Chrome.


On the other hand, the author's statement flies in the face of the reality that Chrome's market share at the end of the year was ~1%. ;-)

Chrome was launched in Sep 2008.

It's really, really hard to move market share quickly.


It absolutely is. I'm not suggesting that Chrome was a failure by any means. I'm suggesting that it was far from a broad phenomenon that people just clicked "install" when Google launched it.

In 2008 there wasn't a need to click "install"? What OS were you on that provided Google Chrome seamlessly?

Chrome wasn't released until September of 2008. Initial adoption was around 1% in 2008.

I was referring to search engines, though the same was true for browsers. Deals were cut with distribution channels to have browsers pre-installed and to have certain browsers and search engines as the default. The overwhelming majority of people would use the default. In fact, a lot of the benefit of releasing Chrome was that it became another distribution channel that would default to Google as the search engine.


No, it was snuck in with Java updates (or maybe Flash?). Unless you spotted the correct checked-by-default option.

To be fair I think Google really was better back then, and unfortunately they've changed.

Nothing is perfect, all of the time.

Tabbed browsing and incognito mode were incredibly innovative.

edit - Looks like Firefox introduced both. But Chrome was incredible in comparison at the time. I recall thinking Firefox was no longer worth it. I made the move back to Firefox a few years ago.


Revisionist history... Firefox and loads of niche browsers (MyIE2/Maxthon which I used in the era where IE was sometimes mandatory for site compatibility) had tabbed browsing.

Indeed, it would be nice if the tendency of people to jump into a conversation and start spewing absolute nonsense were subject to harsher social consequences.

But it was not just niche browsers. By the time of Chrome's debut (2008), just about every browser had tabs—including Internet Explorer:

"With the release of Internet Explorer 7 in 2006, all major web browsers featured a tabbed interface." <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tab_(interface)#History>


What punishment would be harsh enough in your eyes for the grave mistake of correcting a wrong memory?

Public beheading.

Somehow it feels like Opera invented most of the features contemporary browsers have. I remember using Opera on an off from the late 90s to late 2000s.

Opera was a laboratory for a lot of features that got ripped off by everyone else. Vivaldi now still has quite a bit of that spirit (to the point it might feel bloated at times), but I still miss the old Presto-era Opera.

It had tabbed browsing, but at the time Chrome came out there was no or limited tab process isolation for FF.

I used to work with a guy who always invoked Firefox in gdb so that when it crashed, he could fix the bug (null ptr deref etc.) and continue. As a “tab hoarder” he would lose a day or two of context and productivity otherwise.


firefox definitely had tabbed browsing and private mode before chrome was released.

pretty sure opera had tabbed browsing as well.

i just recall chrome being very minimal, clean and fast when it was first released. plus as kreeben said, Google was pretty revered at the time.


You're right. Opera had tabbed browsing before Firefox existed, and Firefox had tabbed browsing before Chrome existed.

I could be wrong but it looks like Opera introduced tabs in 2009 with v10.5 while Firefox's first release was in 2002. Unless we're referring to different things.

That's not right. Opera had tabs in version 4, released in early 2000.

Some people apparently think tabs has to be drag-and-droppable, which Opera had in 2003, in order to be called tabs: https://allthatiswrong.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/opera-did-no...


No. Opera from early 2000s atleast had tabbed browsing. It also had gestures, paste-and-go, open non-hyper plaintext links in tab etc.

Chrome made a big thing at launch about their process isolation of tabs. Was that their innovation?

What chrome sold was speed. Most of their ads were all about how fast websites would open. And tabs was cherry on top. I know that’s what made me jump from IE. I remember I have a Sony vaio desktop then and IE would weigh it down to a crawl, then I install chrome and that just made me swear to never use IE again.

I remember switching to Chrome just because of the minimalist UI. I don't know if Chrome was faster at that time, but it felt faster and leaner than anything else. I switched back to Firefox when I realized that there were everal extensions I didn't want to part with. And then back to Chrome again after a few years when Firefox upgraded their UI to make everything bigger and bulbous.

Process isolation of tabs, speed (V8), incognito mode, silent updates. Most of this they covered in the announcement comic.

Chrome's process isolation meant that one terrible website would not crash or lag the whole browser, as was the case with Firefox.

FF had tabbed browsing for years before Chrome ever showed up.

And also had single process model which failed completely when you had 50 tabs and Youtube etc. implemented in Flash. Main tab use case being unusable around the time Chrome came out was what motivated me to switch. Also, extensions getting broken at each update.

Yes, the multi-process model was a godsend. Especially since it was around the time multicore processors started becoming more common, especially on laptops. Perfect timing. Terrible javascript not locking up the whole browser was fantastic.

Mozilla (the at the time self titled browser they had before Firefox) even had tabs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mozilla_Application_Suite


chrome's big win was that it was fast. When it came out firefox felt super sluggish and it was a refreshing change.

That and better isolation of tabs so that one tab wouldn't ruin your entire browser experience with some javascript that was thrashing.


I have no idea why you’re completely annihilated in downvotes. You’re right, at least about the incognito mode. I clearly remember chrome introducing this with a blog post or something; my boss at the time even joked that they used an example of “secretly buying a gift for someone” instead of all the dirty, dirty porn you want to watch.

Tabbed browsing, no idea though.

No one is claiming chrome invented the concept of incognito mode. It was just executed incredibly well.


There were tabbed browsers before that but the first mainstream browser to introduce tabbed browsing was Opera in 2000.

I also worked at Yahoo at that time, and I remember the feelings internally were more mixed. It was known that nearly all (or even more than 100%) of Yahoo's market value was the investment in Alibaba. Microsoft's offer basically valued all of Yahoo minus Alibaba and minus Yahoo Japan basically at nothing. And I'm perplexed by your blame on Jerry Yang, as out of the entire history of Yahoo, his Alibaba investment was the most financially successful act, worth more than anything any CEO at Yahoo had ever done combined.

Also remember at that time that Google, MSN, and Yahoo were the three major search engines at that time. It wasn't clear why Yahoo couldn't close on the #1 spot. It had the clear #1 search engine spot in Japan already. The Yahoo properties (combination of all their websites) was the most popular websites on the internet. They had a much stronger machine learning and data mining research lab, one year bragging that they swept all the best paper awards at the ML/DM computer science conferences.


> It wasn't clear why Yahoo couldn't close on the #1 spot. It had the clear #1 search engine spot in Japan already.

Yahoo is still huge in Japan. According to the statistics I found, Google is #1 with 75% market share and Yahoo is #2 with 19%, but everybody I know around me uses Yahoo.


I'm with you on almost all of this, but can you explain why you think it's incorrect that Yahoo wouldn't have to spend a lot of money to keep up with Google?

Google's origin story doesn't seem relevant to me, in that Google won because they made radical leaps forward in search quality, compute cost, and and compute scale. As well as company culture around innovation/continuous improvement, I suspect. All at a time when the web was exploding: only 19% of people used the web at Google's launch; by 2008 it was circa 70%. [1]

It seems to me that by 2008, there were fewer easy innovations lying around to make. Or if there were, Google was well prepared to match them. That, plus the way the size of the web had exploded [2] in the decade since Google's launch suggests to me that competing with Google would have been extremely expensive. The way that other people have tried and failed since points that way too, as Google's market share is even larger now than it was in 2008.

[1] See https://www.statista.com/statistics/185700/percentage-of-adu... and https://www.statista.com/statistics/214662/household-adoptio...

[2] From 1997 to 2008, there were more than 100x more websites, and I expect those websites got larger both in number of pages and per-page size. https://www.internetlivestats.com/total-number-of-websites/


> Google's origin story doesn't seem relevant to me, in that Google won because they made radical leaps forward in search quality, compute cost, and and compute scale.

That's the myth, but it's pretty far from the reality. Long before Google became such a dominant player, competing search engines had matched or exceeded its quality, compute cost, and ability to scale.

> All at a time when the web was exploding: only 19% of people used the web at Google's launch; by 2008 it was circa 70%.

Bingo. You nailed it. It turns out the search market was largely a distribution game. You wanted to be the search engine distributed to that massively growing audience, and Google did a great job of establishing itself as the first search engine presented to people.

> It seems to me that by 2008, there were fewer easy innovations lying around to make.

