Hasty Fixes to Groups Won’t Fix Revenue Woes

Owl Money 2
Well, here we are in 2014, and it appears that the projected goals for Yahoo have not been met. There is little wonder why – they broke every one of their services to the point of being unusable. On Twitter recently (February 4, 2014), there were still people tweeting that their Yahoo mail was down and not working. Yahoo managed to break it again . . . and Flickr, too.

Do you know why Yahoo is such a mess? Because they rolled out a broken, buggy, untested program called NEO and forced it onto their users without warning.  They started with Yahoo Groups and turned us into guinea pigs as though we were due no consideration for our years of loyalty to Yahoo.  With total disregard they destroyed years of work put into the groups – archives, databases, and even accessibility were gone.

The media paid little attention to the protests of Groups users, but when Yahoo sabotaged Mail, the press was all over it.  Yahoo couldn’t deny the chaos they had created, and they quickly restored at least one of the favorite features (tabs) that they had eliminated.

Still the plight of Groups users was ignored, but we weren’t idle.  Yahoo’s Uservoice overflowed with requests for help, complaints about lost features, and pleas for the return to Classic Groups.  When that didn’t work, we took to contacting the media, advertisers, and stockholders – telling them what we were experiencing, asking for support, and advising them of plans to boycott. We also created this blog to collect relevant data, personal stories, news articles, resources, and comments in one location for anyone to see.

Finally, six months after the advent of NEO, we are beginning to see the true effect. Yahoo’s fourth quarter returns indicate that our efforts have not been in vain. Even though ad sales were up, revenue was down, and COO De Castro was fired by Mayer (with a generous – to say the least – severance deal). Despite Yahoo’s claim of increased traffic, maybe the advertisers and investors are finally seeing the validity of what we’ve been telling them.

BloombergTV2Full article at Bloomberg.com.

Now Yahoo is in a hurry to repair the damage and stop the exodus, but it isn’t working. Months ago Bonforte stated on Twitter that it would take at least two years to identify and fix all the bugs in Groups.

Jeff BonforteJeff Bonforte@bonforte Jeff Bonforte
@Mark__Oliver @Apacapacas it isn’t that easy. And we definitely do have ideas on where we want to take Groups in the next couple of years.
from Castro, San Francisco
(You can read the full transcript here.)

With the recent drop in revenue, investors are pressing for changes in Mayer’s management style.  The press is not only focusing on that, they’re also starting to take seriously the impact on Groups.  The result has been a push by Yahoo to make Groups functional again.  The problem is, the more they “fix” in haste, the more problems they actually cause. In an effort to conceal this latest fiasco, they’ve revised Uservoice so vote counts for requests/complaints are no longer shown.  Perhaps this is a ploy to minimize the effect when viewed by the media and general public.

Another favorite tactic of Yahoo is to close items and claim they have been fixed. In most instances, the problem still exists. They will also close requests as soon as they’ve been submitted, and they’ve changed the way requests are made and made it difficult to know what, if anything, has been done.  So far many of the things they claim are fixed still don’t work properly, if at all.

One of the problems we experienced with NEO is that all of the personalized home page photos were removed and replaced by arbitrary, irrelevant photos assigned by Yahoo (some of them actually offensive to certain cultures or religions).  When they recently returned the personalized photos to the home pages, they left the ones they had imposed on us and placed the original ones lower on the page, in a cropped format.  Below is an example of what a photo “restored” by NEO looks like now, although the original photo did not chop off the heads of the subjects (we did, however, obscure the subjects’ faces to protect their privacy).

NEOTT2

The bottom line is that Yahoo took services that worked – Groups, Mail, Finance, Sports, etc. – and destroyed them.  Groups lost functionality, Mail was down for days, and passwords have been compromised.  Yet they have adamantly refused to return to the Classic format, stating that it is no longer feasible, even though many users are still using that format. What we have repeatedly requested is a return to Classic at least until the new interface can be adequately tested and proven to provide the features on which we have relied for so long.  Is that really too much to ask?

