It doesn’t have to be this way…

CuriousSince August 4th the Groups team has broken the daily habit of millions of Groups users, and thereby damaged Yahoo! Groups as a product, and diminished Yahoo! as a brand.

Yes, strong words. But before you dismiss that as mere rhetoric, or the ravings of a disgruntled user, consider the timeline of dysfunction that is associated with the so-called “Neo” roll-out. There are plenty of resources to learn just how dysfunctional Neo has been, here I’ll just hit a few of the highlights.

  • Aug 4th to Aug 26th – Members of plain-text groups (those that exclude attachments) could not use the Groups Message Poster – it produced only text/HTML message bodies which were incompatible with that setting.
  • Aug 26th to Sep 9th – Members of plain-text groups suffer through incomprehensible postings from the Groups Message Poster – it continues to make HTML message bodies, but marks them as text/plain.
  • Aug 4th to Sep 13th – Moderators could not edit pending messages before approval.

Oct 21st – we have had eleven weeks of the roll-out, and still Neo is missing significant functionality that is present in the classic interface: (Updates as of Nov 18th)

  • Moderators cannot return pending posts to members with a rejection notice.
  • Moderators cannot edit a pending post and save the edits for further review.
  • Some messages pending moderation cause an error on Approve or Approve with reply.
  • Some messages pending moderation have invisible content which may show when posted.
  • In the pending list, using Reject with reply,  choosing << (plain text) will convert < and > characters to HTML character entities &lt; and &gt; respectively.
  • In the pending list there is no << (plain text) option in Approve with reply.
  • In the pending list neither the member’s email address nor the pending message number is shown.
  • Moderators cannot reply to pending members.
  • The pending message list operates unreliably. It fails to show some messages, badly formats most messages, and too often yields an error when approving a message after editing.
  • Messages pile up in the Spam area, and can neither be deleted or approved. Incomprehensibly, Spam is shown under Conversations, when it belongs in the Pending Approvals management section, and is lacking the ability to edit the message before approval or to return it to sender. The pending message queue lacks a capability to designate a message as spam.  The Spam filter can’t even be turned off to avoid the problem.
  • Groups cannot choose to exclude HTML message bodies.
  • Groups cannot use more than basic text formatting in their descriptions — no links, no images, even though the composition box carries the legend “Text or HTML”.
  • Many groups still have arbitrary stock photos as their cover images, even though it would be trivial for Yahoo to carry over their classic photos (just scale them to height instead of width).
  • The Group Activity Logs do not record certain moderator activity, such as approving messages, but are incomplete (lacking member email, and lacking message number if approved by web).
  • The Group Activity Logs cannot be searched.
  • Files and Folders which contain an apostrophe or hyphen in the name cannot be accessed.
  • User Aliases are not respected on all pages.
  • The Database functionality is crippled.

All of this could have been tolerable, if Neo had been rolled out as an opt-in test. Instead, starting about August 4th, Yahoo began choosing arbitrary users to put into the “test” — and customer care first said that they couldn’t talk about possible product changes, then later told users that it is a test but they can’t opt out or be taken out of the test. Then, after weeks of confusion and anxiety on users’ part, Yahoo finally made an announcement on August 29th using their brand-new Tumblr blog — but they didn’t reference that announcement in their “classic” blog, nor in the Moderator Central group. One thing changed with that announcement: Neo was no longer referred to as a test, it was now in roll-out. But still an involuntary one.

When pressed for a reason that users couldn’t be allowed to Opt in or out until the problems in Neo are fixed, Yahoo had this to say:

“it doesn’t work that way unfortunately. The old platform is just about to fall apart. It’s new Groups or no Groups at this point.
— Jeff Bonforte, Senior VP of Communications at Yahoo!, Twitter 2013-09-30

As a statement of product life cycle planning I do somewhat agree with this — the “classic” interface is old and in need of a refresh. But as a statement in the here and now it is manifestly untrue. It was untrue on August 4th, and will remain untrue for the foreseeable future.  The classic platform hasn’t collapsed, and likely won’t until the day Yahoo decides to shut it down.

Telling your user community something that they know to be untrue based on their own daily experience isn’t a clever way to garner support  for your new product development. Particularly not when it comes on the heels of months of dysfunction and poor communication with the new product. In point of fact there is no technical reason that the Tool menu (gear icon in the upper right corner of every page) couldn’t have a “Switch to Neo” when in classic, and “Switch to classic” when in Neo. Just like Yahoo Mail lets users switch between the Fully Featured and Basic interfaces. The only impediment to such an option is Yahoo’s stubborness on the question.

I’m not saying this is something that Yahoo needs to support forever (nor even to the next major rollout). But it is a sensible remediation until such time as Neo can be brought up to feature-complete (compared to classic groups) and its significant flaws can be ironed out. Yes, there will be some that will always prefer the classic interface, but Yahoo really needs to get the Feedback down to a dull roar before it pulls the plug on the classic interface.

Yahoo has a lot of fence-mending to do with the user community. I hope they choose to take this one step in the right direction.

Notes: For an abundance of detail, see the Feedback forum, the Yahoo Groups about Groups, or Mods & Members. For a more concise summary there are also the pages about Yahoo Groups Neo on my wiki, YahooGroupedia.

4 thoughts on “It doesn’t have to be this way…

  1. Hey Shal,

    I made some attempts to use some things in Neo the other day. Yep, still broken.

    One notable example was that I went to the SAYNO2NEO group and tried to change my e-mail address. Got it all done and clicked Save. Nothing. Clicked Save again, nothing. Third time, John checked view source or whatever it is that you do to see the code behind the screen and found there was no code attached to the button to tell it what to do. You’re kidding me? No code telling the button what to do?

    Then yesterday my brother asked me why I had sent him a text message that was over a month old. I said I had not sent any text messages. I wasn’t even using that Messenger; I had switched off the one from the Neoized e-mail when it first got Neoized. He showed me, and sure enough, it was there. I told him the only thing I could come up with was that somehow Neo affected YIM and it sent him an old message. I told him it was grouping things in mail with the same heading, why not YIM? I know I didn’t send him a message two days ago from August, but lately, I’m getting 2 or more of someone’s posts on Mods & Members in my mail. Fortunately, only one posts to the group.

    Another problem John discovered is that sometimes when you are reading the group it starts to morph into other groups. He started seeing posts from my Hollow Tree group intermixed with posts from Mods & Members. Hitting reload made it go away. And last night Suz was on MM and we were both in another site when she was suddenly looking at Group Managers Forum. Now the weirdest part of all this: John is actually in Hollow Tree; Suz is not in Group Managers Forum, and it took more to get her out than hit reload.

    Yep….Neo is full of surprises, isn’t it?

    Nightowl >8#

  2. Weird indeed. I’ve not had any of my groups morph like that. I’d really freak out. It is easy to click the left pane links though, and one of them is “Groups Home” — which consolidates messages from all your groups in one place. Doesn’t explain Suz if she’s not a GMF member though.

  3. Yahoo Groups and Mail both have been doing strange things for people with older computers and operating systems; I suspect that’s why they decided to pull the plug on Classic like they did. Can’t have people using antique hardware (figuratively speaking) forever, even though many people either can’t afford to upgrade or simply do not want the hassles of doing so. I also know they could have provided an option like they did with Mail; that’s essentially what they had done with the Firefox mod plugin.

  4. It may be true that Yahoo had posted it’s update to groups tumblr entry on Aug 29. But, it was closer to the end of Sept before I read the entry on tumblr. Two entries, one on Aug 29 and one on Sept 26. As far as I can tell, both show the same video. I don’t even use tumblr.

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