The Truth Behind the Numbers

Owl MathematicianThis is the theory, supported by some anecdotal evidence, that adoption of new things starts off slowly, but when between 20% and 25% of the target population has it, adoption rates jump exponentially until around 70% of the target population has the device.  At that point, sales remain constant, albeit much lower than before.

Conversely, when people start getting rid of a thing, this starts slowly, but when between 20% and 25% of the population that originally had the thing gets rid of it, the drop rate dives down exponentially.

For YahooGroups,
Take June 2013 as the base period of time.
* It takes x period of time, for 5% of the groups to be deleted by owners;
* It will take 1.5x for 10% of the groups to be deleted by the owners;
* It will take 1.75x for 20% of the groups to be deleted by the owners;
* It will take 1.825x, for 25% of the groups to be deleted by the owners;
* It will take 3.9x, for 50% of the groups to be deleted by the owners;

Going by the data that Owlsy has provided, by September 2014 5% of the groups that were in existence in June 2013 will have been deleted. Extrapolating from that, by September 2017 more than half of the groups that were in existence in June 2013 will have been deleted by the owners.

What should concern Yahoo management far more than those numbers, but doesn’t because Yahoo management has no understanding, or even any knowledge of their product — YahooGroups, is what happens when groups are abandoned by their owners.

Yahoo Groups is:
* The office water fountain;
* Software tech support;
* Exchange of information;
* Keep in touch with the family clan;
* Announcements;
* Group therapy;
* “Guys, I’m still alive.” Rephrased, these are groups where members
send emails several times per day:
# The first email is usually “I did not harm myself during the night. I did not kill myself. I am not in the hospital. IOW, things are ‘normal’ for me, for now.”
# The second and subsequent emails are about getting through the day, without killing themselves, or otherwise harming themselves.
# Note: What is “normal” for people in these groups is very different from the rest of society. These people are aware of that and would love to be like “normal folks,” but thus far, haven’t found a medical support team they can afford that can provide the requisite care and treatment.

The specific needs and requirements of those types of groups are different. Those differences can be discussed at a later point in time.

Here is where abandoned groups are a problem.

Molly is told by her doctor that she has Diabetes III. The doctor suggests that she finds a group that can help her with the unexpected issues that crop up. So Molly goes to Yahoo Groups, and does a search for “Diabetes III.”

Up on the screen umpteen dozen groups are displayed that appear to be support groups for her, so she looks at one. Prior to NEO, she could have seen that there had been no group activity for 5 years. Under NEO she can’t see that, so she subscribes to it and then discovers that it is dormant. She looks at a second group. Prior to NEO, she could have seen that there were 500 messages per month. So she subscribes to it and promptly is inundated with messages advertising pharmacies that are allegedly in Canada, establishments that in Shakespeare’s day were called nunneries, financial scams, and the like. Nothing about diabetes. So she unsubscribes from the list. (Well, under NEO, she can’t do so, so she simply diverts all email from Yahoo Groups to the trashcan and reports it to one or more RTBLs.) Undaunted, she tries a third list, only to repeat the experience of receiving emails that are completely unrelated to her condition.

At this stage, she gives up on Yahoo Groups, and wanders across to FaceBook where she hopes to find support groups that are more relevant.

A couple of months later, Molly tells her doctor about the group on Facebook, and the doctor tells his other patients about that group. He also tells them not to bother with Yahoo Groups, because there are no Diabetes III support lists there.

(I’m using Diabetes III as an example. AFAIK, there is no such medical condition. There is a condition known as Diabetes II and a similar condition known as Diabetes I, both of which have several fairly good support lists on Yahoo Groups.)

Jane discovers a group, “The Go-Gos,” and looks to Yahoo Groups for information about it. She finds half a dozen groups that claim to be for fans of “The Go-Gos.” Unfortunately for her, the first three groups she looks at are either dormant or spam havens. The fourth group is marked “adult,” and given what she has already seen, she decides that it must be even more obnoxious spam. Eventually she connects with somebody on MySpace who tells her that FaceBook is where the real fan groups for the Go-Gos are found.

Jane then tells her friends in meatspace about the Go-Gos and the FaceBook group. She also tells them that Yahoo Groups is nothing but spam.

Repeat that scenario a hundred times per day, and nobody will recommend Yahoo Groups for anything, except those whose “product” is sending messages to Yahoo Groups lists, advertising whatever the market is willing to pay.

