As search veterans go, Tim Koogle has seen a few tours of duty. He joined Yahoo back when the company had six employees and a pretty limited directory – for the most part, it was still “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web” (though it was no longer on akebono.stanford.edu , at least).
Tim was the original adult supervisor (he left in 2001), and he came in in 1995 to help figure out what to do next. As we spoke he recalled many of the early conversations he, David Filo and Jerry had around how to create value and grow the business.
“We realized that if we do a great job at enabling navigation (of the Web), demand for that will never go away. And the cool thing about server-based solutions was that people come to our servers and use our directory but they leave tracks – we could, every day, see exactly what people found most important through their usage. We used that as a compass to aggregate more deeply those things they found important.”
Leveraging this clickstream in turn led to a deeper directory and, ultimately, the build out of Yahoo’s major destination areas – Finance, Travel, etc. It also led to the realization that the company needed search – what Koogle, using a book analogy, calls the index of the web, with Yahoo’s directory served as the Table of Contents.
Chatting with Tim reminded me how much search has changed in the past five or so years. Back in the mid to late 90s, running search from inside Yahoo didn’t make as much sense as partnering, because search was a very capital intensive process that had basically no business model – paid search simply had not come together yet. It made far more sense to outsource it – as Yahoo did to various players throughout its history, up until recently.
Tim didn’t entirely buy the common wisdom that Yahoo missed the search train in a fit of late 90s portalmania. “It’s easy in hindsight to say we took our eye off the ball,” he told me. “But what had not emerged yet was a way of monetizing it.”
Tim went over his early interactions with Larry and Sergey, and said they struck him, in the early days, as uniquely bright and “a ball to sit with and drill down on the tech.” We forget, but Tim himself was not just a biz guy, he has a PhD in kinematics.
We discussed the bust of 2000-2001, and he argued that it was in the end a good thing for the internet industry (Tim is busy investing and working with a number of new net companies, such as Plaxo and Friendster). A lot of great ideas did not make it through that fire, but they are emerging now, stronger for the burn, he argued. I agree.