Yahoo Mail 2017 : random thoughts

June 10th 2017

Yahoo Mail 2017 : random thoughts

There was a time during which when Yahoo! launched a new version of its Webmail, all the tech blogs would talk about it. Ten years later, things have drastically changed. I even wondered myself whether I should actually take time to write this up. But I’m a legacy Yahoo! Mail user and I’m mostly writing for myself anyway so here we go.

What ? A legacy Yahoo! Mail user ? in 2017 ?

Well yes and no. Pseudo social surveys will tell you that Yahoo! Mail is now meant for the past generation. Sure, if you’re ultra conformist you probably use Gmail but most of your communications surely happen on Twitter or Facebook. But then what ? The Microsoft Outlook software may not be hyped at all, it nevertheless remains the most complete client you’ll ever find out there.

Likewise, Yahoo! Mail is not so much of an inferior product. For one, it’s loading at least three times faster than Outlook.com or Gmail. 

But then, what’s new really ?

Those past few years, each time Yahoo! comes up with a new version of the webmail you can hardly picture anything new. They keep remarketing the same features again and again. Especially the Xobni-powered search engine. Oh, I mean it’s great, it’s smart. You can get thumbnails of your images, a list of documents, and contact details very easily. The whole thing is brilliant. But it’s been there for a while now.

Just compare the old and new promotional pages. Not much has changed in terms of features really.

Going round in circle again and again

But thing seems to be going backward sometimes. Quite often in fact. Previously when you’d perform a query you would be able to refine it on the fly by adding new criteria like month, year, filetypes... It was fast and worked great. As I said before, they were able to bring Gmail-like Boolean queries to the masses. Well, that’s gone.

Likewise, you would be able to create a specific custom view tied to a particular query. It sort of brought tags to Yahoo! Mail. Gmail has this if you activate a Lab feature (though it's been deprecated). Again this is now gone from Yahoo! Mail

So Yahoo! Mail is basically Aolifying itself by going to pure basics. I guess we, the previous generation, may be too dumb for anything more complex...

Lack of cohesion

If Yahoo! Mail is still part of the email systems that I use it’s because back in 2002, it was the only one to offer a coherent interface with not only Mail but also Calendar, Address Book and Notepad - and later Briefcase. Things were working great together in an homogeneous interface.

But this time is long gone. After each new upgrade those four services get less and less tied up. Did you know that the notepad has not received a single update in over 12 years ? Even when Evernote was all the rage Yahoo! did do a single update, not even to transform an email into a note for instance. When talking to Jeff Bonforte, then SVP Communications Products at Yahoo, about three or four years ago at LeWeb in Paris, he told me that it was pretty hard to monetize a calendar application....But they did previously bought Upcoming.org and could have dealt partnerships to promote local events.

Now those complimentary services are not integrated in the new interface and Yahoo simply points to them in a new browser tab. They still bear an ancient interface. No wonder users are upset. They’re better off with Outlook.com which does indeed provide a very complete suite.

So this will probably sound harsh but either Yahoo! get their shit together, either they simply remove those services and only focus on Mail.

Where is Yahoo! Mail going now ?

After the Verizon acquisition, Oath now boasts no less than three email services : Yahoo! Mail, Aol Mail and Alto. Again, according to those pseudo-social surveys Yahoo and Aol share a common customer target. So in terms of advertising it would make sense for Verizon to have one big Webmail to talk to advertizers. Even then, Aol Mail and Yahoo! Mail combine would probably not even equal half of Gmail’s billion users...

Verizon should spin off Oath Mail as a sub company

It’s quite frustrating because should it be in Yahoo! or Aol the engineers ARE very good. They could easily come up with hundreds of great ideas and combine them to push innovations. They basically founded email themselves. But the decisions made around them is so wrong.

Look at the Alto team : they’ve come up with a great app. They’ve got freedom from Aol and the reviews are great. Add in Yahoo! Mail and Aol Mail and you have a true email company that will crush the market with innovations

Because for now, things are too much half baked. What's the point of the Xobni integration ? Sure I get my contacts details and communication history. But then what ? What do I do with that ? I can’t directly send a calendar invite - of course, the calendar is not integrated, what did you expect ? - , I can’t start a VoIP conference call even though Yahoo! bought a few WebRTC startups. Nor can I send a Paypal payment, share a note or a task. So what’s the point ?

Email is a tool. Microsoft understood it and plugged hundreds of applications to Outlook.com. When Yahoo! did that in 2010, after the acquisition of Zimbra, they failed miserably. Nobody was using the Yahoo! Mail API. And the few who did came up with buggy things - probably not their fault though.

Anyways, 12 years after the Oddpost acquisition which led to the Ajax version of Yahoo! Mail, I'm starting to think that cohesion is a desperate cause. Even Marissa Mayer could not figure out how to clean the mess. So I say : spin it off. Let the Mail teams clean their mess and work together.

Aol, Yahoo, Verizon, Oath, you are not targetting dumb people so stop acting like you're not skilled enough to compete on the email market.

Update :Aol has shut down Alto Mail, which basically was the most innovative team on email they had. I believe the work that has matured those past three years will be transfered somewhere else. At least I hope it was not in vain...