A purple sunset for Yahoo.
Last week’s news that Yahoo will hollow itself out leaves me with mixed feelings. Part of me knows it’s for the best, but part of me is a bit sad. I don’t blame you for laughing at that, but hear me out.
You could call me one of Yahoo’s best users. Despite the company’s turmoil over the last decade and the steady decline in quality of a lot of what it did, I continued to use its services in some form, probably longer than I should have. Both loyalty and laziness are to blame.
Like my colleague Stephen Shankland, my history with the company goes back to the 1990s, just as the first Internet boom was gathering steam. It was 1997, I was a year out of university and I needed an email account to supplant the one I used at school (finding a job with that didn’t seem very adult). I put a lot of thought into selecting my very first real email account, the results of which I still feel today.
At the time Yahoo’s colorful, easy-to-use homepage was the brightest door to the burgeoning World Wide Web (we really used to call it that). It was prettier and more fun than search engines like Alta Vista and WebCrawler, even its search results weren’t quite as refined, and it organized websites into easy-to-follow categories. That total package, not to mention the liberal use of purple, made its email service the obvious option.
Even then my first choice of usernames (a combination of my first and last names) was taken so I had to settle for something less obvious. Still, I threw myself into my task and my address book (another quaint old term) quickly grew in the days before texting and social media became the preferred method to communicate.
A forgotten relic of my past.
Screenshot by Kent German/CNET
Over the next few years, I adopted many of the services Yahoo introduced. I spent hours on Instant Messenger, I created a My Yahoo homepage, I connected with college friends on Yahoo Groups and I replaced my Yellow Pages with Yahoo Local. Yahoo was how I searched the Internet, and when the company acquired services like Geocities and Hotjobs I figured they were in good hands.
By the time I got my first invitation to join Gmail in 2004, my Yahoo email was beginning to show its age. I stuck with it, though, partly because Hotmail seemed no better but mostly because I was lazy. It just seemed like a pain to get my friends and family to switch over — I once had a friend who would irritatingly change his email address each time he moved house — and I resented the fact I had to be invited to anything. But before I long I finally opened a Gmail account and saw the light. I tried to get people to switch, but I let it go when some friends kept using my Yahoo account anyway. New contacts got the Gmail address, but old friends could do what they want.
Yahoo’s homepage though the years
GIF by James Martin/CNET
Even as I grew more frustrated it really took the terrible 2011 and 2013 Yahoo Mail redesigns to push me over the edge and switch to Gmail for good. Google, meanwhile, slowly took over the other areas of my digital life: GChat replaced Yahoo Instant Messenger, I created Google Groups instead and Google.com supplanted Yahoo as my homepage. Though I still use Flickr and Tumblr, using Yahoo Search now gives me the fits and I haven’t touched that My Yahoo page in years.
That said, I still have that original Yahoo account, now used solely for shopping online, digital newsletters, and keeping my Gmail account clear of junk. I could kill it off completely, but that still doesn’t seem right for an email address I’ve had for almost 20 years. An important part of my past, it was my first step into an industry that dominates my life and now pays the bills. That’s worth saving it alone.