In January 1994, two Stanford University graduate students — Jerry Yang and David Filo — created a web directory named “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web.” It went by various other names in early 1994 (such as “Hierarchical Hotlist” and “Jerry & Dave’s Guide to WWW”), before being christianed Yahoo in April of that year. Throughout the rest of 1994, Yang and Filo quietly developed the website in their Stanford dorm rooms. Finally, in January 1995 the pair bought the domain name yahoo.com and become a company a couple of months later.
The founding of Yahoo is one of the iconic Silicon Valley business stories. What’s lesser known is the web development story of Yahoo throughout 1994 — which is the focus of this article. In particular, we’ll explore how a scripting language invented by Larry Wall in 1987, called Perl, became the glue that made Yahoo stick in the public consciousness.
As covered in a previous post, Perl was increasingly being used in 1993 to build CGI scripts on the web. It gained a reputation at that time as a language for web users who were not trained programmers, but could nonetheless create interactive scripts using Perl (or, more likely, by copying and pasting Perl code). The development of Yahoo in 1994 represented the emergence of Perl as a web language for building a ‘dot com’ business — even though what Yahoo’s founders initially built wasn’t much more sophisticated than the CGI scripts created by amateur teenagers in 1993. In any case, Yahoo co-founder David Filo later told Perl creator Larry Wall that Yahoo “could never have been started without Perl.”