There's certainly been a lot of innovations in search since 2008, but nothing that was "disruptive". It's very hard to get more than a small percentage of people to change what search engine they use, and advertisers are not particularly interested in chasing that segment of the population.

> The way that other people have tried and failed since points that way too, as Google's market share is even larger now than it was in 2008.

Yeah, I really have to scratch my head at how people look at the empirical evidence and think that in 2008 it was a mistake to recognize the losing position competitors were in.


I was an AltaVista user. Then I started having to use a meta search. Then Google came along and it always worked. Who cares if the others caught up? I had no reason to look for over a decade. But now I feel the amount of money to be made means search will never be good again: you can pay people pennies to get a few more pennies for yourself, just to bury the better stuff given freely.

I think you accurately captured the reality of the context. For the most part, as long as people perceive they are getting a good search result, they aren't to look at other options, let alone switch.

> Long before Google became such a dominant player, competing search engines had matched or exceeded its quality, compute cost, and ability to scale.

Just curious, which ones? I remember Google felt so far above any other search engine for a very long time.


Inktomi, Altavista, AllTheWeb, all later under Yahoo.

No question about the "feel", but it's amazing how perception fuels reality. We did a lot of studies of this, and one of the more interesting ones was that if you told people they were seeing Google search results (regardless if they were), they'd be more inclined to rewrite their queries and look farther down in the search results, rather than try using another search engine. Beyond the obvious revenue & marketshare benefits, this helped Google two-fold technically: it gave them better data on query rewrites and search results. The hoops you had to jump through to match our exceed their performance were substantial.


    We did a lot of studies of this, and one of the more 
    interesting ones was that if you told people they were 
    seeing Google search results
This is super-interesting; where might one read more about these studies?

Also, when were the studies done?

I'm curious about the "when" because I think Google's reputation has slipped quite a bit.


These were done around 2004-2006 IIRC, I don't know if the brand impact today is the same as it was back then. I'll see if I can find publications, but I think most, if not all of it, was not published. Even when you told people that we were substituting in different search engines and the presentation and layout was not indicative of where the results came from, putting a Google logo on the page produced a measurable difference in behaviour -far more so than changes to the results themselves (admittedly, we never presented ridiculous results, like say results from an entirely different query or a just random landing pages, but we did present them with, for example, purely paid search results).

In general though, consumer confirmation bias is not that surprising, right? Particularly with technology brands, it's pretty well established that confidence in the brand leads one to be more likely to attribute failure to one's own "mistakes" and therefore invest in further exploration of the product and/or modifying one's interactions with it. It also diminishes one's belief that another product would produce better results, therefore diminishing interest in exploring alternatives; it also leads one to perceive a product's performance as "better" when it is exactly the same.


I actually have no idea how good the search results from other search engines were in 2004-2006. I was exclusively google by then and I'm willing to admit it's entirely plausible it's competitors had similar results.

But in 2001-2002, I remember Google having a significantly better search experience. And it was massively better than all it's competitors from the 90s.

A large factor were the snippets, which gave you a decent indication if the result was relevant before even clicking. Before the other search engines copied that feature, they would just show the contents of the meta description tag.

It also seemed to index a much wider range of sites and ranked them better.


> But in 2001-2002, I remember Google having a significantly better search experience. And it was massively better than all it's competitors from the 90s.

Yup, I would say it was better through most a good chunk of 2002, which garnered it [checks notes]... about 16% market share at that point. If you include the AOL traffic, that'd be 21%. To put that in perspective, MSN's search market share grew by more than that entire share just in 2003.

> A large factor were the snippets, which gave you a decent indication if the result was relevant before even clicking. Before the other search engines copied that feature, they would just show the contents of the meta description tag.

Yup, the impact of that UX was huge. It really improved conversion rates. Everyone else figured that out pretty quickly and adopted that.

> It also seemed to index a much wider range of sites and ranked them better.

Really, it was the ranking function. As their competitors rapidly discovered, having a broader set of sites actually made having a good ranking function so much more crucial.


It makes 100% sense to me that perceived quality would be influenced by a person's feelings towards the brand. In fact I'd be shocked when that's not the case!

[Google employee, but AltaVista fanboy previously, been on the internet since the 80s and used all of these as they hit the market, and I remember the joy/excitement as each one hit in those days, like a moon landing. Also a DEC Alpha fanboy :)]

No way Altavista or Inktomi offered better result than Google. I was a heavy user of both, having adopted AltaVista mainly for similar reasons that I adopted Google, because AltaVista had way fresher and more extensive content than competitors at the time, it offered query modifiers, multi-lingual queries, and media search (images, etc), it even had Babelfish translation. It was obviously, unequivocally better than everything else before it. So the value proposition was unambiguous.

Google was similarly an obvious value proposition when it launched. PageRank was objectively better at returning the most salient results. AltaVista did ranking purely based on how the query phrase matched the index. As the Web grew, the amount of junk it would return piled up, it's easy to spam or game such a ranking algorithm.

As for Inktomi, you can read Inktomi's own employee account: https://www.searchenginewatch.com/2012/05/10/why-google-beat... Inktomi employees were using Google Search as their primary search engine. If you're not using your own product, you've got problems, how can you expect your customers/users to use it if you won't?

Yes, Google's brand is strong, and marginal returns in search quality mean most consumers won't notice the difference between engines, and will judge based on brand or UI presentation now. But to claim Inktomi and AltaVista matched Google Search results I think is rewriting history, when Google launched, the difference in quality was quite obvious and striking.

These days search engines have other requirements given how big the web is, how rapidly it changes, and how many adversarial attacks are made against it (blackhat SEO/webspam). You've got to have the infrastructure to index the entire web frequently, you've got to have a robust defense against spam, and you've got to have an even better ranking strategy beyond PageRank because a lot of the long tail may be good content, but doesn't have many authoritative sites linking to it.

There's still the possibility of someone upstaging Google, by building a search engine that not only indexes the Web, but has the reading comprehension to understand it, and understand queries from the context of gained knowledge. The first company to do that will kill Google Search, as the results will be self-evidently better. There are queries today that GPT-3 can do that Google can't, they're amazing when they work, mindblowing. If you can scale that to the Star Trek level computer, you win.

But you can't displace Google with a 2% improvement in results.


> But to claim Inktomi and AltaVista matched Google Search results I think is rewriting history, when Google launched, the difference in quality was quite obvious and striking.

Yes, that would be a foolish claim. Fortunately I made no such claim.

The differences at launch were indeed striking, much as they had been with HITS. That was in 1998. Four years later, at the time the article you linked to was posted, Google's market share was... 16%. While at that point they may have dominated mind share and brand value, they didn't dominate the market. That would come later.

Google's situation in 2002 was that they were no longer such a clear cut winner. Per the article: "Google much like Inktomi, must re-evalutate what it’s currently doing... ...search is going strong but the Penguin update has raised a lot of questionable results to the surface". Their search quality was already faltering. Of course, in the next twelve months, they'd literally gain as much market share as they'd garnered in the entire history of the company (and yes, that was a one time leap in market share).

I'll say it again: most of the market share gains came from the distribution channels. The cost of getting customers to switch was gigantic compared to the cost of just presenting them with your search engine first. The number of people using the Internet was growing by leaps and bounds then.

> There's still the possibility of someone upstaging Google, by building a search engine that not only indexes the Web, but has the reading comprehension to understand it, and understand queries from the context of gained knowledge.

That's been tried and failed. The technical difference didn't garner the market share needed to support it. I wouldn't say it is impossible for it to happen, but the odds are long, and ultimately the market largely does not appear to care.

> But you can't displace Google with a 2% improvement in results.

I guess it depends on how you are measuring 2% improvement, but by conventional metrics of the time, a 2% improvement now would be well neigh impossible to achieve. Again, that's part of the problem: the head of search engine queries have effectively been optimized to the point where there is little room for improvement beyond tiny fragments of the tail that amount to a percent or two of the average person's search history.


> That's been tried and failed. The technical difference didn't garner the market share needed to support it. I wouldn't say it is impossible for it to happen, but the odds are long, and ultimately the market largely does not appear to care.

If you look at the queries in GPT-3 that are used to extract structured data, or to synthesize answers, the technical difference is huge, but it just has a high failure rate.

The various vertical search systems are examples of this, but the key to a next-gen system isn't to hand-code such verticals, but to have the AI be able to create an infinite number of them on the fly. Vertical based on Julia code? Yes. Vertical based on Pokemon cards? Yes. Today these things are hand-curated collections.

