It’s the end of an era for Yahoo – again.
If the deal goes through, Yahoo, the pioneer internet portal founded by Jerry Yang and David Filo in 1994, will be selling its core internet assets to Verizon for $4.8 billion. On Monday it was announced that what’s left – a 15 percent stake in the Chinese retail business Alibaba and the Yahoo Japan joint venture with Softbank – would be renamed Altaba. CEO Marissa Mayer and founder Filo will be leaving the board.
The old Yahoo billboard near the Bryant Street on-ramp to the westbound Bay Bridge. It went dark in 2011. Read my post about it.
Why “Altaba”? The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin decoded the name in an article published yesterday:
The new name is meant to be a combination of the words “alternative and Alibaba,” according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to speak on the record about the name change.
Or maybe “the individual” was covered in shame. It’s not exactly an emotionally resonant name.
And Mashable’s Damon Beres explained the business side of it:
Think of it this way: Years ago, someone planted a seed and called it “Yahoo Inc.” It grew into a big ol’ tree with some fruit hanging off of it. Verizon comes along with a basket and says, “Hey, I want to buy that fruit.”
It can take all that fruit, including a really nice-looking tidbit that is the Yahoo brand, but the tree is still called Yahoo Inc. So, the farmer goes to the, uh, Securities and Exchange Commission (just roll with us) and says, “Hey, I'm selling all of my fruit to Verizon, and they can bake it into a new pie called Yahoo, but I need to change the name of this tree to Altaba. Cool?”
It’s a long, sad fall from the giddy, silly heights of Web 1.0. “Yahoo” – officially styled with that damn exclamation point – was coined by Yang and Filo as an homage (they insisted) to college slang in Filo’s native Louisiana. The word, basically unchanged from Gulliver’s Travels, meant “rude, unsophisticated, or uncouth.” Later, the co-founders puckishly assigned a backronym to the name: “Yet Another Hierarchically Organized [or Officious] Oracle.” “Officious” here meant not “meddlesome” but “used by office workers.”
There was a Yahoo yodel, created by the San Francisco ad agency Black Rocket.
“Altaba” is about as far from that loosey-goosey hacker style as you can get. It’s corporate and, dare I say it, officious. Like a lot of Yahoo’s recent business tactics lately, it’s staggeringly ill timed: The “alt-” evokes “alt-right,” the white-nationalist movement that bullied its way into the national agenda during last year’s presidential election.
Compared to this famous Alt-, “Altaba” is curiously weak.
Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant that calls itself “the world’s biggest bazaar,” took its name from Ali Baba, the character in the Middle Eastern folk tale that was included in One Thousand and One Nights. In the tale, Ali Baba discovers that he can open a thieves’ den with the phrase “Open Sesame.”
Did the Twitterati have opinions about the Yahoo name change? Of course!
Altaba is Arabic for "set money on fire."— Rudolf E. Havenstein (@RudyHavenstein) January 10, 2017
BREAKING:— Daniel Bostic (@debostic) January 10, 2017
Yahoo! is being renamed "Altaba" in a symbolic gesture that signals they will continue to make horrific branding decisions.
"Ask your doctor if Altaba is right for you. Side effects include inability to stop laughing at silly coined corporate renames"— Stuart Elliott (@stuartenyt) January 9, 2017
Prior to the Altaba announcement, the fractional Yahoo assets had been nicknamed Remain Co., which is significantly cooler, if rather more funereal, than Altaba.