In 2000, you could ask someone what search engine they used, and you would most likely hear Yahoo (or possibly AskJeeves, AltaVista, possibly Google). Heck, even the movie 2000 sci-fi film Frequency mentions investing in Yahoo stock will make you rich. These days, Yahoo is typically known as “that place where I get my news sometimes.” Yet, Google, who at one time was merely a blip on Yahoo’s radar, is so well known people refer to it as a verb (Just “Google” it!). What happened to make one company rise to dominance, while the other one fell into obscurity? And is there anything Yahoo can do to bounce back?
In recent years, Yahoo! has a horrid track record when it comes to CEOs. Terry Semel, who ran the company from 2001-2007, didn’t even use email, yet he was trying to buy out Google for roughly $2 billion UNDER what many thought they were worth (Vogelstein, 2007). And as Google skyrocketed to control 70% of the search engine market, Yahoo backslid, and backslid, and backslid. In 2009, they hired Carol Bartz to be CEO, who was under pressure from her first day to turn the entire company around. An impossibly daunting task, Bartz was fired after only two years (Kopytoff & Miller, 2011). This year, Yahoo announced they would be firing they’re newly hired CEO, Scott Thompson, amid rumors he falsified his resumé (Stewart, 2012). The guy didn’t even make it 6 months!
Yahoo just announced last week that they were hiring former Google executive Marissa Mayer as their new CEO. Coming from argueably their biggest rival, maybe Mayer has what it takes to turn things around at Yahoo.
Now, where Yahoo has seemingly screwed up, how has Google been so successful? Many would argue that a lot of Google’s success has been through acquiring the right companies (YouTube, Blogger, Zagat), but a huge part of how they cornered the market is their coveted search engine algorithm. It allows for the search engine to seemingly anticipate, based on previous searches, what they user is going to search for. They have also tweaked and improved this algorithm numerous times (Levy, 2010). Knowing how people search is a key to Google’s success. After all, information can be worth a lot of money. In fact, Google’s mission statement is “to organize the world’s information.”
Google also uses an auction-style strategy when it comes to selling ad space, called AdWords. Potential advertisers can bid on key words and search terms, and the price they are willing to pay each time a user actually clicks on the ad (Levy, 2009). Websites like Amazon or Ebay could use this approach to sell ad space. Amazon and Ebay could allow manufactures to purchase keywords in order to pop up on their search bars more often.
Google has also ventured out of the search engine game to much success (more or less) by releasing the Android smart phones, Google Plus social network (not quite as successful), and their own browser, Google Chrome. The introduction of Google Chrome only intensified the “second browser wars.” (Shah, 2012)
And as of May 2012, Chrome has officially become the most used browser, beating out Firefox and former juggernaut, Internet Explorer.
Google shows no signs of slowing down in innovation, nor the stock market, so it will be interesting to see if Marissa Mayer can bring some interesting and progressive ideas to finally pull Yahoo out of the virtual ditch.
The idea of someone taking to the internet to escape the realities of everyday life has been around since the beginning of the Web. In the introduction to her 1997 novel, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, Sherry Turkle describes Internet users playing text-based games in which users can create characters that can be anyone (or anything) they desire. Many people might think of a “To Catch A Predator” scenario, but Turkle describes it as a way for people to lives out their dreams and fantasies in this virtual world. She even talks about an eleven-year-old girl who invites her online friends to her virtual condo, where “she chats, orders orders a virtual pizza, and flirts.”
These days, users do the same thing (albeit in a much more visually advanced way) with games like World of Warcraft and Second Life. These games have millions of everyday users, and are well-known to almost everyone in our culture, not just geeks or techies. You know you’re an integral part of American culture when South Park parodies you:
I find it funny that tech culture and community, and technology itself, evolves so rapidly, that we take for granted what we can do now with technology verses what we could do 5 (or 10) years ago. Yet, even though we have high expectations, we still have trouble adapting to such rapid technological evolution. Janet Murray describes the predicament perfectly in her book, “Inventing the Medium”:
“…the pace of change has been so rapid that technical innovation is outstripping design. We are making too many new things too quickly, with the result that as users of the devices we often feel overwhelmed and unable to take appropriate advantage of the opportunities they offer us… This wealth of possibilities raises our expectations, but the functions are so mysteriously offered or so compromised by unintended secondary consequences that we can find ourselves spending hours in frustrating trial and error in order to accomplish simple tasks…”
But, with technology and the Internet being ingrained into our everyday lives, you would think that there would be more balance when it came to gender roles in the industry. Since it is not just “nerdy,” white males using these technologies, there should be more women taking the reigns in the tech fields. Many women in the tech industry are calling for more female leaders, and less gender-bias and female exploitation. In Cindy Royal’s “Open letter to Wired magazine” blog post, she describes her disdain for her once-beloved tech magazine becoming reliant on overtly-sexual covers, and for having a huge lack of coverage for strong females in technology.
This imbalance of women in the tech industry in prevalent in higher education, as well.
A 2012 article for Computer World states that computer science enrollment in colleges is up 10% from last year (or 20% from two years ago), yet the percentage of women who earned bachelor’s degrees in computer science has dropped over 2% in the last year. When it comes to master’s degrees, over 75% of degrees awarded were to males, and 56.7% were to non-resident aliens (which shows a general lack of American students seeking CS degrees, as well).
But all in not lost. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg offers up some advice on women looking to climb to the top of the tech field in her “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders” video. In a New Yorker article written about Sandberg, she is described as a huge reason why Facebook became profitable.
“By 2010, a company that was bleeding cash when Sandberg arrived had become profitable. Within three years, Facebook grew from a hundred and thirty employees to twenty-five hundred, and from seventy million worldwide users to nearly seven hundred million.”
With the recent news of Yahoo! appointing former Google higher-up Marissa Mayer as their new CEO, though a small step, this may lead to more tech companies looking for female leadership.