There's also the general switch from searching for information, to doing things. We've gone from 10 blue links, to answers, to assistive functionality. The current state of assistive functionality is pretty shitty and has a long way to go IMHO.


> If you look at the queries in GPT-3 that are used to extract structured data, or to synthesize answers, the technical difference is huge, but it just has a high failure rate.

Yup. Though there are other systems that arguably had more technical success.

> There's also the general switch from searching for information, to doing things. We've gone from 10 blue links, to answers, to assistive functionality. The current state of assistive functionality is pretty shitty and has a long way to go IMHO.

Yes, I agree there's a great deal of opportunity for technical innovation. I expect to see a lot of it from Google themselves. Just don't kid yourself about the impact of those innovations on market share.


Essentially all of their tech was taken from Robin Li and AltaVista/DEC. Brin did a lot of the implementation work, Page did nothing (a lot of the work he did do, didn't scale, and was highly inferior to existing work as he wasn't a strong programmer...I think he provided a server room or something, he was the snake oil salesman).

The actual technological innovation in the search product was minimal (the stuff they did later to scale was pure innovation, but that came much later). They largely purchased their position (for a good price).


The tech was "stolen" from HITS/IBM Research.

Because of their success with their initial data center approach AltaVista was arguably one of the last to shift to a model that more closely resembled the one Google employed, but they certainly did a very fine job of it (late mover advantage and all that). I still liked AllTheWeb's data centers somewhat better, but at that point the differences were pretty small.

I wouldn't agree with your characterization of Brin & Page's contributions, but their direct technical contributions to Google by that time were at best marginally greater than Yang's, so it's not really relevant anyway.

Google definitely had some great tech, but the extent to which that won them the game is more myth than reality. Their aggressive strategic moves are really what made them successful.


I worked at IBM TJ Watson research at the time. It's hard to "steal" from IBM, because at the time I was there, IBM's #1 problem was getting its research into the world.

In 1996, I worked in a group on digital cash payment schemes, digital checking, years before PayPal, they had a trusted enclave (CITADEL PCMCIA card), we had a MIME plugin for Mosaic and Unix email that would do peer to peer digital money transfers, and when it came time to ask "when are we going to try to productize this", the answer came back "we talked with banks and will be ready to do a pilot project in 5 years"

This is much like Steve Jobs "stealing" GUI, Smalltalk, and Ethernet from PARC and claiming there was no innovation. At that stage, shipping something consumers can use is innovation.

If you were a techie/engineer in 1998, as opposed to a general consumer (of which there were very few), Google results WERE better than AltaVista and competitors. The early adopters and pioneers switched because like with Chrome v1, a lot of the value proposition was obvious.

The bigger question perhaps is why didn't their competitors react quickly to prevent their rise, and I think the answer to that is in general, once a company makes a large splash, and gets the public attention, it's hard for others to overcome the free value from being the thought leader. This is true of Apple and true of Tesla in cars. Tesla makes the best EV right now. It's sexy, it's fast, and Elon Musk commands the world's attention. One day, other brands will catch up, they'll be Tesla competitors just as good, but no one will care, and Tesla -- if Musk doesn't fsck it up -- will continue to have a halo effect, a reality distortion field.


Totally agree with your characterization of the nature of the "theft", which is why I put it in quotes.

Behind every great fortune there is a crime.

> That's the myth, but it's pretty far from the reality. Long before Google became such a dominant player, competing search engines had matched or exceeded its quality, compute cost, and ability to scale.

I disagree. Inktomi, Altavista, and AllTheWeb weren't even close in terms of search result revelance and the number of pages they indexed. Every time they attempted to close the gap, Google would just widen it with stuff like real time search, their revolutionary maps UI, and gmail.


You're certainly welcome to disagree, but Google would be the first to tell you how relevant the number of pages indexed would be.

When you actually measured the result relevance number, it turned out that all the major engines were pretty similar, and Google often was not the top one. More importantly though, the observed phenomenon was that no matter how bad the results you presented were, most people didn't switch to another search engine.

I get that you're a Google fan, but GMail & Maps weren't part of the search engine. Ironically "real time search" was rolled out as a PR move to counteract the narrative that was being constructed at the time: that Google was falling behind UX innovations in the search engine space. All of the above were rolled out after Google was the dominant player in the search space.

Google has absolutely done some amazing things, and their search team is second to none, but the narrative that they became the dominant player because of their technical advantages is very misleading.


I am no longer a Google fan. Haven't been for years so there's no bias.

> More importantly though, the observed phenomenon was that no matter how bad the results you presented were, most people didn't switch to another search engine.

That may be the case today because the results are similar now, but it wasn't the same case years ago. The ancient search engines prior to Google weren't much better than human curated directories like Yahoo. Otherwise, why would anyone switch from them to Google?


> I am no longer a Google fan. Haven't been for years so there's no bias.

I'm sorry, I guess I inferred the wrong conclusion from your statements. I would argue that your perception of Google at the time would be a more significant factor influencing your perception of their performance, but that's actually largely beside the point.

> That may be the case today because the results are similar now, but it wasn't the same case years ago. The ancient search engines prior to Google weren't much better than human curated directories like Yahoo. Otherwise, why would anyone switch from them to Google?

I think your question at the end there underlines the central point of confusion here. While some people do indeed switch search engines (depending on how you measure, somewhere between 10-30% of users), the vast majority do not. Even when presented with what one would expect to be the worst search engine in the world (one that presented only paid search results), most people would not switch to another engine.

So the answer to your question is: most people don't switch from any particular search engine to any other search engine.

I would be the first to agree that there was definitely a window of time where Google was observably producing better search results than their competitors, and I'm sure you were amongst many others (including myself) who switched to them at that time... but again, that was a small subset of the population.

The search engine space was (and is) very competitive, and it did not take long for competitors to react and close the gap. When we measured performance in 2004, Google did not come out on top. Subsequent measurements produced similar outcomes, although occasionally Google would come out on top. Having more relevant results definitely lead to increased adoption, but only of a small segment of the much larger market.

Unless you count AOL searches as part of Google, Google didn't lead in market share until ~2004 (and it really wasn't until 2005 that they were ahead by more than a paper-thin margin). At that point, they had slightly less than 30% market share as compared to present market share which is closer to 90%. Even by 2004, the predominant way that search engines acquired new users was not through "switchers" changing search engines because of better results, but rather because of distribution deals (like the deal Google had with AOL) where a distributor would make a particular engine the first one users were presented with.

Think of it this way: how many times have you checked to see if other search engines were performing better than Google? After you switched to using Google, how regularly did you check to see if other alternatives were doing a better job? Most people I've spoken with never even heard of Powerset, let alone tried it to see if it served their needs better than Google. If consumers never check, it's hard to believe product performance makes a difference, right?

That's the reality of the search engine business. It certainly helps to be better than everyone else at search, but it is no where near the primary driver of market share.


Reading your comments, I am experiencing some cognitive dissonance. On one hand, you write very convincingly, and seem to have access to data showing that you are right.

On the other hand, my personal experience just tells me that you are wrong. Like the other commenters, I distinctly remember just how much better Google's search was back in the days. And I must be one of those cited 10%-30% of users that try to switch search engines, as in recent years I have tried twice to switch to DuckDuckGo for privacy reasons. Both times I had to return to Google because DuckDuckGo's results were just too bad (for me).

Perhaps you are right, and it is just an illusion that Google search results are better. But intuition and Occam's razor tells me that most likely it's just still the best general search engine.

One example supporting that theory is the fact that users have discovered that other search engines, first Bing, and now Yandex, are better suited for specific types of content, and are indeed using those search engines when searching for that type of content. This goes counter to your claim that users don't switch search engines even when there is a difference in search result quality.


If it helps, I was just as surprised by the results at the time. ;-)

DuckDuckGo is working at a significant disadvantage as compared to Google. For starters, they have significantly smaller market share. This is no longer like the days of yore when the market was much more fragmented. Google's market share is roughly 18x larger than DDG's. That means they get far less behavioural data to inform their ranking algorithm. That also dramatically impacts the amount of revenue they can feed in to the engine (and the impact isn't linear, as I mentioned elsewhere). Then add on that their privacy efforts mean they are deliberately blinding themselves to much of the data that can be used to tune a search engine. It'd be amazing if their result quality was better.

