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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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As Big as a What? How Literary Size Comparisons Change Over Time
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Many humans are bad at visualizing what measurements really mean unless you give them a comparison. Tell someone a space is 360 feet long and they'll probably just blink; say it's the length of a football field and you might get a nod of comprehension. That's why many writers use size comparisons rather than precise measurements in non-technical works. (It also helps convince people your work wasn't written by a robot.) But the comparisons that writers use reflect the culture and time period they're in—tell an ancient Roman something is the size of a credit card or a car, and you're not going to get very far.

As spotted by Digg, programmer and data visualization whiz Colin Morris recently performed an experiment that demonstrates how these kinds of object comparisons change over time. Morris mined the vast Ngram dataset of English-language Google Books for occurrences of the phrase "the size of ___" between 1800 and 2008, then ranked the top results by popularity overall and in specific centuries. Some of the results made perfect sense (England has phased out the shilling; basketball didn't exist for most of the 1800s), while others were more surprising (why did we stop referring to cats as a popular size comparison in the 21st century?).

Overall, Morris found that items from the natural world have fallen into decline as reference points, while sports analogies have exploded onto the scene. (Morris wonders whether this has to do with the rise of leisure time, and/or the mass media that exposes far more spectators to sports than ever before.) Some of the specific results also have intriguing stories to tell: We no longer talk about the size of pigeon's eggs largely thanks to the extinction of the passenger pigeon, which was once the most numerous bird in the United States. The numbers of city pigeons just don't compare—when was the last time you saw one of their eggs?

There is one clear winner across the centuries, however: peas. These tiny legumes were the most popular reference point in the 1800s and they remain so today. The same is true of runner-up the walnut. Let it not be said we have nothing in common with our ancestors.

Here are the top five items in each century that Morris investigated:

1800s

1. pea
2. walnut
3. pinhead
4. egg
5. hen's egg

1900s

1. pea
2. walnut
3. pinhead
4. egg
5. orange

2000-2008

1. pea
2. walnut
3. quarter
4. football field
5. egg

For the full list, head over to Colin Morris's site.

[h/t Digg]

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The Highs and Lows of the Dell Dude
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Benjamin Curtis was just 19 years old when he went to the open audition that would change his life, but he still felt like a senior citizen. He was surrounded by child actors from the ages of 12 to 17, most of them accompanied by their mothers. The group was part of a casting call for Dell, the personal computing company well-known to business and educational customers but an unproven commodity for the home market.

Dell’s ad agency, Lowe Worldwide, hoped to change that reputation by introducing the character of Steven, a sharp, tech-savvy teen who would extol the virtues of Dell’s desktop and laptop offerings in a charmingly goofy manner. Even though he was two years outside the age range, Curtis’s agent believed he had a shot.

He read. And read again. And then read a third time. By December 2000, Curtis had gotten the part and was quickly becoming known as the “Dell Dude,” a pitchman who rivaled the Maytag Man in terms of commercial popularity. But by 2003, the character would disappear, victimized by a peculiar kind of corporate hypocrisy. While the Dell Dude’s stoner wisdom was good for laughs and increased sales, Curtis being arrested for actual marijuana possession was not.

In 1984, Michael Dell was a pre-med student at the University of Texas when he began tinkering with home computing hardware. A serial entrepreneur—he once made $18,000 as a teenager collecting data to find new subscribers for the Houston Post—Dell figured that custom machines and aggressive customer support would help fill a niche in the growing PC market.

He was right. Dell racked up $1 million in sales that year and spent the next decade and a half expanding into a billion-dollar enterprise. But a lot of Dell’s business consisted of commercial accounts like schools and government offices, leaving direct-to-consumer sales largely untapped. To help introduce Dell to those users, the company hired Lowe Worldwide to create a campaign that would appeal to people who felt intimidated by the personal computing phenomenon.

Lowe conceived of a precocious kid who could rattle off Dell’s specs and lend a human face to their line of hardware. But the “Dell Dude” wasn’t fully realized until Curtis walked in the door.

Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Curtis grew up interested in performing magic and drifted toward theater in an attempt to strengthen his stage presence. He went on to earn an acting scholarship to New York University and had a roommate who knew a commercial talent agent. Having been introduced to her, he began going out on casting calls. One of them was for Dell.

Embodied by Curtis, the Steven character morphed into a Jeff Spicoli-esque surfer archetype, fast-talking and charming. In his first appearance, Steven makes a videotaped appeal to his father for an $849 Dell desktop “with a free DVD upgrade” because he knows his dad “likes free stuff.” In another, he encourages a friend’s family to gift his buddy with a Dell for $799, complete with an Intel Pentium III processor.

The commercials debuted in 2000, but it wasn’t until DDB, the Chicago ad agency that took over Dell’s account, introduced a catchphrase that Steven acquired his nickname. In his fourth commercial, he announced to his friend, “Dude you’re getting a Dell!”

From that point on, Dell’s splash into residential home computing was guaranteed. Sales rose 100 percent, with Dell’s market share growing by 16.5 percent. The awareness was almost exclusively the result of Curtis’s popularity, which grew to include numerous online fan pages and calls for personal appearances. Younger viewers wrote in and wondered if he was available for dates; older viewers considered him a non-threatening presence.

By 2002, Steven had starred in more than two dozen Dell spots. In some of the later ads, he took a back seat, appearing toward the end of the ads. The cameos prompted some concern among fans that Dell would be sidelining Curtis, but company representatives denied it. In early 2003, however, the Dell Dude found himself out of a job.

“Dude, you’re getting a cell” was the headline in media accounts of Curtis’s arrest in February 2003 on suspicion of attempting to purchase marijuana. Curtis was on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and sporting a kilt he recently acquired in Scotland when an undercover officer spotted him purchasing the drug from a dealer. After being held in custody overnight, Curtis was released and the case was adjourned. If he stayed out of trouble for a year, his record would be expunged.

The New York Times compared the relative innocuousness of his arrest to that of actor Robert Mitchum, who was arrested on a marijuana-related charge in 1948. Despite living in a more conservative era, Mitchum’s career was largely unaffected. The same didn’t hold true for Curtis, however; he was promptly dropped by Dell as their spokesperson. According to Curtis, the company had a strict no-drugs policy for employees, and one strike was all it took to force his dismissal.

Feeling ostracized from commercial work and typecast by the role, Curtis juggled gigs while working at a Mexican restaurant in New York and enduring daily recognition from customers. “They’ll get really drunk, and they’ll start yelling things at me,” he told Grub Street in 2007. “I either ignore them, or if it’s way out of hand, I go up and say, ‘I appreciate your support, but my name is Ben.’ That usually doesn’t work so I smile and ignore them.”

Dell never found a mascot as well-liked as Curtis. They hired singer Sheryl Crow to appear in spots beginning in 2005, but she didn't sway consumers as much as Steven had. In 2010, the company attempted to battle back from negative press over selling defective computers to customers between 2003 and 2005. Today, they typically occupy a list of the top three PC companies, trailing Lenovo and HP.

Curtis, meanwhile, made a segue into off-Broadway performing and now operates Soul Fit NYC, a holistic wellness center in New York that offers yoga, massage, personal training, and life coaching services. Although he’s expressed interest in coming back to Dell as a spokesperson, the company may not appreciate his latest indiscretion: In 2013, he admitted to owning a MacBook.

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