In the late Nineties, Yahoo was the Internet. Technically it was a human-compiled directory of web sites, but it was essentially the home page of what was then a very new and exciting space. When I was looking around for a new job after business school, I discovered Salesforce on Yahoo.
Here’s how it worked: If you had a web site, you submitted it to Yahoo, and if someone there thought it was worth including, they categorized it accordingly. The company hired librarians and book store employees to do this job. It was hailed as the most significant effort at organizing knowledge since Carolus Linnaeus invented the modern system of taxonomy.
Then, of course, came Google. Google didn’t use people, it used math — or rather, it used math to formalize the collective intelligence of people. You typed in a subject, and its PageRank algorithm recommended a web site to you based on the number and quality of links to that web site. It was a brilliant algorithm.
Google eventually left Yahoo in the dust. It grew enormously popular because it was simple and it worked. There was no public outcry about Google’s algorithm. No one accused it of making the world a worse place. There was no documentary decrying its evils, a “Social Dilemma” for its time.