I worked at Yahoo for just four years, but they were the glory years — 1996-2000, before Google ate its lunch — and its breakfast and dinner, too.
Back then, as companies were discovering just how much marketing could be done on the Web, and teens concluded you weren't anyone until you put up your own Sailor Moon fan page (see here, '90s fans), we intrepid band of early Yahoo employees engaged in a most quixotic quest: organizing and interpreting the online world so the public could make the best use of it.
We know the rest of the story, which essentially ended last week.(Here's a piece called “Yahoo's 12 Biggest mistakes.” That you have to click through a dozen separate photos to view all 12 says a lot about what's gone wrong on the Web since 1996.)
But I want to talk about that early team of employees and what happened to them as Yahoo transitioned from promising startup to global media giant, because I think it says something about the natural evolution from idealism to not-so-much in Silicon Valley.
The department I worked in was called Surfing (that's what it said on my business card), a reference to one of the earliest metaphors for losing oneself on the web. When I joined, this group made up more than a third of the company. Mostly, we were in charge of creating Yahoo's now-defunct directory of websites, the main “product” Yahoo offered in this pre-Google epoch, when Internet search was primitive.