Again, it wasn't an illusion that Google's search results were better, particularly whenever people switched (which mostly happened long before Google gained a dominant market share). I would argue that even with comparable technology, today Google has an overwhelming advantage over competitors. I'd be surprised if it weren't absolutely the best at least amongst any of the alternatives that most people would even consider. That's just not how they got most of their market share.

The illusion is that technical advantages were the primary driver of Google's success in the search engine market, and that Google has consistently been the best search engine in the market. The former is just clearly not true (the AOL deal alone helped them way more than any subsequent technical innovations), and the latter flies against the evidence that at the very least during height of the search engine wars, result relevance was very competitive.


Thanks for the detailed reply.

> Long before Google became such a dominant player, competing search engines had matched or exceeded its quality, compute cost, and ability to scale.

Could you say more about this? I wasn't involved, but my recollection is that Google pioneered using a zillion low-cost nodes for search. E.g., I remember that AltaVista was using a big iron approach partly as a way of showing off DEC's wares. I can believe everybody had to try to keep up, but I am skeptical that Google slowed down enough for everybody else to catch up and/or surpass them.


> Could you say more about this? I wasn't involved, but my recollection is that Google pioneered using a zillion low-cost nodes for search. E.g., I remember that AltaVista was using a big iron approach partly as a way of showing off DEC's wares. I can believe everybody had to try to keep up, but I am skeptical that Google slowed down enough for everybody else to catch up and/or surpass them.

It's the nature of innovation that something that puts you ahead doesn't create a sustainable advantage (e.g. AltaVista as you highlighted), and there tends to be some marginal advantage for second movers of having the benefit of hindsight. I don't know that anyone knows the why of how this played out in Google's case, basically no one is privy to all the information about each search engine's operations, and to the extent they do, they likely cannot share what they know.

Certainly, on the cost side, Google's approach wasn't entirely novel in the sense that there was a lot of expertise already out there on how to run low-cost nodes at scale. Reverse indexes are actually a pretty "embarrassingly parallel" problem, and Page Rank style algorithms don't really make it much more difficult. In short: once Google demonstrated the value of the approach, it was pretty easy to figure out how to implement it. Google certainly continued to innovate on their data center designs, but if anything were at a disadvantage in terms of rolling it out because they already had a substantial investment in their existing designs that were working pretty well for them. There were also startups like FAST (AllTheWeb) that sprung up after Google and were able to leapfrog Google much as Google leapfrogged its competitors.

In terms of relevancy, we did do double-blind style evaluations of the relevancy of search engines as well as of the consumer behaviour with search engines. What we found was that by 2004-2006, search engine competitors had largely closed the relevancy gap, and in some cases reliably exceeded Google. What we also found though was that it largely didn't matter. Even when presented with terrible results, most of the population would not switch search engines. Indeed, most of the growth in market share amongst search engines came through distribution deals where users would be presented with a search engine as the default.

Now, that's not to say that people didn't switch because they found a search engine to be better. They absolutely did.. but only 10-30% of the users would ever engage in switching behaviour for any reason. Getting those users certainly would help you, but the vast majority of the market was driven by other factors.


> It seems to me that by 2008, there were fewer easy innovations lying around to make. Or if there were, Google was well prepared to match them.

Except for privacy-centric search. This is what DuckDuckGo has capitalized on and it's worked out for them. Neither Microsoft with Bing nor Yahoo was able to see this as a niche to compete.


I never understood why Yahoo got so wrapped around the axle with the search engine business. I used to use Yahoo a lot to start my web browsing and I liked the fact that it wasn't a search engine. They provided broad categories that you could click on and you could keep drilling down to more specific categories until you found relevant websites. Not always the best way to search the web but it was great when you didn't know exactly what you are looking for. They could have easily continued to categorize and curate the web that way and provided a nice alternative to search engines, especially for non-power users. In addition to that Yahoo had so many successful components back in the day that had they spent even a modicum of money and development effort they would have continued to be a significant force on the web. Things like Yahoo Travel and Yahoo Groups still don't have a decent alternative these days. I still mourn the loss of some Yahoo Groups I used to participate in. Yahoo Finance was once one of the best places on the internet to research stocks and investments. Yahoo Mail was ahead of Gmail for many years and only through years of neglect finally let everyone else catch up, their lack of spam filtering was what finally killed my Yahoo mail account for me. Yahoo Briefcase could've been Dropbox or Google Drive 10 years before Dropbox existed. Heck Yahoo even had news aggregation years before Google did. Yahoo dominated fantasy football for many years. The fact that they couldn't grow and monetize any or all of these successful components was simply due to a complete lack of vision and leadership.

One sad niche they missed was fantasy sports. Yahoo fantasy leagues were great, with configurable rules and such.

Now fantasy is a big business and deeply tied to legalized sports gambling. That could have been worth hundreds of millions in revenue for Yahoo.


Yahoo does tie in through those platforms now to do sports gambling. And it's a top property for fantasy leagues, especially to those of us in dynasty leagues. (They did blow a lot of their lead though)

It's even in their original acronym "Yahoo = yet another hierarchical officious oracle".

Hierarchical is exactly what you're describing and I remember using that a lot in the early days.


Don’t forget Flickr which they pretty much ran into the ground

When YouTube launched and Flickr refused to do video was pretty interesting too. Small decision and might not have worked but who knows...

Honestly 'search engine' was all the rage, to keep a business around curated finite lists was probably near suicide in most CEOs mind.

IIRC, Yahoo didn't have search tech until they bought Inktomi. They outsourced their search to Inktomi in the 90s, then to Google in 2000. It was only after Yahoo bought Inktomi that they brought it in house (can't remember timeline of switching off Google).

https://www.cnet.com/news/yahoo-to-acquire-inktomi/

Yahoo was also a major shareholder in Google because of those agreements/investments and cross-licensing Overture patents.

https://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/10/business/technology-googl...


Even if you worked there, you may not have been aware of the fact that Yahoo already had an investment in a still small, but exponentially growing ecommerce startup in China, or that part of the reason the deal fell apart was because of a difference in opinion over how to value that asset.

I seem to remember the stake in Alibaba was worth a huge proportion of the valuation at the time. I didn’t know the deal fell apart because of that, I was just under the impression Yahoo’s board and Jerry didn’t want to sell to 2008 Microsoft.

Was there an understanding in 2008 that Yahoo... couldn't just "be Yahoo" going forward without falling behind / fading away and would have to really change dramaticly?

I ask because it seemed like there were attempts but they were sort of fits and starts and meanwhile most of Yahoo still seemed like just old Yahoo...

It does seem like a continuous failure in leadership at Yahoo to really change much at all. There were sort of psudo attempts to do other things (be a media company I guess) but they never came to much.


No, in 2008 Yahoo was already seen as a failed company.

The biggest mistake they did in the late 90's is to stop being a tech company and be a "media company" instead.

So in 2008 they were still big but mostly running on momentum they built during the 90's and a couple acquisitions. They had Yahoo!Mail that was popular, their homepage was still popular because some people forgot to try something different, Flickr that they bought and was the most successful photo sharing website until the got overtaken by general purpose social networks, and Yahoo!Japan that was hugely popular but was a joint venture with Softbank. Maybe some other stuff I'm forgetting... But they didn't have anything that made people dream.

Right before 2008 they tried to join the social bandwagon with a horizontal social network across their properties, but it failed just like when Google tried to do the same a couple of years later with Google+.

However, as much as Yahoo was seen as a failed company, Microsoft didn't get their Nadella rebirth yet. It was still an old evil outdated company, run by Balmer, mocking the iPhone and claiming their Windows CE phones with their tiny start button and stylus were better.

So Microsoft didn't look super sexy either. It really looked like 2 losers trying to band together to fight the cool winner that Google was.


I agree with this analysis, pretty spot on. Working there at the time there was still potential with the right leadership to turn it around. Unfortunately that never happened, instead we got Carol Bartz to destroy any remaining morale at the company.

Yeah that's a valid point about MS, they were healthier as far as having products and income but ... weren't at that point yet reborn / looking for their own way forward.

pg wrote the famous "What happened to Yahoo?" article in 2010: http://paulgraham.com/yahoo.html

The answer to the puzzle is that the rule about fiduciary duty really is only relevant to who the beneficiaries are of financial transactions; it pretty much does not have anything to say about regular business decisions. No doubt some shareholders contacted their lawyers and were gently dissuaded by a legal reality check.


