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5 Other Big Sites Bought by Yahoo!

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Today Yahoo! announced that it's buying Tumblr for $1.1 billion. Let's look back at some other sites taken over by Yahooligans...and see how it turned out for them.

1. GeoCities ($3.6 billion)

Status: dead (except in Japan)

GeoCities-izer

Way back in January 1999, Yahoo! bought GeoCities, the poster child of '90s web communities. Divided into goofy topic-driven "neighborhoods," GeoCities was the place to go to build your first website, cram it full of "under construction" animated GIFs, and then forget about it for a decade.

The purchase was a stock swap valued at $3.57 billion at the time (both Yahoo! and GeoCities were public companies...though GeoCities had "only" a $2.3 billion market cap). When the deal was announced, CNN reported in the acquisition story:

In a separate announcement, GeoCities posted a net loss of $8.4 million, or 27 cents a share, for the fourth quarter ended, compared with losses of $3 million, or 14 cents a share in the year-ago period.

Um. Yeah. Anyhoo, in October 2009 Yahoo! shut down GeoCities, prompting Wired to remember the site and its estimated 38 million user-generated pages with a walk down memory lane, including popups and auto-playing music. A partial archive of GeoCities is available from Archive.org -- maybe your high school website is in there!

2. Flickr (estimated $40 million)

Status: still ticking!

WikiMedia Commons

In 2004, Canadian gaming company Ludicorp launched Flickr as a photo-sharing site. It was an outgrowth of tech the company had developed for its planned massively multiplayer online game Game Neverending, which, ironically, ended before it launched -- Flickr proved far more popular.

Ludicorp was headed by Stewart Butterfield and his then-wife Caterina Fake, and the company's sale to Yahoo! was estimated at around $40 million. Butterfield went on to create another massively multiplayer game in 2011, called Glitch, which closed due to lack of player interest. On the bright side, Flickr is still flicking away, was an estimated 6 billion images as of 2011.

3. del.icio.us ($15-30 million...ish)

Status: alive; sold to AVOS Systems

WikiMedia Commons

Delicious launched in 2003 as a social bookmarking site, using the amusingly awesome domain name "del.icio.us" (that .us on the end is the top-level domain for United States websites). In its heyday, Delicious was an exceedingly popular way to save and share bookmarks, and it boasted millions of users (and millions of dollars of investment, including some from Amazon.com).

Yahoo! picked up Delicious for an undisclosed sum, estimated to be somewhere from $15-30 million, in December 2005. In 2010, a leaked Yahoo! document revealed that the service was slated to be "sunsetted" (corporate speak for "shut down"), leading users to flee to competing sites. In a surprise move, Yahoo! instead sold the service to AVOS Systems in 2011, which promptly removed a bunch of features and re-launched the service.

4. Broadcast.com ($5 billion)

Status: functionally dead; parts folded into Yahoo! Music

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In April of 1999, Yahoo! announced a deal to acquire Broadcast.com; the sale closed in July, just months before the dot-com crash in early 2000. The sale made many Broadcast.com employees "paper millionaires" (including a few billionaires) by granting them massive Yahoo! stock options -- the only bummer was that most of those employees couldn't exercise the stock options until after Yahoo! stock tanked, along with virtually the entire dot-com stock sector.

Broadcast.com was an early streaming radio site, and its sale succeeded in making Mark Cuban a billionaire -- he now owns the Dallas Mavericks, Magnolia Pictures, and Landmark Theatres. Cuban used some of his Yahoo! loot to buy a Gulfstream V jet online in October 1999 for $40 million, a feat that earned him a Guinness World Record for the largest single e-commerce transaction.

Broadcast.com holds the distinction of being Yahoo!'s largest dollar-value acquisition.

5. Upcoming.org (terms undisclosed)

Status: dead

WikiMedia Commons

In an attempt to cash in on the "local-content market" (yeah, this was a hot new thing eight years ago), Yahoo! bought Upcoming.org, a social events site, in 2005. I actually used Upcoming.org at that time, and it was a great way to find local events, add them to your calendar, and even see what your friends were going to do after work.

Upcoming.org founder Andy Baio wrote that Yahoo! let the site stagnate after Baio and his compatriots left the company. Earlier this year, Yahoo! announced that it would close Upcoming.org with just 11 days notice, leading Baio to ask for help in archiving the site. The Archive Team sprang into action and used a distributed network of volunteers to scrape the site, saving its catalogue of events. Baio wrote: "It's hard to believe now, but there was a time when Yahoo was actually pretty cool, in its own dorky Silicon Valley way."

Good Luck, Tumblr!

Although Yahoo!'s track record with acquisitions is spotty, a Yahoo! buyout can be a good thing. Looking through Wikipedia's long list of Yahoo! mergers and acquisitions, some stick out as extremely good choices -- for instance, the $92 million acquisition of Four11 (aka RocketMail), which formed the foundation of the still-popular Yahoo! Mail. Plus, let's face it, Mental Floss is on Tumblr, so they've got that going for 'em.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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