There seems no plan because it is all plan: there seems no centre because it is all centre.
-C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (1943)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
-W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming (1920)
The last tree died on December 27th, 2014, five days ahead of schedule.1 Few mourned the passing of this twenty-year-old institution, a behemoth of three million branches2 nested eighteen layers deep.3 In its heyday, the tree was the most popular of its kind in the world,4 attracting hundreds of millions of visitors every month.5 Its death, announced quietly as the third item in a boring list, was honestly a mercy.6
Why was Yahoo! Directory the last tree, and what does its demise say about the human condition? This book answers neither nonsensical question. Instead, it addresses the rise of networks as a metaphorical replacement for trees in how our world sorts itself out. The shift subtly but dramatically influences everything from how we treat personal privacy on the internet to how scientists decide what’s worth studying.
In medieval Europe, philosophers argued that both thought and reality were ordered into neatly branching trees. The rise and fall of Yahoo! represents a large nail in the mostly-sealed coffin of this metaphor, replaced by Google in a millennium-long trend towards network thinking. The following vignettes explore these trends and their influence over the world we live in.
Warning: this collection is not a book as one is usually written. Like McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy7 or Williams' Keywords,8 I present a mosaic of interlinked parts that are not so much unified by a common theme as they are, in their tumultuous entirety, the theme itself. There seems no centre because it is all centre.
Sullivan, Danny. “Yahoo Directory Closes, Five Days Early.” Search Engine Land, December 2014.↩
Davis-Gluyas, Shaun. “ODP and Yahoo Size Charts.” Geniac.net. ://www.geniac.net/odp/, November 2004.↩
Assadi, Houssem, and Thomas Beauvisage. “A Comparative Study of Six French-Language Web Directories.” Actes De ISKO 2002, 2002, 271–78.Liu, Tie-Yan, Hao Wan, Tao Qin, Zheng Chen, Yong Ren, and Wei-Ying Ma. “Site Abstraction for Rare Category Classification in Large-Scale Web Directory.” In Special Interest Tracks and Posters of the 14th International Conference on World Wide Web, 1108–9. WWW ’05. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 2005. doi:10.1145/1062745.1062892.↩
BBC Journalist (no byline). “Yahoo Still First Portal Call.” BBC, June 1998.↩
Statista. “Yahoo.com: U.S. Visitors 2015 | Statistic.” Statista. ://www.statista.com/statistics/265105/number-of-unique-us-visitors-to-yahoocom/, July 2015.↩
Google. “Uses of ‘Yahoo Directory’ in Books, 1990-2008.” Google Ngram Viewer. ://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=(Yahoo+directory)%2B(Yahoo+Directory)&year_start=1990&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2C%28Yahoo%20directory%29%20%2B%20%28Yahoo%20Directory%29%3B%2Cc0, May 2015.Google. “Searches for ‘Yahoo Directory’ on Google, 2004-2016.” Google Trends - Web Search Interest - Worldwide, 2004 - Present. ://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=yahoo%20directory&cmpt=q&tz=Etc%2FGMT%2B4, May 2016.↩
McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division (1962), Edition: 50041st, 294 pages, 1962.↩
Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Rev Sub. Oxford University Press (1985), Edition: Oxford University Press, USA, 1985.↩
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