Shareholders did sue, and the threat of the lawsuit meant the board had to devote a lot of energy towards the Microsoft acquisition offer, which was unfortunately why the offer was a win-win for Microsoft.

I checked, and not only did they sue but they reached a settlement, in Delaware of all places, the state least friendly to these kinds of claims.

But the settlement had nothing to do with Yahoo failing to reach an agreement with Microsoft; it was to weaken a poison pill Yahoo had put into place that meant employees would get expensive severances in the event of a takeover. This kind of financial measure is bread-and-butter for corporate fiduciary law, and it doesn't contradict what I said.

https://www.zdnet.com/article/yahoo-settles-shareholder-suit...


In fairness, that was the legal claim that they thought had the best chance of succeeding. That option for a poison pill had been in the arsenal pretty much since the company was formed. They sued because Yahoo failed to accept the agreement.

Shareholders did great holding onto Yahoo! stock, as it’s Alibaba holdings would perform magnificently.


I could be wrong, but I don't think that was enough to push it back above the 44.6B valuation.


The Alibaba and Yahoo Japan stakes Yahoo got were selling half of Alibaba stake for $8B in 2012 and $40B remaining in 2019. They sold Yahoo Japan shares for $4B in 2019. Microsoft would have had no need to sell the 2012 stake at the time. They could have possibly doubled their money.

Oh, certainly if YHOO or MSFT had retained the Alibaba stake it would have been worth it.

It looks like YHOO shares never went back above $45B, though: https://www.businessinsider.com/yahoo-market-cap-over-time-2...


The market was not valuing Yahoo fairly for most of its life as Yahoo for the company name after this.

So when Yahoo’s remains changed to Altaba after selling that $4.5B Yahoo namesake and Yahoo Japan for $4B+ soon after, it was still a nearly $40B market cap company. Almost all of it being 16% of Alibaba.


Yahoo used to have a 15% stake in Alibaba. Alibaba’s market cap today is ~643B according to (ironically) Yahoo Finance.

Edit: Apparently they used to hold 30%, but sold half of that for peanuts in 2012.


Jack Ma refused to take Alibaba public until Yahoo sold half of its stake back to him (for peanuts).

Carol Bartz really screwed Yahoo over in its dealing with Alibaba. Yahoo had 2 seats on the 5-seat board of directors and Bartz couldn't be bothered to appoint directors to those. When she became CEO, Jack came to meet her and she dressed him down in front of his underlings: a big slap in the face to Jack. These two incidents made sure that he was as uncooperative as could be. He took Alipay out from under Yahoo and never informed Bartz.

Whatever you may say about Marissa Mayer, when she became CEO her first priority was to fix the broken relationship between Alibaba and Yahoo. She smoothed things over, and Jack let Yahoo keep the 15% stake, instead of asking for all of it back. She made Yahoo many billions with her moves.


Also, IIRC, Yahoo Japan is basically another entity and way bigger than all of Yahoo global, in which Yahoo had a stake in as well.

   Pure Harvard Business School spreadsheet stuff.
Business degrees might be destroying the nation.

All we need is a peer reviewed study proving it.


I agree it was stupid for Yahoo to not go to Microsoft at the time. Maybe Microsoft and Yahoo search and ads would be stronger today. Pushing against Google and FB more. But it doesn’t appear bad enough for a valid lawsuit considering Yahoo got more than $45B back since 2008.

Yahoo sold half of the Alibaba stake for $8B and $40B in 2012 and 2019. Yahoo Japan stake for $4B in 2019. And Yahoo itself for $4-5B around that time.

Of course the people who would have taken Microsoft stock would’ve made a lot if they held on through 2013, 2014. Microsoft stock was 10x less in 2008 and rose 50% before the end of 2014. The shareholders who would’ve taken cash wouldn’t have been better off without knowing how that cash would be used.


> She made it very clear the equation for success was money spent === great search engine results, ignoring how Google came into being in the first place.

There's nothing inconsistent with the idea that a decade after Google established its extremely strong monopoly position in the search market, the barriers to entry, and the way to achieve success in the now established market are completely different than they were before Google achieved that monopoly and the market was as mature.


That might be true except everyone thought the results were the as good as Google if you rebranded Bing or Yahoo! SERPs with Google branding, layout and style. So might be worth thinking about how marketing affected Google’s success.

> I worked at Yahoo! when this was going on

As did I

> I'm amazed share holders didn't sure Jerry Yang and the board for avoiding the sale.

There was a lawsuit: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/yahoo-settles-lawsuits...

> Yahoo had very little of technological value and was actively trying to destroy its own search business amongst other properties at the time.

I'm not sure what you are referring to there. There was a lot of investment going on in search at the time. Certainly, critics (including me) felt it was maybe not the right investment, but "actively trying to destroy its own search business" doesn't ring true.

> They really were in a prime position and bungled it extremely badly, I think they had maybe 20% of the search market at the time.

20% market share was unfortunately, a very weak position that was deteriorating pretty rapidly. The network effect ensured that the search business would continue to reward the dominant player dramatically more so than the smaller players, even if the smaller players had a technically superior product, which was what Bartz was getting at.

"She made it very clear the equation for success was money spent === great search engine results, ignoring how Google came into being in the first place."

That's not ignoring how Google came into being, and the "money spent === great search engine results" isn't exactly what she said either. There's a reality that the business had evolved (not accidentally) to the point where barriers to entry were increasingly higher and more costly and the rewards disproportionately went to the dominant players. It is typical Harvard Business School stuff, because it's not at all an unusual circumstance in business.

> It still feels like a wasted opportunity to me, it seems so weak to just throw your hands up in the air and say it’s too hard to make your extremely successful search engine better.

If you'll recall, they made the engine better; it didn't matter. Less than a quarter of the market would switch to another engine even if you gave them absolutely the worst results, and smaller differences in search quality impacted the behaviour of less than 10% of the market. Hell, there was still a ton of traffic going to Alta Vista despite that engine no longer being different from Yahoo's. Meanwhile the advertisers hugely favoured larger market share, and the consequently more efficient market yielded huge marginal rewards in terms of quality and profit. The search engine battle had largely already been lost by then; it was largely lost several years prior (arguably as far back as Google's AOL deal). The opportunity wasn't "wasted": they'd thrown pretty much everything at it, and come up short.

To this day, Google still has a dominant market share, despite a plethora of would be competitors. Sure, there is a possibility for a market disruption to change the game, but in a decade and a half, that has yet to emerge, so if you'd bet on game changing disruption in 2008 (and many investors did), from an investor's perspective, you'd have lost that bet.


I’m a bit confused at what Bartz’ strategy was? If she deinvested in search, where did she expect Yahoo to succeed over Google?

It's almost like there are more ways to make money than search. ;-)

Bartz really wasn't there long enough to execute on a strategy, but her point was that the opportunity cost of continuing to try to win the search engine wars was far greater than the likely value of the investment.

At least from a historical perspective she was right. Alibaba, social media, mobile, games, content, etc. All of those spaces had lots of opportunity for the right moves.


> Bartz really wasn't there long enough to execute on a strategy, but her point was that the opportunity cost of continuing to try to win the search engine wars was far greater than the likely value of the investment.

True, but don’t you kind of have to win at something to retain users?

It’s just unclear to me where they wanted to invest the freed money.


Is 21 months not enough time to execute on a strategy?

At such a large company? Not really. You can certainly start execution of a strategy, and she did, but it takes a long time to turn such a big boat and fully realize a strategic vision.

If she was doing so well with this vision (mobile/games/social something) why did she only last 21 months? Which products did she launch?

I didn't suggest she was "doing so well with this vision". If anything, I was pointing out that it'd be hard to know if the company would be "doing well" with her vision, given the limited time window.

It was a short stint, and my memory is dull, so I can't remember which products were launched under her watch, but that's the wrong measure in first place (indeed, this was the company from which the Peanut Butter Manifesto sprang). There's really not a lot of question about her changing a lot of things at the company though. I found this article talking about the impact she had after the first four months: https://www.reuters.com/article/stocksAndSharesNews/idUKLNE5...


I think it was in no small part about selling ads on Yahoo-owned media or through a Yahoo ad network.

Isn’t that what Google was doing?

