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August 2010When I went to work for Yahoo after they bought our startup in 1998, it felt like the center of the world. It was supposed to be what Google turned out to be. The problems that hosed Yahoo go back a long time, practically to the beginning of the company.
That's why Yahoo as a company has never had a sharply defined identity.
The worst consequence of trying to be a media company was that they didn't take programming seriously enough.
Users train the search: you can start out finding matches based on mere textual similarity, and as users buy more stuff the search results get better and better. I couldn't tell whether I was explaining it badly, or he was just very poker faced.
I didn't realize the answer till later, after I went to work at Yahoo. The reason Yahoo didn't care about a technique that extracted the full value of traffic was that advertisers were already overpaying for it.
And when you consider how much competition there was for programmers when they were hiring, during the Bubble, it's not surprising that the quality of their programmers was uneven.
In technology, once you have bad programmers, you're doomed.If Yahoo merely extracted the actual value, they'd have made less.Hard as it is to believe now, the big money then was in banner ads.They'd been thrown off balance from the start by their ambivalence about being a technology company.One of the weirdest things about Yahoo when I went to work there was the way they insisted on calling themselves a "media company." If you walked around their offices, it seemed like a software company.Yahoo had two problems Google didn't: easy money, and ambivalence about being a technology company.Money The first time I met Jerry Yang, we thought we were meeting for different reasons.Microsoft (back in the day), Google, and Facebook have all had hacker-centric cultures. At Yahoo, user-facing software was controlled by product managers and designers.The job of programmers was just to take the work of the product managers and designers the final step, by translating it into code.Technology companies made money by selling their software to users. Imagine a company with several times the power Google has now, but way meaner. Yahoo watched them crush the first hot Internet company, Netscape.It was reasonable to worry that if they tried to be the next Netscape, they'd suffer the same fate.