Sunday, May 22, 2011

Elegy for Yahoo

I remember when there was no Google and Yahoo ruled the roost. Google clearly dominates now in functionality and commercial success, but over the years I've maintained a devotion to Yahoo that began even before there was a Google. My experience with Yahoo, however, provides a lesson of how to lose customers and also reflects Yahoo's progressive irrelevance.

When I first signed on to the Internet in 1997 it was via Yahoo (at the public library even). I even signed up for a Yahoo email account before I even knew anyone who could email me. Over the years, I relied and loved Yahoo's calendar, notepad, document storage service, photo albums, toolbar, and of course their search directory service.

My odd email moniker for Yahoo seem destined. Even before my wife and I had Internet access, I told my wife in my sleep one day to email me. When she asked what my email address was I answered appropriately (and without irony as I was asleep): glen @ sleep. When my wife told me of my somnolent discussion, it inspired me to get an email account. Shortly thereafter, I was at the local library and when I went to create my email account, I mistyped my username. The name stuck even when I was later able to open other Yahoo usernames with more indicative usernames.

Even as bigger and better services came along I stuck with my Yahoo account. This was partly due to the time and learning curve to fully switch over to a new service, but also for sentimental and brand loyalty reasons.

As Yahoo shut down services or failed to innovate sufficiently, I was forced to switch to other services. First Yahoo shut down their photo album service and encouraged people to move over to their recently-purchased service Flickr, but with restrictive caps. So I moved to PhotoBucket and Facebook albums. Then Yahoo's document storage service, Briefcase, shut down and I moved to Google Docs. Then, as I started subscribing to more email newsletters, Yahoo did not have enough or sufficiently sophisticated filter mechanisms to prevent regular email avalanches. So I opened a Gmail account for my newsletters even though I don't like a lot of Gmail's interface.

It was just this week, however, that Yahoo dealt their own death blow with their "upgrade" to their calendar feature. As I juggle an endless barrage of events related to my studies, professional career, and my family life I rely daily on my online calendar. When I got my smartphone BlackBerry, I loved how the device's calendar synched (comparatively easily - via firewire) with the Yahoo calendar and email. I don't know how I could manage now my completely chaotic schedule without this functionality.

When Yahoo recently updated their calendar, they decided not to initially support BlackBerry synching anymore or even give an expected date for said functionality. Of course they didn't say this anywhere; I just kept getting cryptic error messages and had to spend way too long figuring out what the problem was through user forums.

Google offered full support for BlackBerry synching of calendar and email - and even does it wirelessly. Wireless synching is such a huge benefit that I can't imagine how I managed to plug in to synch.

As Yahoo compelled me to switch my calendar to Google and as I have already been using so many other Google services (such as for this blog), I figured it was easier to move all my remaining Yahoo account features over to those offered by Google.

So thus ends a relationship with a company that was so formative to my Internet experience. I'm going to miss my long-time bizarre email address (it felt odd to recreate an error to use it on Gmail). I would love to continue using Yahoo, if only to help the company maintain its David vs.Goliath status against Google and Microsoft. But ultimately user experience is more crucial than brand loyalty.

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