It's been a long time but I seem to recall Yahoo's approach being decidedly old school. They were trying to create or buy must-read and must-watch content to sell ads against. The marketing message was that at Yahoo.com you will find all the news and entertainment you could ever need!

Google is doing that (particularly with YouTube), as is everyone else. I don't think they break down the search vs. other ad business any more, but at last check it was still the biggest single source of revenue for the company (admittedly, I believe YouTube and adsense collectively generate more revenue for them now, but both of these are primarily showing ads on other people's content).

Ah ok, so her strategy was to pull out on search, but focus on higher quality/yield ads?

It still seems like a bit of a losing strategy as I don’t see any reason for people to stay with Yahoo.


Yahoo at the time was #1 in a number of categories, including fantasy sports, finance, etc. In other areas they were #2 and the marginal value of being #1 vs. #2 wasn't nearly as great as in search. The focus wasn't so much higher quality/yield ads (I mean, that was there, but everyone was always looking for that), but investing in other kinds of online services that would get a better ROI.

Having 20% of a gazillion dollar business is still zillions of dollars.

I bought some Yahoo stock thinking Meyers was going to turn it around, but nope.


Many commenters seem to be under the impression that Yahoo was later sold for a mere $5B to Verizon, but this is not the case.

MSFT's bid was for Yahoo including its stake in Alibaba, which had a far greater value than the parent company itself. The Verizon deal did NOT include the stake in Alibaba. This was spun off as a separate company Altaba under the ticker AABA. (edit: I should be more precise. This is why yahoo was spun off and sold. AABA is the remainder of the company, and retained the majority of the value. I heard previous plans to spin off the stake in Alibaba weren't workable due to issues around triggering a taxable event.)

AABA's spinoff accounts for the large value discrepancy. Poorly written news articles portrayed this as losing out on a great deal but this simply was not the case.

https://www.marketcaphistory.com/aaba/


The years from 2006 to 2010 gave rise to today's BigTech.

Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Google were pioneers in the data-centers space. Amazon was only beginning to turn-up the heat. In retrospect, given the engineering talent and expertise at Y! at the time, it is a shame that in light of AWS' success they did not invest in Infrastructure-as-a-Service when their "web services" org was already churning out a range of tools and services on top of SOAP / REST. I mean, the Apache Hadoop ecosystem was mostly Yahoo!

As an outside observer, I think, with any luck, cloud computing could have saved Y!'s bacon, even as a late entrant (MSFT re-launched Azure in 2010). Y!'s focus on being a Media house now seems like a bad bet, which could have worked had they snapped Facebook for $1B.

Microsoft struggled with its initial "Red Dog" / "Windows Azure" release in 2008, too; so much so that parts of the company were EC2 customers back in the day.

I think this goes to show how stars had to align for AWS to stay a market leader as they started from a position of disadvantage (and needed a decade of exponential growth to consolidate only to contend with unrelenting competition from Azure), in face of companies that were are no slouches in terms of ability and product innovation, either. For Google though, around the same time Y! was floundering, their acquisitions and execution with Android, YouTube, and Chrome (I like to say Chrome was acquired because Google literally hired lead Firefox engineers to build it) ensured their relevance in the decade to come.

No wonder the folks who ran AWS, Azure, and Android/Chrome ended up as the eventual CEOs of their respective trillion-dollar mother-ships; whilst Y! has bitten the dust.


It's a huge missed opportunity, given the amount of datacenter capacity they had, not to mention standardizing on BSD. With BSD's concept of jails, virtualization was way easier - and this was a decade+ before Docker.

> Cloud computing could have saved Y!'s bacon, even as a late entrant (MSFT re-launched Azure in 2010)

MSFT could rely on a large enterprise-focused sales team with existing relationships with CIOs. Y! would not have had that luxury.


I mean, Amazon was an e-commerce company. There's a credible argument to be made that better tech won customers first.

Maybe I remember it wrong but even in 2008 I felt that there was at that point some question of what ... Yahoo was / would be.

IIRC Yahoo at that point was a big name that wasn't irrelevant, but whatever they would be in the future seemed like it would have be be akin to creating new product(s) / company / sea change type move.

It was hard to imagine them becoming worth 66% more anytime near that time (even without hindsight).


Microsoft was try to buy market share in the search engine. This is when they were making a play for Bing to be a market contender in Search. We don’t know what would have happened if Bing had 20% market share out the gate, as well as access to Yahoo expertise/tech. A significant share of Search today would be worth significantly l more than $44B, and this deal would have been a fair gambit for Microsoft to make.

It was a very good offer, but it wasn’t enough for Yahoo to sell. Perhaps a larger offer would have helped, but I think Yahoo had an inflated opinion of their own worth.


I just don't know what Yahoo... ever thought it would be.

It felt like a company that had success, and then never could find a way out of being old Yahoo while the world changed around them.


This story was a saga in 2008. (The related news today, of course, is Verizon Sells AOL and Yahoo to Apollo for $5B - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27024118).

Microsoft eyeing Yahoo (buyout) deal! - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19336 - May 2007 (25 comments)

Microsoft offers to buy Yahoo in $44.6 billion deal - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=107770 - Feb 2008 (3 comments)

Microsoft bids $44.6 billion for Yahoo - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=107771 - Feb 2008 (80 comments)

WOW. Microsoft Offers $44.6 Billion To Acquire Yahoo - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=107772 - Feb 2008 (2 comments)

Open-source silver lining in Microsoft's wedding vow to Yahoo? - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=107874 - Feb 2008 (4 comments)

Yahoo-Microsoft merger bad news for startups? - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=108099 - Feb 2008 (4 comments)

Source: Yahoo employees say "there is no way in hell that we are going to work for Microsoft." - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=108391 - Feb 2008 (6 comments)

Non-obvious winners and losers in Microsoft Yahoo Deal - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=108531 - Feb 2008 (1 comment)

Why Microsoft Acquiring Yahoo Could Suck For Everybody - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=108769 - Feb 2008 (7 comments)

Google's Chief Legal Officer on Microsoft's acquisition of Yahoo - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=108824 - Feb 2008 (5 comments)

Why Yahoo Should Say Yes To Microsoft - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=108873 - Feb 2008 (8 comments)

Google Offers to Help Yahoo Fight Off Microsoft - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=108949 - Feb 2008 (2 comments)

Google works to torpedo Microsoft bid for Yahoo - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=109346 - Feb 2008 (4 comments)

Silicon Valley after a Microsoft/Yahoo merger: a contrarian view - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=109612 - Feb 2008 (12 comments)

Redeye VC: Microsoft/Yahoo - let the exodus begin - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=110366 - Feb 2008 (8 comments)

Microsoft Adversary Rises Instinctively at Yahoo Bid - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=110392 - Feb 2008 (1 comment)

Microsoft Bid for Yahoo Drops To $29.50 a Share - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=110584 - Feb 2008 (1 comment)

My Opinion: Google wants Microsoft to buy Yahoo - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=112444 - Feb 2008 (3 comments)

Yahoo Board To Reject Microsoft Offer - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=112749 - Feb 2008 (44 comments)

Microsoft is 2000 times less effective than Google; Yahoo Board seems to be insane - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=112841 - Feb 2008 (17 comments)

Yahoo protects employees in case of Microsoft takeover - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=120372 - Feb 2008 (6 comments)

Yahoo sued for spurning Microsoft - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=122047 - Feb 2008 (19 comments)

Microsoft: Yahoo! has 3 weeks to decide - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=155833 - April 2008 (7 comments)

Yahoo tells Microsoft to increase $41B bid - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=156836 - April 2008 (10 comments)

The Yahoo!/Microsoft chess match continues: Yahoo! enters trial partnership with Google - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=159294 - April 2008 (6 comments)

Microsoft Said to Be Talking With News Corporation About Joint Yahoo Bid - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=159493 - April 2008 (3 comments)

Pmarca: If Microsoft goes fully hostile on Yahoo - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=175477 - April 2008 (27 comments)

Microsoft Says They’ll Pay More, increasing Yahoo! bid to as much as $33/share (from $31/share) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=177816 - April 2008 (3 comments)

Microsoft Withdraws Yahoo Bid; Walks Away From Deal - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=180517 - May 2008 (58 comments)

Yahoo shares fall 19.7 pct as Microsoft withdraws $44B bid - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=181422 - May 2008 (5 comments)

How Yahoo Blew the Microsoft Deal: Part 1 - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=181885 - May 2008 (1 comment)

