Update: Yahoo confirmed that 500 million user accounts were compromised by what they are calling a state-sponsored act. The company, in the process of being acquired by Verizon, has not named the hacker responsible or provided too many details.
An iconic brand, an intelligent leader guiding the ship to prosperity, a mesmerizing display of raw innovation. If you think that's a good description of Yahoo, you obviously haven't checked your mail recently, flooded with banner ads and a confusing array of buttons and links. And, you haven't tried to figure out why a CEO would insist that working 130-hours in a week makes any sense whatsoever. You also haven't checked the latest news reports about a data breach.
The slow, painful demise of Yahoo has reached another startling low point. Multiple reports today suggest the rumor about a massive leak revealed last month (200 million accounts compromised, a hacker named Peace selling the wares on the dark Web, a lot of speculation and innuendo) could become much more official.
Yahoo should have and could have become something amazing. Instead, the company has not only allowed a leak that involves personally identifiable information like your date of birth, but has potentially become one of the most high-profile leaks in the history of computing. This might be how we remember Yahoo, as a company that couldn't protect its users, couldn't figure out how to create useful products for them, and couldn't compete with Microsoft, Tesla, Apple, or Google.
Worse, Yahoo couldn't even figure out how to get along with each other.
Teams create innovation, not individuals. We think of Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ives as the brilliant innovators at Apple, but the entire ecosystem and the employees deserve credit--e.g., how the products are designed, how they are made, how they are sold, how they are supported, and how they stand the test of time.
When I check one of my Yahoo accounts, which I do less and less lately, all I see are flashes of bright color, blinking banner ads, and tricky links that lead to questionable products. I feel like a guinea pig in a maze, which is not what you want to happen with your users. What really ended up destroying Yahoo was that the users became numbers. They were treated like a column on a spreadsheet, a data dump to be sold and exploited, not a fan-base to be rewarded and catered to.
It's appalling, actually. Someday, when there's a lesson in how to appeal to your customers and make sure they are pleasantly surprised with every click, there will be a series of slides explaining how to do the exact opposite. You'll earn an MBA by writing a dossier about how to thoroughly negate a brand: Make sure you constantly crunch the numbers. Treat people like numbers. Sell off parts of your business. Acquire instead of invent. Follow instead of lead.
The same slide deck will paint a much rosier picture of Google: Invent a smartphone operating system. Make indispensable apps we use everyday and can't live without. Create an autonomous car that people see in San Francisco routinely. Partner with Chrysler to protect kids on their way to a soccer game in a minivan. Radically and ruthlessly cancel products and projects that are not contributing to your bottom line. Hire the best and brightest (a.k.a., become a Stanford extension campus). Make sure everyone uses your email program, trimming of all banner ads. Do the same for word- processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. Make super-intelligent products. Then, do that for several decades and don't ever stop being innovative.
Yahoo went down the tubes because their products were not that interesting or useful. The only one that seemed worthwhile at first is their weather app, and that's because it used colorful pictures of looming clouds and rainbows. Tumblr already had a major following--it really has nothing to do with Yahoo at this point.
What else? Not much. There's something to be said for Yahoo News, which tends to fuel the internet like high-octane in your Mercedes. Unfortunately, a recent report revealed that high-octane is a waste of money. Yahoo News is the homepage in many browsers by default. A curious oddity of the internet is that many people leave the defaults in place forever, never realizing you can change the home page for the browser on your new Dell laptop. That "curious oddity" has led to a lot of Yahoo users--millions and millions. It has not led to Yahoo being able to figure out what to do with those users, unless you count letting their data leak into the wild.