At one point not so long ago, Yahoo was one of the top technology companies in the world. “The only exception [was] Google,” Bassel Ojjeh, a former senior vice president of data technologies and products at Yahoo, said in a recent interview. “… That’s where big data came from. … It didn’t come from Walmart figuring out the connection between diapers and beer.”
Indeed, Yahoo did help shape the modern, data-obsessed web. It spearheaded projects like Hadoop that now run inside nearly every web company around, it eventually pushed Google to its limits on search and it showed what the future of content would look like with major efforts around personalization. Companies like Twitter, Facebook and Netflix would have existed without Yahoo, but their services might look very different.
A former executive vice president and chief data officer at Yahoo, thinks that as late as 2006 Yahoo was still in the best position to take on Google and the rest of the emerging web companies. It had the technologies, the users, the data, the brand, a mature business — what more could you want? Looking at Yahoo now, after it squandered all that and is still fighting for relevancy, he said, “My expression would be ‘How the heck could this happen?’”
Here’s how it did happen, according to some of Yahoo’s top technology executives during its last hurrah as a legitimate competitor to Google, Microsoft and Facebook. The years between 2004 and 2009 were a time of great disappointment and missed opportunities, but also prescient ideas and impressive technological innovation that probably helped keep Yahoo afloat and might still help it rise again.