Battered Yahoo Admits It Overplayed Hand; Open To New Microsoft Talks - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=182085 - May 2008 (36 comments)

Why isn't anyone writing about Yahoo's amazing stock gains and Microsoft's plunge? - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=182259 - May 2008 (5 comments)

Yahoo, Microsoft Back At The Table - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=193615 - May 2008 (10 comments)

Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook: War of the Worlds II - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=194101 - May 2008 (2 comments)

What Yahoo doesn’t want you to know about the Microsoft deal - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=208276 - June 2008 (2 comments)

Why Yahoo Passed On Microsoft's Search Deal (New Details!) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=217178 - June 2008 (1 comment)

Microsoft Signals It Would Rather Talk To An Icahn-Controlled Yahoo - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=238583 - July 2008 (3 comments)

Yahoo spurns Microsoft again as blood boils - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=245059 - July 2008 (4 comments)

Yahoo tells Microsoft: 'Buy us' - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=355531 - Nov 2008 (19 comments)

Microsoft rules out Yahoo acquisition (again) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=356526 - Nov 2008 (4 comments)

Why Microsoft Should Bid Again — and Yahoo Should Accept - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=369671 - Nov 2008 (1 comment)

Microsoft Poaches Yahoo's Top Search Engineer; "the end of Yahoo search." - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=369908 - Nov 2008 (21 comments)

Why Microsoft should forget about Yahoo and buy Palm - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=442003 - Jan 2009 (18 comments)

Microsoft-Yahoo Deal Struck, Will Be Announced Within Next 24 Hours - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=729152 - July 2009 (22 comments)

Microsoft and Yahoo Reach Agreement on Search - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=729823 - July 2009 (24 comments)

Microsoft looking to buy Yahoo again - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3270790 - Nov 2011 (38 comments)

Yahoo Shares Top $31, The Price Microsoft Offered In 2008 - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6414838 - Sept 2013 (49 comments)


It's amazing how much the internet has changed in just 13 years. Makes me wonder if the tech giants of today will become irrelevant by 2030s or we're past the point where the giants are rich enough to just buy up anything with potential while their original products fade into obscurity.


If anything it's more amazing how much it hasn't changed lately. The early days were a wild west full of market share battles and failed startups/ideas. Now the market appears mature with a few companies with strangleholds on it until perhaps a technological sea change catches them off guard.


If you look back a decade, things haven’t changed that much.

Facebook was public, growing, had figured out mobile and had already acquired Instagram. It was by far the top social media company.

Amazon had taken over online retail. It was already a behemoth. AWS was in its infancy, but it was growing.

Apple was already the most valuable company in the US.

Microsoft had been one of the top 10 most valuable companies for a decade.

Google was already a behemoth when it came to search. YouTube was massive and Android had just started gaining traction.

Out of the top five companies, Google is the only one that hasn’t been able to pivot or diversify. The rest of the companies have been able to learn from the mistakes of the previous generation.

In the case of Apple and Microsoft. They have both been around for 35+ years. Microsoft wrote the first version of the embedded AppleSoft Basic interpreter for Apple //e’s in 1980.


Google is well diversified. You even mentioned Youtube and Android. GCP isn't at the top but it's huge. Google docs/business suite is taking over, it's the goto for startups. They have a mobile carrier business. Self driving cars (although its dropping in valuation but they do have a large stake in Uber). Google is now Alphabet which it restructured into because of its diversification.

Small nit: FB wasnt public 10yrs ago but your point is valid either way.


Google is well diversified in its business endeavors but hasn't been capitalize on that for a better diversified revenue stream.

How else do you measure whether it is successfully diversifying if not by revenue or more importantly profitability?

Contrast Google with Apple. Even though the iPhone is 60% of Apple’s business, last time I checked, the Mac business alone would put its revenue well within the top 100 companies.


That was my point - that Google isn’t ACTUALLY well diversified compared to its contemporaries.

According to public records that came out during the Oracle lawsuit, Android had only made $22 billion in profit from its inception through the time of discovery (2016). Which is really nothing overall.

https://www.theverge.com/2016/1/21/10810834/android-generate...

On the other hand, it’s reported that Google pays Apple $12 billion a year to be the default search engine on Apple devices.

Apple makes a lot more from Google on mobile than Google makes from Android.

Andy Jassy, the CEO of AWS, has said in plenty of public statements that only 4% of all enterprise IT spend is on any cloud provider. GCP is in a distant third.


Youtube is a net loss and GCP has a 4.6% market share so I wouldn't really count this as diversified since very little of their overall revenue comes out of these two projects?

Google docs / business is interesting but I'm not sure they make much money out of it and are scatting on the freemium tier success.


YouTube is a net loss ? Where is that coming from ? It brought in $6BN revenue just in Q1 [1].

[1] https://abc.xyz/investor/static/pdf/2021Q1_alphabet_earnings...


“Revenue” is not the same as “profit”

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/03/google-still-isnt-telling-us...


The question stands: Where is the "net loss" statement coming from ?

Whether it’s a net loss or barely profitable, it still doesn’t move the needle as far as Google’s income.

Even if it did - it is still mostly search advertising. That’s not diversification.


Where does the doubt about its profitability come from?

From most analysts. Once they pay creators, bandwidth and storage.

Search revenue was $31,879 billion in Q1 and YT revenue was $6,005 billion. It doesn't seem like you're paying attention.

You’re still conflating “profit” with “revenue”. No one is doubting that YouTube’s revenue is substantial. There is doubt that it’s profit is substantial. If it isn’t contributing any meaningful profit to Google’s bottom line, it isn’t successful.

Would you say that Uber, Lyft, Spotify, and Tesla are all unsuccessful companies?

Is this really a serious question? The success of a for profit company is defined by “profitability”.

Spotify - like Jobs said about DropBox, they are a feature not a product. Most of their revenue goes back to the record labels. Their gross margins are slim

Uber - is losing billions and it’s unit economics isn’t good.

Lyft - See Uber

Tesla - it’s “profits” aren’t from selling cars.

https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/31/investing/tesla-profitability...


It was indeed a serious question. Thank you for your answer.

I disagree with the notion that the success of a for-profit company is solely defined as "profitability". Factors such as growth or value are also often cited as success criteria. I couldn't find literature supporting your statement that profitability is the only measure of company success.

Intuitively, it also seems wrong to me to claim that a children's lemonade stand netting $10 in profit is a more successful business than Tesla.


How can a company be sustainable if it continuously loses more money than it brings in?

If I sold a bunch of dollars for 95 cents, my revenue would be astronomical. But does that make it a sound business model?

Which is a better business model? An Indy writer with 3000+ people charging $100 a year for a newsletter (Ben Thompson/Stratechery) or a multi million dollar news organization employing dozens of people with higher revenue losing millions per quarter?


The startup model is all about exponential increase of the user base. For example, Amazon was running at little to zero profit until 2015 [1]. Google and Facebook added ads years after they became extremely popular.

What you're saying makes perfect sense to me though.

[1] https://www.macrotrends.net/stocks/charts/AMZN/amazon/net-in...


Once you go public, you can no longer call yourself a “startup”. All of the companies mentioned were public.

Facebook was profitable before they went public. The main reason they went public if I remember correctly, is because they had more than 500 shareholders and it made it more difficult to stay private.

As far as Amazon, Amazon wasn’t GAAP profitable. But it did have positive cash flow and was investing in infrastructure. The companies mentioned above have very slim to no marginal profit. They are literally selling dollars for 95 cents.



Except for Amazon, that would still be extremely successful without AWS, the others had their original business model disrupted.

So far Google still have a stronghold on search, they've been able to secure it with Android and Chrome by controlling the devices, they seem to be doing fine.


Android (profit of $23 billion from 2010-2016) hasn’t really done that great for Google. They still have to pay Apple a reported $12 billion a year+ to be the default search engine for iOS devices.

Apple’s business model has always been to sell “computers” at high margins. They had record Mac revenues last quarter. All of their other devices are just computers with different form factors running a variant of the same OS, most with a variant of the same processor.

Office and Windows have been the main driver for MS for over 25 years.


A primary benefit of Android is that Google is allowed to put their search engine on Android mobile devices for close to free instead of multiple billions of dollars.

If Apple customers are the most affluent and are worth at least $12 billion a year to Google, how much are the statistically less affluent Android users really worth?

