Untangling the Web

Srinija Srinivasan, Ontological Yahoo, Yahoo! Inc.

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University October 18, 1996


I'll give a brief history of Yahoo -- how it all started, and how it has evolved from being a hobby of two Stanford grad students to a successful Internet company. I'll talk about my role in designing the overall categorization/classification scheme, and the challenges associated with maintaining a large, heterogenous database, keeping it as intuitive, efficient, logical, and consistent as possible. In particular I'll explore several interesting issues that Yahoo faces with regards to information organization, including:

  1. is it possible to devise a classification scheme that is simultaneously useful to both the naive and expert user; simultaneously optimal for users in different geographic regions (and speaking different native languages);
  2. what responsibility falls on directories like Yahoo to remain neutral and objective in presenting information, and to what extent is that possible when the mere act of classification is inherently editorial;
  3. how can the extensive amount of information contained in Yahoo's tree-like structure be presented to users in a clean and clear user interface?


Srinija Srinivasan manages Yahoo! Inc.'s team of Surfers and is responsible for the design and maintenance of Yahoo!'s overall classification and organization scheme, making it the most intuitive, robust, expandable and efficient guide for information and online discovery. Prior to joining Yahoo!, Srinija was involved with the Cyc Project, a ten year artificial intelligence effort to build an immense database of human commonsense knowledge, via two companies: Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC) and Cycorp.

Among Srinija's other professional and academic accomplishments, she has published research papers in journals including Government Information Quarterly and the Journal of Technology Transfer. She was named one of "The Net 50" by Newsweek (December 25, 1995) and chosen one of the "40 Under 40" by San Francisco Focus (July 1996), and has also appeared in Fortune (March 4, 1996), Wired (May 1996), and other magazines. Srinija holds a B.S. with distinction from Stanford University in Symbolic Systems including course work in Japan, and is proficient in both written and spoken Japanese.


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