After 10 years, Yahoo still searching

Online search giant has stabilized its business and renewed growth, but its road map remains unfinished. Chart: Taking stock Images: A decade of yodeling

David Filo remembers the days in 1994 when he and fellow Stanford University doctoral candidate Jerry Yang would get together with friends to conjure up big ideas for making a business out of the Internet.


The group batted around ways to sell goods through the emerging medium, but most of the ideas were scrapped. After the meetings, Filo and Yang would retreat to a trailer behind a computer research building on campus and work on a side hobby that they named "Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web," a Web search directory that would change their lives. A year later it would be incorporated as Yahoo.

From hobby to commercial Web search directory to online media powerhouse, Yahoo has endured many changes during the past decade, riding a largely serendipitous wave to emerge as one of the most successful progeny of the dot-com boom. Survival has brought sweet rewards in the form of booming revenues and profits, and a surging stock price.

News.context

What's new:
Web search pioneer Yahoo marks its 10th anniversary Wednesday.

Bottom line:
The Web portal that wants to be everything to everyone is still very much in exploratory mode.

More stories on Yahoo

But in one respect, Yahoo is today much the same company that was born by accident in 1995.

Although insiders say it's no longer de rigueur to throw things against the wall just to see what will stick, the Web portal that wants to be everything to everyone is still very much in exploratory mode.

"We never thought about Yahoo as one of those ideas," Filo said in an interview in advance of the company's 10th anniversary Wednesday. (Co-founders Filo and Yang now both go by the title of "chief Yahoo.") "We weren't thinking of Yahoo as a business."

Of its myriad businesses, Web search is the standout, delivering a significant portion of the company's $3.6 billion in revenue last year.

Unlike rival Google, however, Yahoo is resting its strategy on a full service approach, delivering as much of the Web as it makes sense to offer to as many people as possible. Its dizzying array of offerings run the gamut, from online job listings to music videos to online dating services, news, financial tools, instant messaging and Web-based e-mail, just to name a few.

Much of today's most popular services were built during the go-go years in the 1990s, when building audience was the company's objective. The sense of idealistic entrepreneurialism was also infused throughout the company in its early days.


"I think we all believed we were going to change the world, and I think we did," said Ellen Siminoff, a former senior executive at the company who is now CEO of Efficient Frontier.

Despite that success, it's no secret that Yahoo CEO Terry Semel sees search revenue as a means to develop new products and services. Although it's not certain what those might be, the goal is crystal clear: Boost ad sales by keeping Web surfers on Yahoo's services longer.

"Semel has now built the economic base that empowers him to be more adventurous to move Yahoo towards being an Internet media company, whatever that turns out to mean," said David Graves, a former senior executive at Yahoo and currently CEO of NetcableTV.

Even if Yahoo is still improvising its next moves, former employees say there is no mistaking the current operation with the freewheeling days of the past.

Yahoo in its early years operated on the philosophy that if you build it and it gets lots of clicks, keep it running. This mentality fostered what most former Yahoo employees interviewed for this report described

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