How much are customers buying $200 phones worth to advertisers compared to customers paying 3 times as much?

Google also has to pay third party Android OEMs a share of search revenue.


I would imagine a lot of it is mindshare. Apple is trendy and had already called their bluff once and made Bing the default search engine for a time.

Google pays Apple to make Google the search engine on the iPhone for the same reason that Coca Cola and Anheiseur-Busch spend tens of millions per year on 30 second spots during the Super Bowl.


That summer my girlfriend at the time and I were laughing at the different combinations of possible combined companies. Yahoogle was one. This one would have been Microhoo


Late 90's joke: Yahoo and Netscape are going to merge and move their headquarters to Israel: Net'n'Yahoo


WordPerfect bought a little company I worked for, "SoftSolutions". Then Novell bought WordPerfect.

The combined company? NoPerfectSolutions


Microsoft to combine its handheld (Compact Edition), desktop (Millennium Edition), and server software (Windows NT) into one release:

Microsoft CEMENT


one-man co outlasted the two big techs!

Mobil + Chevron => Moron

at the time Yahoo owned something like 30% of Alibaba, which, today, would be worth maybe $200B.


As far as I know its Alibaba stock got split off into its own company (Altaba)


Yes, but that happened after the MS bid.


That's funny, this fact completely changes the perception of this entire thread.

44.6B would've been a great investment then


Back in 2000, Telefonica bought Lycos for 12,5B$... A few years later were sold again for a few millions


The owners of the Danish Yahoo clone Jubii got rich by selling to Lycos, who sold it back to a Danish media company. It’s now owned by a Norweigen company. With each sale the site loses value.


2013: Yahoo buys Tumblr for $1.1B.

2017: Verizon buys Yahoo for $4.8B.

2019: Verizon sells Tumblr to Automattic for reportedly <$3M.


> Yahoo would give Microsoft dominance in Web banner ads used by corporate brand advertisers

Wow for some reason I believed that by 2008 Google was already the dominant online ads player


This was around when Google bought DoubleClick.

A good podcast episode on it: https://share.transistor.fm/s/66bcbec6


I'd have to peg that purchase as the inflection point turning away from "don't be evil."

I worked at Yahoo during this time. I said at the time it was so dumb for Microsoft to be wasting so much money on Yahoo and instead they should have bought massive holdings in almost every Silicon Valley company for that money, including Facebook (I think they did invest a little in Facebook). Had they done that instead they would have been worth multiple trillions now.

They really avoided a huge disaster by walking away from Yahoo, so I applaud them.


> They really avoided a huge disaster by walking away from Yahoo, so I applaud them.

That offer included Yahoo's stake in Alibaba, which was split off after Microsoft's bid fell through. Yahoo owned 30% of Alibaba at the time. Alibaba's current market cap is north of $600 billion.


> Had they done that instead they would have been worth multiple trillions now.

They’re very close to being worth multiple trillions right now, their market cap is 5.44% shy of $2T


> “They have to do it because they’ve tried everything they can do to fix MSN. Yahoo is the most visited site in the world, so it goes without saying that, given the current valuation, this is the perfect time for them to buy it,” said Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.

13 years changes a lot.


>Verizon will get $4.25 billion in cash from the sale along with its 10% stake in the company. Verizon and Apollo said they expect the transaction to close in the second half of 2021.

Version paid $4.4 billion for AOL and $4.5 billion for Yahoo and now sell it for $4.25 billion w/10% stake. Am I missing something? why company (Version) just waste money like this?

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/03/verizon-sells-yahoo-and-aol-...


I worked for HuffPost (which was owned by Aol) at the time of the Verizon acquisition, and the story was that Verizon wanted to get deeper into the media and advertising game. It seemed dubious to many of us at the time. But I guess they probably felt they had to counter AT&T and Comcast.

>The strategy reflected a mindset that was once widely shared among the world’s biggest telecoms companies, which sought to benefit from an explosion in digital media consumption by becoming owners of content rather than mere network operators, or “dumb pipes”.

"Apollo buys Verizon media assets including Yahoo for $5bn"

https://on.ft.com/3uk5DMk

Paywalled, but link should be good for 3 visitors. I can post another if anyone is desperate to read.


Got a heart attack when I just saw the headline,thinking it was a latest news. That aside, it's crazy how things changed for Yahoo. If you really look at what transpired through their struggle to find a comfortable spot during all those period of acquisitions. They really failed to find a way to manage building existing products and integrating new ones.

Verizon sold Yahoo and AOL to Verizon for less than $5B today. The Hadoop ecosystem founded in Yahoo by Doug Cutting would probably cost a lot more than $5B in value today. I can’t wait to see how FAANG turns out in 10 years from now.

Let's not trivialize the value that was added to Hadoop from many other companies since its early Yahoo days.

(2008)


Somehow people miss that. Smh


Is this the best money Microsoft did NOT spend?


No. The Alibaba and Yahoo Japan stakes would have paid for the entire purchase while still having benefits and then some. Yahoo sold $8B of Alibaba in 2012 and $40B of the remaining in 2019. They sold Yahoo Japan shares for $4B. Microsoft would have had no need to sell the 2012 stake at the time. They could have possibly doubled their money.

Yahoo didn’t need to sell 8B of Alibaba. They renegotiated with Alibaba some to avoid them splintering off assets to avoid Yahoo owning 30% of them.

I’m aware. But not fully of all contexts.

Why did SoftBank sell far less? Why would a behemoth well run company like Microsoft fare the same as Yahoo vs Alibaba?

In parallel, why has Naspers never faced this issue?


Honestly it is pretty crazy how old Yahoo is and they are still hanging on.


But they aren’t hanging on, Yahoo! is owned by Verizon.

Why Verizon would buy a site like Yahoo is still a mystery to me, but they own a lot of other junk as well.


I think Verizon would buy Yahoo so they could further monetize their subscriber base.

Buy Yahoo.com, make Yahoo.com the default home page of every customer.

They do this in other ways - I'm a FIOS customer and I don't use their DNS because you will see ads anytime you mis-type a domain name. You can turn this off with their not-so-simple instructions that any Baby Boomer will be completely unable to do:

https://www.verizon.com/support/residential/internet/home-ne...


I would saying getting acquired by a PE firm is the opposite of "still hanging on." Verizon just let them flop around as their pond dried up. Now they're about to be eviscerated by professionals.

Yeah I still have yahoo.stanford.edu in an old bookmarks file.


Yahoo negotiates in Bizarro land rules.

Mourn Geocities

now back in the BABA stake


"Apollo to Buy Yahoo, AOL From Verizon for $5 Billion" from today's edition of WJS.


How could Yahoo possibly be worth that much money? It certainly not worthless, Yahoo still have great brand, nostalgic even. $5 Billion is a bit of a strech though.


Anecdotally, I use Yahoo Finance daily and Yahoo News (they have decent business stuff sometimes) a couple of times a week.

Yahoo Finance is a great product.


Yahoo Finance I could see be a successful stand-alone product/company. It's not a billion dollar company, but perhaps a $50+ million. Sadly I don't think many in Silicon Valley is interested in being an company of that size.

The sale also includes AOL, and brands like TechCrunch and Engadget.

Still not sure it adds up to $5 billion, though.


Perhaps the sites are only valuable as a bundle?

The brand value of both AOL and Yahoo has to add up to something, but TechCrunch and Engadget is most likely just thrown in for free to get rid of both sites.

On its own I believe that Yahoo Finans could be a profitable little site.


Techcrunch/Engadget came in to Verizon with AOL, and the media sites (well those that Verizon hasn't sold off seperately over the years) are a big part of the value bundle for Verizon Media. Having just the sites without the adtech business means you're losing money running the sites, having the adtech without the sites mean you don't have a guaranteed anchor inventory.

Yahoo still ranks very high on Alexa. At 11, it's above Wikipedia(12) and just one position below Amazon (10). Reddit is at 19. Microsoft is at 21

https://www.alexa.com/topsites


There are certainly sites that many assume must have totally faded away years ago that are still floating around.

The one that gets me is Second Life which was such a hot thing for an instant in time and is still, amazingly, around even though I haven't heard anyone mention it for years.


How is this possible when other reporting suggests that Yahoo just sold to Apollo for $5B?


By forgetting to add [2008] in the submission title.


Ah yes, that makes more sense now.




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