Toasting the Auld Yahoo Directory

It’s New Year’s Eve, otherwise known as the official last day of Silicon Valley online landmark the Yahoo Directory (although Search Engine Land points out it actually closed five days early).

Yahoo irked some Internet history buffs by barely mentioning the demise of the iconic directory as it focuses its attention on competing in the mobile age. A visit to the former URL, dir.yahoo.com, now redirects to Yahoo’s similarly old-school and incomplete Small Business page.

But if you’d like to reminisce about the golden days of Yahoo Directory, when the Sunnyvale company hired Web artisans to hand-pick what we now depend on algorithms to search for, check out Mike Cassidy’s October post about the Directory for Silicon Beat:

Hand-crafted — that’s how they did it back in the day. Yahoo employed an army of “surfers” who combed through digital piles of URLs, submitted by site owners and the public, and decided which were worthy of inclusion in the directory and under which categories and subcategories they should be listed.

“It was pretty wild,” says Steve Berlin, Yahoo employee No. 14 and the company’s first full-time surfer. “Basically, everyone was given a list of hundreds of sites and every day they were given a new list or every week they were given a new list. Everyone had their own specialties.”

… A music fan might be in charge of vetting and categorizing new music sites that were submitted by their developers. A bookworm would categorize books. A sports nut might sort out sports teams and fan sites.

It was as if the surfers were building the knowable Web by hand. They had rules: A website had to be substantive, no thin content. A site needed to be a site, not just a page.

Also worth reading is this 1999 Mercury News story about the Internet directory, which then-chief Srinija Srinivasan described in terms applicable to sorting through a New Year’s Eve cocktail platter:

“The generalization here is that all of these are olives, but some are green ones and some are black. So the distinctions to draw would be to separate the green olives and black olives, and the small olives and the big olives. … And that’s what we do all day, is draw distinctions between things, so that things that are similar are near each other and things that are dissimilar are not.”

Above: In April 1999, the Mercury News photographed Srinija Srinivasan, who led the team of web surfers who compiled the Yahoo Directory. (Photo by Richard Koci Hernandez)

 
 

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