Technology companies can’t be all things to all people, but they can’t remain stagnant, either. Yahoo! began as a hand-made site, with the original surfers amassing information in a rudimentary way, in much the same sense that “computers” were once people, not machines. The erstwhile search giant was more a media company more than a technology one, though things didn’t have to stay that way. Jeff Bezos, after all, didn’t continue selling books from his garage. But the original ethos was never abandoned, and Yahoo! was lapped by other startups, most famously Google, which was started as an AI company.
In his excellent “Week in Tech” conversation with fellow New York Times reporter Mike Isaac, Farhad Manjoo sums up better than anyone else has the reason for the fall of the Filo-Yang outfit. An excerpt:
I think Yahoo’s failure offers one lesson above all for tech companies: Invest in technology. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s one place where Yahoo totally missed the boat from the beginning. It started out in the 1990s as a guide to the web that was created by human beings. In other words, from its very inception, Yahoo was more of a media company than a tech company. And that origin story infected its culture — sure, it had lots of engineers and acquired lots of innovative tech, but at its core Yahoo never really saw itself as a company whose mission was to invent the next big thing.
Notice how today’s tech behemoths — Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook — offer a completely different outlook on the world. Each of these companies regards software and hardware as their essential areas of expertise, the basis from which they can spin out into so many different areas that are far beyond their primary businesses.
Yahoo never really got that, and so, when the tech world changed, it failed.•