Sound familiar? Marissa Mayer envisions Yahoo as a guide to the internet

The key to Yahoo’s future is in its past.
The key to Yahoo’s future is in its past.
Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg
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Yahoo’s roots date back to 1994, when Jerry Yang and David Filo launched a website called Jerry and David’s guide to the World Wide Web. To help new internet users navigate this world, the two hand-picked an assortment of websites that were organized hierarchically.

Fast forward to 2015, and Yahoo is a search engine, a collection of online magazines, a TV production company, a place to keep up with financial markets, a destination for playing fantasy sports, a question-and-answer site, and much, much more. Yet despite its expanded scope, what CEO Marissa Mayer ultimately envisions for Yahoo is a return to its core—a guide to the internet.

Going back to the future is one thing, but the present still looks rather bleak: The company’s first-quarter results fell short of expectations, as higher revenue from search ads was wiped out by the cost of paying partners like Mozilla, which now uses Yahoo search as the default for its Firefox browser.

In an investor call today, Mayer was asked what Yahoo will look like in three to five years.

Her response recalled the company’s early days. “Our strategy is to be the indispensable guide to digital information,” she said. “As we see new formats appear—be it phones, tablets, watches, televisions—we think that that ability to play the role of the guide and really inform, connect, and entertain users will stand the test of time.”

Monetizing these new formats will mean a continued push toward Yahoo’s Mavens business—a catch-all term Mayer coined earlier this year that stands for mobile, video, native, and social. Collectively, this business is the fastest growing part of Yahoo, and Mayer projects it will bring in $1.5 billion in revenue this year. In the first quarter, Mavens brought in $363 million in sales, or a third of the company’s traffic-driven revenue.

Yahoo’s attempt to revisit its roots may also involve selling off its lucrative stake in Yahoo Japan, much as it is moving to unload its shares in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Yahoo’s stock rose after Mayer said the company has hired advisers to find the “most promising opportunities” for the Yahoo Japan stake.