CNN Technology

'Yahoo!' founders have something to whoop about

September 16, 1995
Web posted at: 12:30 a.m. EDT

[Chiefs of Yahoo] From Correspondent Brian Nelson

PALO ALTO, California (CNN) -- Imagine it's 1880 and you've just thought of the telephone book. Easy money, right? That's just the position entrepreneurs Jerry Yang and David Filo have found themselves in.

They are founders of Yahoo!, an Internet search engine that began as a college hobby at Stanford University. Just a year-and-a-half after beginning their guide, they're owners of a million-dollar Internet directory service.

How did the pair select their unusual name? "It stands for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle," Yang says.

In other words, Yahoo! offers itself as an authority on some of the best sites on the Net.

Think of Yahoo! as the Internet's yellow pages. It gets 100,000 requests each day from people worldwide searching for sites and information on the Internet. Quite an achievement, considering its origins.

"I had some friends at M.I.T., and I told them, 'Hey, check this out, 'cause we've started putting this on the Web,'" Yang says. "And they told their friends, and they said, 'Well you know, I have this sailing page. Can you add it?' And we said, 'Well, sure.'"

"We had close to five hundred to a thousand requests a day to please be added," says Filo. This in addition to 500 e-mail requests each day flooding their computers. "Between that and everything else," Filo says, "There was no way the two of us could keep up with that"

[Yahoo logo]

So, Dave and Jerry did the unthinkable. They put their Ph.D.'s in electrical engineering on hold, dropped out of school, got a million dollars in venture capital funding, and turned their dorm-room project into a business.

They now have a secretary, accountants and managers. They've won awards. The t-shirt-wearing pair has gone positively corporate. Well-known firms even want to advertise with them.

"Oh yeah," says Yang. "Absolutely. I mean, um, if anyone told me six months ago we'd be doing this today, I would have totally thought they were crazy." (60k AIFF sound)

The Chief Yahoos, as Yang and Filo now call themselves, have since hired "Deputy Yahoos" to surf the Net in their place. Each week they evaluate thousands of new sites with a discerning eye.

"If there's actually zero content in the site, then we usually don't bother adding it," says Yahoo surfer Conor Malone.

Malone and his fellow surfers still manage to add up to 800 new locations a day to the Yahoo! directory. Yahoo! now lists about 70,000 of the several million sites presumed to be out there.

But Yahoo! is not alone. Like most commercial ventures, it has competition. The McKinley Internet Search Directory, Lycos, the Catalog of the Internet and WebCrawler all offer similar services. The McKinley directory lists categories to guide your Internet search. Or, type in a subject and activate their rating system to weed out the junk.

Perhaps in response to the competition, Yahoo! has polished its look. It now offers 14 broad categories. Old hot buttons remain, like the ever-popular "What's Cool". If you come across a topic highlighted with yellow sunglasses, that means it's "really cool."

But what's "really cool" for Yang and Filo are the kudos they've received in the 18 months since they launched their service.

As the San Jose Mercury News observed on its Net home page, "Yahoo! is closest in spirit to the work of Linnacus, the 18th century botanist whose classification system organized the natural world." So maybe Yang and Filo haven't thrown away their education after all.

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