Yahoo Was a Search Company. The Original One.

By  |  Friday, August 7, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Yahoo LogoDo you remember the first time you searched the Web? I do. In vivid detail. It was in late October or early November of 1994, in a conference room at PC World. My friend Pete Loshin showed me a new site that he explained could find information on the Internet. I performed this query as a test, and was amazed by the results. Which probably amounted to all of ten or fifteen sites–but hey, we’re talking 1994.

The search site was, of course, Yahoo–the site that introduced the world to the idea of finding stuff on the Web, and prospered by doing so. So I’m puzzled (along with others) by new Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz’s statement to the New York Times that Yahoo has “never been a search company.”

Okay, I’m not completely surprised. Yahoo stopped being focused entirely on search pretty early on. It tended to outsource aspects of search to competitors such as AltaVista and, later, Google–and then it had its lunch eaten by Google. After a period of trying to build its own world-class search engine, it’s now decided to outsource the whole shebang to Microsoft for the next decade. Yahoo’s future, clearly, is not about search–and I guess it’s convenient to maintain that its past wasn’t, either.

But I can’t believe I’m the only person who became entranced by the early Web in part because early Yahoo was so amazing who’s saddened to see the company keep its own roots at arm’s length, as it were. Here’s the Yahoo I remember–except this version is from 1996, so the one I visited in 1994 would have been even cruder.

Old Yahoo



15 Comments For This Post

  1. no Says:

    Yahoo! is the website your mom uses because it’s the default on her browser or someone in her knitting circle once showed it to her. For the rest of the world, it’s just a kludgy, sloppy, jumbled mess of everything and nothing. I can get webmail, crappy flash games, AP news stories, forums, searching, and shopping done elsewhere and each of them done much better than Yahoo!

    Frankly, I’m surprised the dorm-room hand-indexing startup still exists at all.

  2. Stilgar Says:

    I don’t think I heard of Yahoo! until 1996-ish. The first search engine I remember using (1994) was Lycos. Before that it was a lot of guessing. “Hmm, I wonder if IBM has a Web site? Yep.” It was surprising who did and didn’t have a Web site. I remember being surprised that Playboy had a Web site.

    1994 was 15 years ago now. Harry, maybe you should do a “Remember the Internet When…” slideshow. The Internet Phonebook I bought in 1995 seems kind of amusing these days. Of course, you’d also have to throw in a Mosaic screenshot.

  3. tom b Says:

    “For the rest of the world, it’s just a kludgy, sloppy, jumbled mess of everything and nothing. I can get webmail, crappy flash games, AP news stories, forums, searching, and shopping done elsewhere and each of them done much better than Yahoo!”

    100% agree. I use Yahoo Mail as my primary Email for historic reasons; it’s what I’ve been using. I use Flickr– a superb service. Yahoo Finance is good and convenient. But Yahoo itself seems to be bent on self-destruction. My Email CRASHES MY BROWSER–OFTEN. Because (I think) Yahoo insists making my browser search for chat/mobile– a totally unnecessary, worthless feature I can’t figure out how to permanently disable. The Yahoo Front page is a horrible, buggy, busy Flash mess.

    SHOW OF HANDS: I’m no Luddite– I’m a scientist and a tech enthusiast, but how many of you, like me, would like nothing better than to see the Yahoo “portal” go back to a clean, basic, code-light design like they had in 1994 (maybe with a more fashionable white background, instead of gray)?

  4. Benj Edwards Says:

    I was amazed with Yahoo back in 1994. It made the web worth using.

    My first website was quickly listed in Yahoo’s directory and my page(s) received a sizable amount of traffic for just having collections of links on The Beatles, Ghosts, Vintage Computers — whatever I was into at the time.

    A minor “home page” like mine could get attention back then because the web had 1/1,000,000,000th the number of websites at the time (Or less). Good times. 🙂 I don’t regret not having to set up Trumpet Winsock in Windows 3.11 again. Man, what a mess that was.

  5. Dave Zatz Says:

    I seem to recall purchasing a book in that same period, a Yahoo index of web sites. Not really search, more like a guide. The WWW was small in those days as the few of us online migrated from things like Gopher to a more visual experience.

  6. tom b Says:

    “The WWW was small in those days”

    Let us not forget: in those halcyon days, browsers hung every five minutes and there were no “tabs”. We were living out there on the edge.

  7. Alan Ralph Says:

    I too remember the original Yahoo! search – it would trawl through its directory first, then pass it out to a search of the web as well. I also used Yahoo! Mail for a long time as my permanent e-mail address, and still use it as a sign-in for Flickr and other Yahoo! services that I occasionally use, as well as for my MSN sign-in. Nowadays, all my e-mail is on GMail and I use Google for all my search. But yes, Yahoo! was definitely in the search business – someone should let Ms Bartz know, perhaps? ;D

  8. tom b Says:

    I thought Bartz seemed pretty promising based on her CV and hearing about some of her career history. But doing a deal with MSFT? That’s plain stupid. There HAVE to be safer deals she could have done.

  9. mime Says:

    i think altavista was the first search engine i used back then,and yeah pretty much anything seemed amazing, just the meare face that i was online was amazing even tho it took about 5 minutes to load up a page.. but yahoo is a horrible search engine, it was only amazing cause there was not much else to choose from, as soon as there was, yahoo was out the window.. yahoo and AOL are the 2 crappiest “services” on the web.. can’t figure out for the life of me why the hell people still use AOL:s

  10. Greg Spira Says:

    Yahoo didn’t own a search engine until it bought Inktomi in 2003 Up until then, Yahoo had always outsourced search. Yes, Yahoo began as a web directory, but a web directory is very different from a search engine. The first wave of web search engines, all of which were operating by the end of 1995, included Webcrawler (the first web search engine), Lycos, Magellan, Open Text (the first search engine used by Yahoo), Alta Vista (the second search engine used by Yahoo), Excite, Inktomi, and Infoseek. These were search companies, and Yahoo was not one of them.

    The fact that users could search Yahoo’s site directory did not make Yahoo a search company

  11. Gregg D. Says:

    ^^^ …What he said. My first web search was probably performed on Alta Vista, Lycos or Northernlight; I honestly can’t remember. I know that my friend, who was more tech-savvy than me, was a WebCrawler user before I had even heard of the WWW.

    I do remember the FIRST website I ever visited, and it was not a search engine. It was, the home of Virtual World — a video arcade with BattleMech simulators. The website had cool Mech stats & illustrations, but it took forEVER to load a page, even over a T1.

    The one site I never visited if I could help it? Yahoo. I just never liked their branding, it was way too cloying for me. Or I was just too cynical for it. 😛

  12. Rich Says:

    Yahoo! didn’t start out as search – you could search them for sites, but they were just a great big list of sites that someone found already, and then entered.

    If you wanted to be found, you sent an email with your site, and where it should go in the tree.

  13. dfh Says:

    In a way he was correct, as they “only” had a (hand-edited?) directory of classified topics. There was originally no search engine as far as I can remember.

    I think Lycos, Webcrawler, and Altavista were the rave tehn.

  14. Harry McCracken Says:

    Back when I first used Yahoo, AltaVista and Lycos hadn’t yet launched. (WebCrawler had, but wasn’t well known.) The Yahoo index was indeed compiled by humans, not bots, but there was a big search field up top–making the site a search site by my definition, even though reasonable people can argue about whether it was a search -engine-.


  15. Mr. Cat Says:

    I never, ever liked Yahoo. I didn’t like web directories. It was only one of many search engines in 1996 for school projects. It bought and proceeded to shit-up a number of projects…

    As a poster above, I have a hard time understanding why they still exist.