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.