First Click: My Yahoo! story

July 26th, 2016

15

I had a three-character Yahoo password until 2015. No, I’m not proud of my lax internet security, but consider how neatly that little fact sums up Yahoo’s demise this century. In the 17 years I’ve had a Yahoo account, I’ve never cared to meaningfully secure it, Yahoo has never cared to force me to do so, and hackers, who could break into my account in their sleep, have never cared to try. That, dear friends, is a tale of sinking into utter online irrelevance.

It was in 1998 that I got my first Internet email address. Back in those days, we capitalized the Internet’s name because we were all still in awe at the unprecedented power and potential of this amazing new thing. My school was just getting hip to the idea of everyone needing to be online, so we had a special class dedicated to teaching us to register our first online account. It was with Yahoo! that my online adventure first began, with me gingerly typing "144" — the bus route taking me to school every day — as my ultra-secure login authenticator. Those were innocent times.

Has Yahoo done anything right this century?

The failure of my password to grow and change in the intervening decades is closely tied to Yahoo’s failure to grow and change. My early days on the web were filled with Yahoo! Games, and when I needed to translate something, my go-to was Yahoo! Babel Fish. If you want to know what the Google-before-Google was, it was Yahoo, which even prompted a short-lived copycat "Google!" logo back in ‘99. Yahoo was once great and mighty and exceptionally useful, but then it stagnated, ran out of fresh ideas, and spent years stomping on the same ground. Even its acquisitions, Flickr being the most notable among them, served to infect the new company with Yahoo’s toxic malaise rather than reinvigorating the former giant. Read Mat Honan’s devastating critique of How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet for a full account of this company’s failings.

For all its tribulations, Yahoo will forever retain a measure of sentimental value for me. Its Messenger might have been the 1999 equivalent of Team Instinct, and its email security might have been laughable, and its business model might have been outdated… but it was still the first service that introduced me to the internet. Is that worth the $4.83 billion that Verizon is prepared to pay to acquire Yahoo? Probably not. But the historic value and recognition of this brand should not be cynically dismissed — there’s still a chance for Yahoo to come back if it starts doing more things right than wrong. Hell, the reason I updated my password last year was because I realized I actually value my Flickr account enough to protect it. Give a few more people a few more reasons to care, Yahoo, and we might let you have your exclamation mark back.

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