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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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Wi-Fi 101: How to Tell If Your Connection is Not Private
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Free and readily-accessible Wi-Fi is just about everywhere these days, including cafes, hotels, airports, bars, offices, subway stations, and even public parks. But how do you know that the network you're using will keep your personal information protected? While most wireless routers and laptops have built-in firewall protections, just about anyone connected to the same network could peer into your device and view your activity without you even knowing it, even when you're online in the comfort of your very own home.

Fortunately, most modern browsers—including Apple’s Safari, Microsoft Edge, and Google Chrome—have privacy features built-in, but every now and then an error message stating something like “Your Connection Is Not Private” may pop up on your browser and prevent you from visiting an unsafe website (which doesn't necessarily mean a website or your connection is corrupted; there are multiple reasons why this error warning can be triggered). There are a few ways to tell whether your connection is secure from hackers who want your passwords, credit card information, or other information you want to keep private.

First off, make sure you see a padlock icon next to the Wi-Fi icon in your computer's toolbar or, if you're using Windows, that there is a security type mentioned in the “Security” tab to make sure you’re on a password-protected and private network. And before you part with any money or passwords online, make sure you see

https://” instead of the commonly used “http://” at the beginning of the URL, which is an easy way to make sure you're on a secure site. You can also look for a closed padlock icon on the browser toolbar itself; this is an extra layer of protection that verifies websites as legitimate and uncompromised, and encrypts your personal info from end-to-end, so that hackers can’t read it.

Most Internet browsers also have a private or incognito browsing feature under the “File” tab, which automatically clears your browsing and search history and doesn't store Internet cookies for tracking services or ad targeting. While this feature “hides” your web activity, it doesn't make you invisible from internet service providers, employers, or the websites themselves.

Although it might enable your device to “talk” to other internet-enabled devices in your home or office, like a printer, you also want to turn off sharing on your laptop once you’re in public. Sharing can allow anyone on your Wi-Fi network to access files and folders on your device.

On a PC, open the “Control Panel,” click “Network and Internet,” and then “Choose Change Advanced Sharing Settings.” From here you can turn off file and printer sharing. Furthermore, laptops running Windows 10 can enable a “Make This PC Discoverable” feature to set it from public to private. On a Mac, go to “System Preferences” and then “Sharing” and make sure all checkboxes are unchecked.

In addition, you can enable a firewall to block unauthorized access into your computer, while you can communicate with the outside world via the Internet. On a PC, fire up the “Control Panel,” and then click “System and Security” to enable a firewall. On a Mac, launch “System Preferences,” and then go to “Security & Privacy” to turn it on.

Lastly, consider using a virtual private network (VPN) when browsing the Internet. While turning off sharing and enabling a firewall might prevent hackers from looking into your laptop, a VPN can block an Internet provider, including Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Time Warner, from knowing which websites you visit through your IP address altogether (although some VPN companies have been known to sell your browsing history). Services like Project Tor can mask that information by bouncing it around through a series of random servers—each with its very own IP address—from all around the world. So instead of sending web info from your laptop in Cicero, Illinois to a server in Chicago, a VPN would send that same info from Cicero to New York City to Amsterdam to Kuwait City to Manila to Los Angeles and then to Chicago.

There are also a few smaller things you can do to keep your Wi-Fi connection private, such as clearing your browsing data every few days or weeks, changing your passwords with a password manager like LastPass or Zoho Vault, and keeping your Wi-Fi turned off when you’re not using it. Luckily, most modern Internet browsers are really prompt about sending updates and patches to fix bugs and security breaches, but the best thing you can do is to stay vigilant and not join any open or sketchy Wi-Fi networks around you.

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technology
Watch How Computers Perform Optical Character Recognition
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Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is the key technology in scanning books, signs, and all other real-world texts into digital form. OCR is all about identifying a picture of written language (or set of letters, numbers, glyphs, you name it) and sorting out what specific characters are in there.

OCR is a hard computer science problem, though you wouldn't know it from its current pervasive presence in consumer software. Today, you can point a smartphone at a document, or a sign in a national park, and instantly get a pretty accurate OCR read-out...and even a translation. It has taken decades of research to reach this point.

Beyond the obvious problems—telling a lowercase "L" apart from the number "1," for instance—there are deep problems associated with OCR. For one thing, the system needs to figure out what font is in use. For another, it needs to sort out what language the writing is in, as that will radically affect the set of characters it can expect to see together. This gets especially weird when a single photo contains multiple fonts and languages. Fortunately, computer scientists are awesome.

In this Computerphile video, Professor Steve Simske (University of Nottingham) walks us through some of the key computer science challenges involved with OCR, showing common solutions by drawing them out on paper. Tune in and learn how this impressive technology really works:

A somewhat related challenge, also featuring Simske, is "security printing" and "crazy text." Check out this Computerphile video examining those computer science problems, for another peek into how computers see (and generate) text and imagery.

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