FWIW, whilst I don’t have any hard evidence, the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen suggests that Yahoo Groups numbers peaked about five years ago, which is roughly when abandoned groups first became visible to those who were not specifically searching for them.

Yahoo’s biggest problem is that it is roughly akin to a rundown neighbourhood that contains a number of properties that either are or should be on the National History Preservation List. Cleaning up the neighbourhood is a major undertaking without necessarily showing any gain during that process. Indeed, it is not uncommon for specific property valuations to decline because the buildings on the land were demolished. So it is with Yahoo Groups, where instead of saying “13,000,000 groups with “Y” subscribers, it will be 5,000,000 groups with “W” subscribers. The difference being that the “Y” subscribers didn’t look at the messages from Yahoo Groups, but the “W” subscribers do look at them.


Just in case it isn’t clear, I am saying that Yahoo can change everything in Yahoo Groups, but it won’t do a thing for revenue unless that change is cleaning up the abandoned groups. Once that is done, it can focus on getting Yahoo Groups to be the “in” place.

> This *implies* a high number of eyeballs on ads, meaning even if the advertisers are told the truth by Brenda and others, Yahoo can point to the number of groups not diminishing and this, of course, makes it look like we have not credibility.

This is where citing groups such as _FlyLady_ is helpful. I’m picking on that one specifically because it migrated to BigTent more than three years ago, with no messages being posted on Yahoo Groups since then. I don’t have a list of other groups that had 100,000+ members that migrated elsewhere but, for one reason or another, maintained a presence on Yahoo Groups.

Starting around 2004, it was not uncommon for list-owners to migrate their list elsewhere, purge their entire membership on the list here, then make the list “membership by invitation only” or “membership requires moderator approval” and all posts must be moderated and let things just sit — the idea being that doing so, protects the intellectual property rights one has. It specifically prevented the former list from being associated with goods and services of a dubious nature.

Likewise, one could cite groups like _The Taoist Garden_, pointing out that they are not safe for work due to the spam that is posted in them. It would be time consuming, but relatively trivial, to create a list of 100 or so groups with more than 1,000 subscribers that were conduits of spam.

I’m not sure how conducive it would be to name the companies that paid for advertising in messages to those lists, money that was wasted before the contract had been signed.

***If spammers are taking over groups as you said, then the message count > stays high and people like Bonforte can cite that as additional proof that people like us are full of it.***

That holds until advertising agencies start looking into the results of the advertising campaign on Yahoo Groups or, more likely, take a deep interest in precisely what they are paying for.

I guarantee you that no advertiser will willingly pay for ads on _The Taoist Garden_ list or that space if they knew their ad would be “competing” with ads for “Canadian medical pharmacies,” etc.

> Yahoo can cite the August report that they are the biggest of the internet giants,

Take a very hard look at that report and go back to the source, paying very close attention to how the numbers were derived and constructed to make that statement.



4 thoughts on “The Truth Behind the Numbers

  1. What you’re saying is that the most important thing Yahoo could do to increase Groups usage is to rework the directory and the directory search functions so that the results emphasize active, well-run groups and hide or push to the bottom inactive or spam-haven groups.

    A quick test didn’t reveal a problem, though I’m aware that it isn’t reasonable to argue from a single example. I searched for Pentax K10D (my camera type) and the first group with open membership had member moderation and entirely valid recent messages.

    I had no problem leaving the group, so I don’t know what to make of your comment that people can’t leave under Neo.

    As to advertising, I don’t think either Yahoo or its advertisers are fools. They undoubtedly use the ad server statistics on page loads as the metric of value. That is, people who don’t visit the web pages don’t count, nor do people with ad blockers. I doubt that the number of messages or members in a group even comes up in those discussions. Only ad impressions and (gold!) clicks.

    • Shal wrote: “people who don’t visit the web pages don’t count, nor do people with ad blockers.”

      Pity so many ordinary users have been driven off the web pages by the broken interface!

      • A broken interface is in that sense its own punishment. Alas only Yahoo is in a position to know the true picture with page hits and ad impressions.

        It could be that on the whole “ordinary” users are getting along just fine with Neo. The testimony at this blog and in various moderator groups to the contrary is, at least in part, a matter of self-selection: only those experiencing trouble seek out these places. We have no way of measuring how widespread the “broken” experience really is.

  2. David! So great to see you! Is your mail fixed finally? And I have to agree, I’m having to post from mail now, something I NEVER EVER did before, because the Neo interface won’t work for me, and also blinds me and makes me dizzy.
    Nightowl >8#

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