“There are no second acts in American lives.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
Good thing Fitzgerald didn’t live long enough to tell that to AOL and Yahoo, which are confounding wet blankets with sparks of renewed life and relevance. The bit of renaissance for these Internet pioneers comes when Google and Apple are in a bit of a rut and Facebook seems to have found its bottom. (The one constant: Groupon and Zynga are still floundering.)
None of these things are related, of course. There is no astrology of technology, aligning the stars in such a way as to favor some and deny others. Tech success isn’t a zero-sum game, especially when valuations aren’t everything. Just look at Apple’s rise and fall and rebirth.
Apple’s trajectory has so far neatly followed a classic theatrical arc. Act 1 was exciting and prodigious. Act 2 was dismal, with Steve Jobs in exile for 11 years and the company near death. But Act 3 brought us the iRevolution. There’s no greater inspiration for AOL and Yahoo than the knowledge that down is not necessarily out — that the same forces that brought you down to Earth can also slingshot you to infinity, and beyond.
The news for AOL and Yahoo has been positive of late. AOL’s revenue didn’t decline last earnings period (for the first time in seven years). Yahoo is trading at a 52-week high despite what some thought was a vague and platitudinous turnaround strategy articulated by Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer in September.