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How Yahoo’s Mistake Affected One Business Community

Owl BusinessmanBy Charley Silverman

This is a story about how Yahoo’s horrible decision to force NEO into our lives has affected one small business community.  Though one story, it probably reflects the experience of many.

QFLEA.com is an online flea market comprised of over almost two hundred small business vendors selling goods and services on the internet.  Pre-NEO, we were closer to four hundred.  These small businesses are what we call the true “Mom and Pop” stores of the digital age, competing against the forces of the megasites and big box stores.

In 1999, each small business owner joined a discussion board called eGroups which was purchased in 2000 by Yahoo.  The purpose for this discussion board was to share common interests and provide mutual assistance.  Members could ask questions about various business processes and issues, with other members the providing answers.  All those questions and answers were saved in the group archives and became a gold mine of information.  Over the years, we also added various lists and databases and other data, all designed to support the small business member.

It worked very well for many years, until one morning in 2013 when we all realized that something was very wrong.  Our business community members suddenly found themselves with a new problem.  The group through which they had shared information since 1999 was suddenly looking different and acting very strangely.  Many were unable to access the group, the messages, or the databases.  Others were no longer able to even log in.  The new platform, NEO, had been forced on us with no announcement, no beta testing and no regard to the impact on literally millions of users.

As August turned to September, many of the QFLEA members were unable or unwilling to proceed through the nightmares that NEO caused.  Databases were no longer viewable, data was lost, and that gold mine of old messages was now tangled into something called “conversations.”  The ability to search through them for a topic was lost.  For a while, even the ability to edit a message was inoperative.  Members started to drop from QFLEA rather than put up with Yahoo’s disastrous decision.  Others who wanted to remain were unable to do so as re-registration required providing Yahoo with a cell phone number.  Some members don’t have cell phones and others were unwilling to provide that information.  Small businesses face many challenges in trying to compete with the big stores for shoppers.  For two members, this change was literally their “last straw” and they closed their businesses.

Now, almost six months after this awful change, activities through the QFLEA group have dropped significantly.  Searching for messages is still not possible.  Much of the functionality that the prior Classic Groups possessed is gone.  Two related Yahoo groups, the QFLEA-Cafe and the QFLEA-ShoppingNews, off-topic discussions and a shopper’s newsletter respectively, were closed in order to try to focus our attention on trying to fix the mess that Yahoo created in our QFLEA group.  We’re still working through this nightmare.  As a moderator, I cannot do many of the things that were important, including searching the activity logs, downloading a list of members and unbouncing members.

By the numbers, the impact is clear.  For those searching and finding QFLEA online, Yahoo has now fallen a distant third behind Google and Bing in how we are being found, and they are barely in third place as Ask.com is a close fourth.  The percentage of people finding us through Yahoo has dropped 31.5% since last year.

Yahoo’s overall revenue fell 6% in the last three months of 2013.  Prices for both online display ads and search ads declined in the fourth quarter.  The company’s shares were down 3.7%.  This is no surprise.  Anyone at Yahoo not realizing that NEO is the root cause of their loss of revenues and their growing customer-dissatisfaction is not paying attention.  How quickly they have forgotten “The New Coke.”  It took awhile, but eventually, three months after its disastrous introduction, company president Donald R. Keough acknowledged, “We did not understand the deep emotions of so many of our customers for Coca-Cola,” as the New Coke was removed from the shelves.

One can only hope that Marissa Mayer finds the courage that Mr. Keough showed and decides to “understand the deep emotions” of millions of Yahoo Group users who have been clear and outspoken in their desire to remove NEO from their lives!  If she doesn’t, she might share the same fate of a certain Decca record executive who in 1962 decided not to sign a band because he believed that “guitar bands were on the way out.”  The group he rejected?  Yes, it was The Beatles.