By now there’s been plenty of media coverage of the technical and public relations disaster that is the new Yahoo! email. Under the guise of a makeover, Yahoo! gutted their flagship email product and released the new version before much of anything in it worked. Yahoo! has been strikingly silent about why and what they plan to do to restore even basic reliability. Weeks of user emails have gone missing, the site crashes, basic features fail regularly without explanation and you can’t get anyone on the phone – it’s as amateurish a job as I’ve seen in years. A new product launched with this many glitches would be laughed out of the marketplace. Yahoo! email’s faithful users are not amused.
Yahoo! has completely removed an odd set of features. Print, for example. I assume fancy tech companies have focus groups and user testing before they undergo any product overhaul, but may not. This looks like they don’t actually have any idea how people use their product. Users are feeling betrayed by Yahoo!’s inability to deliver a basic service. Does Yahoo! even know who their email users are, or how they use Yahoo! email?
Ah, unreliability – weeks worth of emails simply missing, stacks of current emails undelivered. On the second of January several emails dated December 20 show up in my inbox. Yahoo! said it was only affecting about 3% of their users. I see varying accounts of how many email users they actually have, but a count of 300,000,000 shows up a lot. 3% is 900,000 people. Nearly a million people is not a small problem. I am not sure why they tried to downplay this, but they didn’t address it publicly for weeks. Weeks! Not minutes, or even a few hours, as you’d expect in this Internet age. Weeks.
It’s been months now since the new release, and it still functions poorly. I feel like I’m in a time warp back to 2002. Don’t even ask me about Yahoo! groups.
Of course, sometimes we users need to get an email out right now. A great dog at a shelter will be put down in a few hours if he doesn’t find a home. People travelling to an event need updated directions or a travel warning. A flight is cancelled. It’s immediate, the word has to get to the right people. When emails aren’t delivered, user problems can cascade very fast.
Me, I communicate with family and friends. I set up parties and events. I have a couple of organization-intensive hobbies, so I’m often emailing to lists, or to an individual person about a specific list message. Because I’m often coordinating people, places, times, and associated project lists that vary from one person to the next, it’s really nice if I can open several emails and triangulate between them. I’m juggling details a lot. I need to sort emails so I can file them in folders, I need to easily know which email refers to which topic, and sometimes I need a good search function to find that special message . Right now, in the revamped version, all of that is very, very hard (or impossible) to do. With threaded conversations, it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going to whom, or who’s saying what. The headers they’ve added don’t give any critical information, so it’s hard to figure out which conversation is which. Wasn’t the point to make that easier? Never mind not being able to print, or having the Send button far down at the bottom away from all the other controls, or any of the other goofy things they’ve done. The pundits who said this version of Yahoo! email was gorgeous look like fools. They clearly didn’t test the tool.
This version of Yahoo! email is supposed to look more like Google mail. It does. Who thought that was a good idea? I’ve had a Gmail account for many years in addition to Yahoo!. I think a lot of us long-term users have. If I liked it, I’d have moved there years ago. I find the interface clumsy and uncomfortable, particularly with managing lists – I’m on a lot of lists. Google loses chunks of my contacts data regularly, which a Web search reveals to be a Thing That Happens With Google. My Google contact files are now a Swiss cheese, and I never know whether I’ll be able to find the address or contact info I’m looking for. So I don’t use Gmail as my main account, despite its reputation for reliability and its integration with diverse, useful, convenient tools. Maybe its purported popularity with a younger crowd is because that crowd doesn’t need as much complexity, and Gmail itself (not Contacts) is reliable. I don’t need Yahoo! email to give me a faux-Google experience. If I wanted Gmail I’d already be there.
There is a profile of Yahoo! users that says they’re older and not tech-savvy. It appears to have originated in a poorly conducted study by Hunch.com, which purports to identify profiles of users of various browsers. What their study actually shows is profiles of various segments of Hunch.com users. Speaking personally, I resent this. I am a definitely middle aged – but not tech-savvy? My home computeris partitioned so I can run an Oracle database on one side. I taught Oracle, for Oracle. I manage a couple of websites. I have an iPod, Kindle, tablet, laptop, desktop, and work laptop, all which I use regularly. I tweet, text, Stumble, use Facebook, etc. (My blog also has a FB page. I’ll set up its Pinterest page when I get a moment…). Despite the assumptions of the thirty-something-and younger crowd, I’m not at all unusual for my age group. Just because I can remember dialup doesn’t mean I’m not very happy to have WiFi.
I do use the Internet differently than my younger friends. Those of you who’ve been around a while appreciate just how much more complicated life gets the longer you live it. I don’t have time to play around as much. I look for apps and sites that will help me accomplish what I need, and am delighted when I find one that fits perfectly (there are more very cool apps and sites than I will ever find. I can live with that.). I really don’t have time to figure out an interface that’s hard to use. If I can’t locate useful features pretty quickly, it’s not the tool for me; I move on and find another. I almost always have to be on task. Exploring for the fun of it and poking at something until it works is mostly a young person’s luxury, before mortgages, children, aging parents, home upkeep, and jobs with real responsibility.
It’s nice when an app or a website looks sleek, but I need ’em smart and swift. I’m not immune to virtual beauty. Will Oremus at Slate says Yahoo! email users “…don’t care whether their webmail client wins design awards. They care whether it works.” That’s not completely true, but design awards are definitely low on the list.
Yahoo! wants to appeal to a younger, fresher audience, who are using emerging mobile technologies and will be consumers for technologies we have not yet imagined. Future planning is appropriate, but after this mess, who’s going to sign up for bug-ridden, unresponsive, childishly planned, clumsy and sometimes aggressively rude (I’m looking at you, Bonforte) email!? Yahoo! email’s upgrade might be the best pro-Google campaign ever. Seriously, has anyone looked into whether Mayer is getting a kickback?
It may take a while before we can truly measure how many users leave Yahoo! over this. I use my email address in so many places for so many things that it’s not going to be easy to extricate it. It will take time. If Yahoo! users truly are older, they’ve had more time to create more online accounts and connections, and sorting it out will take longer. Evaluating the damage to Yahoo!’s user base may take a year or more.
As for me, from where I’m standing, Apple products look great. No one complains about iCloud.