As the saying goes, "you can trade hours for dollars or ideas for millions". Well, here is a story of an idea that was worth billions. Where else can this possibly be true except...on the internet.
Jerry Yang was born in Taiwan!!! and moved to the USA at the age of 10. He went to Stanford University and co-founded Yahoo! along with his Stanford classmate David Filo. Yahoo! was one of the pioneering internet
In an interview, Yang was asked about what he thought of the future of the internet. He replied by explaining that the future of the internet was to evolve from a pull-model internet to a push-model internet. By that he meant, the internet had started out as a pull-model where the user would pull information from the internet by searching for it through a search engine. Initially, that was called "surfing the web". It was a lot of fun back then. Yang argued that a more powerful way to use the internet was to be by a push-model where information/content would be pushed or delivered to the user without the need for a search to be done. That perspective would shape the strategic direction for Yahoo! ever since.
Yahoo! became dedicated to being a content-delivering web portal. Even today, when you go to Yahoo!'s main page, there is an elaborate layout of links to news, entertainment, sports, games, etc. Led by Yang's vision, Yahoo! focused on adding content to their website. They hired sportswriters, financial reporters, and a whole host of content creators to enrich their website. In their thirst for adding content, they infamously purchased a company called Broadcast.com, founded by Mark Cuban, for an astounding $5.7 billion in Yahoo! stock, making Cuban an instant billionaire. Broadcast.com's business was to deliver live streaming video of events such as sports, concerts, etc. on the internet. At the time of Yahoo!'s purchase, Broadcast.com had never made a profit. This was classical dot-com bubble mania. Today, Broadcast.com and live streaming video no longer exist on Yahoo!'s website, and even now, the technology for live streaming video on the internet is still a bit shaky. This was not just a mistake in terms of a bad purchase; it was a much grander mistake in having the wrong vision. By focusing on pushing content to the user, Yahoo! neglected the pull-model of searching the internet. That opened the door for a company called...Google.
Google had the exact opposite vision to Yahoo! They were all about searching the web. When you go to Google's main page, there is a search box in the middle of the screen and not much else. The simplicity of that page is symbolic of Google's mission. They wanted to help you find things on the internet, help you pull it. Their single-eye dedication to this endeavor reaped a cultural reward in that we now called searching the internet "googling" something. With this divergence of visions, Google went on to become a dominant internet player, and Yahoo! was relegated to a niche website.
So was Yang wrong in his vision for the internet? Well, he was half right, half wrong. His idea for the push-model internet was only half-baked. When you go to Yahoo!'s main page, yes the content is there for the user, but the user still has to peruse the options and decide which link to click. The content is only delivered up to a point, and then the final step has to be closed by the user. In the world of instant gratification that is the internet, that final step represents a huge chasm with millions of users not taking that final step time and time again.
A second mistake in Yang's evaluation was that he underestimated the power of the pull-model internet. When someone is searching the web, that person is seeking information with a measure of curiosity. That means, this person wants to click on links and view different web sites. By helping the user search the web and inserting some ads along the way, Google reaped huge profits. Searching the web is a very lucrative activity with the user actively participating.
Yang's half-baked vision was missing the other half, and that other half was worth billions upon billions of dollars. The concept that Yang was missing became the storyline of the movie, The Social Network. You see, the half that completed the pie...was social media.
With social media, Facebook and Twitter, the content is fully delivered to the user by other users, some of whom are their friends and family, which increases the likelihood that the content would be clicked. Other times, there may be celebrities delivering the content to millions of followers. A huge number of clicks can be reaped just from one celebrity's tweet, which is less than 140 characters. Yes indeed, the push-model internet is extremely powerful, much more powerful than the pull-model. With social media, an obscure website, silly video, or breaking news story can reach millions of people immediately, without which they would sit idly on the internet waiting for someone to come search for it.
The plot of the movie, The Social Network, is that lawsuits were being filed by people involved with Facebook in the beginning stages over who came up with this concept of networking people and sharing mundane information with one another, posting updates of what they are doing and pictures of their lunch. At first, the dispute seemed ludicrous. It was just an idea. Making it come true was the real work. Plus, for some, the whole universe of social media was just one big wastage of time in a fantasy world of imaginary friends. Ahhh...but if this concept had been available to Yang back in the early days of the internet....oh what might have been. In retrospect, this truly was an idea worth billions.