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Do You Yahoo? Despite Dismal Reputation, Many People Still Do


Let's take a moment to hear some ancient internet history.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Do you Yahoo?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) Yahoo.

SIEGEL: Do you Yahoo? Well, it turns out a lot of people still do. Today, Yahoo puts its core Internet business on the auction block. And NPR's Laura Sydell looks at who still uses the site and what exactly bidders are buying.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Way back in 1994 when Yahoo was founded, the Internet was the great unknown. Yahoo had lists and links to interesting stuff. Its biggest competitor was probably AOL. But then came Google and search became the best way to find what you wanted. Then Facebook let you in on what your friends liked online.

Still, a surprising number of people use Yahoo. Its sites are the third most-trafficked on the Internet, according to ComScore, and it isn't all old people. The age range is as vast as the Internet itself. Forty-one-year-old Renee Grebe works in the tech industry and recently left a job and sent her personal email address to her colleagues. It was a Yahoo account.

RENEE GREBE: Somebody said to me, oh, are you just leaving us your spam email, the one you use to sign up for things that you don't care about so that we can't get in touch with you? And I said, no, that's my email address.

SYDELL: But part of what keeps Grebe on Yahoo is her personal Internet history.

GREBE: You have old emails, you know, from the time you were just starting to date or I keep a folder of all of my grandmother's emails. I know she won't be around forever, and it's great to have.

SYDELL: The personal history that Yahoo holds is a reason that many users told NPR they stay with the service. Jen DeMayo is a co-founder of a listserv for parents who live in the Washington, D.C. area. Sixty-five hundred people are on it.

JEN DEMAYO: But Yahoo itself has never been anyone's favorite. It's just sort of the platform where it started, and no one's moved it anywhere.

SYDELL: Eva Lang uses Yahoo Groups to manage her church's Sunday school class email list, and actually she likes it. But she's also a longtime user of Yahoo's homepage and news. And she says it's gotten harder to use it over the years.

EVA LANG: The interface is cluttered, and when you click to read the news stories they're often so close with these sponsored stories, it's difficult to tell where the ads are and which things are ads. And I find it cluttered and confusing.

SYDELL: Yahoo does have some products that remain well-liked. James Lucier really loves Yahoo Finance which is still the most popular in its category.

JAMES LUCIER: Because Yahoo has such a thorough breakout of details about a stock, and the news is incredibly thorough and to the point for those stocks.

SYDELL: This company which reports some 1 billion monthly active users doesn't seem to be able to bring in enough revenue to keep Wall Street happy.

ROB ENDERLE: It's not a revenue problem as in they don't have any; it's a revenue problem in that they don't have enough of it.

SYDELL: Analyst Rob Enderle thinks Yahoo has been mismanaged, though he doesn't really blame the six - that's right six -CEOs who have passed through its doors over the last decade.

ENDERLE: It's been the board because at the end of the day, the board's the one that picked those executives and then didn't back them up appropriately.

SYDELL: Though he's not letting those CEOs off the hook entirely. The current CEO, Marissa Mayer, has been following the lead of previous CEOs who tried to improve Yahoo's search engine to compete with Google. Enderle thinks they should've paid more attention to the company's billion plus active monthly users.

ENDERLE: What they were good at long before we had MySpace or Facebook was Yahoo Groups where people got together and discussed stuff. That was the core of the company and the most powerful aspect. So it had a model for incredible success. It just didn't know what it had, and the end result was it lost it.

SYDELL: Or at least Yahoo is on the verge of losing it. Among the companies expected to bid are Verizon and the British tabloid the Daily Mail. The properties are expected to fetch between four and $8 billion. Whoever buys Yahoo could still make changes to keep the users it has. But it's clear that for many their brand loyalty is fragile. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.