Of Suicide by Irrelevancy and Yahoo! Directory’s Death

In with the new, out with the old. Last week I beamed about the promise of new gifts from Google in the form of the pending End-To-End extension which will put pretty good privacy in reach of ordinary Gmail (and probably other email) users. As Tiny Tim may have said, “Encryption to us all; God bless us, every one!”

This week I draw your attention away from the shiny and new, and direct it to the digital dumpster—where all shiny toys eventually end up. Fresh to the heap: the Yahoo Directory. This marks not the passing of some fleeting fad, however, but the death of a once gigantic part of the Internet. A giant that outlived its strength and usefulness, admittedly. Upon a time, Yahoo editors applied a number of factors when organizing web sites under the directory, including commercial vs. non-commercial, regional vs. global, etc. Listings were contained within 14 main categories seen on the front page. Search engine culture long ago surpassed that of universal web directories, so it’s hardly surprising that Yahoo no longer felt it necessary to curate a directory of the Word Wide Web.

Nonetheless there is something rather unceremonious about this particular passing and the way it has been marked. If you go to http://dir.yahoo.com you will only see a lame selection of links ostensibly relating to “Yahoo Business Pages”. A more pathetic epitaph could not be written if you used Comic Sans. Here, see? I even tried…


The once iconic king of Internet directories—with subject-based categories and sub-categories—looks like it’s been taken over by domain squatters. The subcategory “Computers and Internet>Internet>World Wide Web>Searching the Web” doesn’t even mention Yahoo itself. Not only has the Yahoo Directory been deprecated, it’s been erased like the target of some kind of Orwellian hit. It is an “undirectory” now—vaporized and erased from existence. No trace of the Yahoo Directory exists even in the historical records of Yahoo itself. What remains is worse than a broken link.

December 31, 2014 was supposed to be the last day for the Yahoo Directory, but according to reports the directory went dark five days early. Is this a shame? I hardly think there are many that would say the Yahoo Directory was still an important research tool. But a few will remember that the name “Yahoo” was originally a specific reference to the hierarchical directory itself. That is the original core. Y.A.H.O.O., or “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle” was the starting page for most web users in the 1990s. And some who remember using the old Mosaic browser to explore the early Web might agree that Yahoo’s September 26, 2014 “Progress Report: Continued Product Focus” lacked something in its tone:

“At Yahoo, focus is an important part of accomplishing our mission: to make the world’s daily habits more entertaining and inspiring. To achieve this focus, we have sunset more than 60 products and services over the past two years […]

[A]t the end of 2014 (December 31), we will retire the Yahoo Directory.”

Considering this announcement deals with the death of an historic part of the Internet, one might have expected a tad more solemnity and less bizarre Newspeak (“We don’t use the word terminate, Winston, but your sunset is part of our focusmission which is important in making people’s daily habits more inspiring. I’m glad we had this chat.”). But whether or not you feel or even care that gutting the directory and leaving its corpse as click bait is an unjust end for the Yahoo Directory, we can probably agree that, as one repost on Yahoo’s Tumblr page put it, “Yahoo is killing Yahoo. Suicide by irrelevancy.


  1. Everything eventually cycles on the Internet. Directories will see another day, in my view. Just as Yahoo led to ODP, which eventually became spammed out, but led to crowd sourced collections via del.icio.us, I have a hard time believing that directories will ever truly be “dead”.

    As you know Nate, some of us are collectors and collection builders. The world will eventually tire of serendipitous experiences. Search and even socially enabled search will see its day in the sun, but eventually, we will return to trusted collectors, collections and browsing. A far better place, really. :)

  2. I have a rather deep respect for human powered semantic sorting, Steve. I believe that the directory could have been revamped with some fundamental changes. I’m quite sure I missed the phone call requesting my opinions however. I must miss quite a few in fact ;)