How Much More Pain Can Yahoo Email Users Take?

5 minute read
David Roe avatar

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer described last week’s massive email outage as “unacceptable” and something the company is taking very seriously. However, apart for promising remedial work to ensure it doesn’t happen again, she hasn’t outlined what the company is going to do about its ongoing problems — or given users any reassurance to hold on.

Too Much to Handle

Mayer claimed the mail went down because of a hardware outage in one of Yahoo's storage centers and affected only about 1 percent or 1 million of the company's email users. However, it created significant frustration for users, and prompted many of them to take to social media and bulletin boards to warn they were looking for new email providers.

Unfortunately for Yahoo, many of those who reported problems are small business users, the exact kind of users that Mayer wants to keep as she attempts to turn the company around. If you add into the mix the anger that many users expressed over the changes to email in the past year, it really gets you wondering how much more users can take beforedeserting Yahoo in droves.

But back to Mayer’s post on Yahoo-owned Tumblr late Friday night. She described the outage, which began on December 9th and lasted for much of the week, as “very frustrating” and acknowledged the “inconvenience” it caused many users was “unacceptable”. Unfortunately, the outage was much more complex than it seemed at first, which is why it’s taking us several days to resolve the compounding issues," she wrote. When the hardware outage hit, she continued:

The Mail team immediately started working with the storage engineers to restore access and move to our back-up systems, estimating that full recovery would be complete by 1:30 p.m. PT on Tuesday. However, the problem was a particularly rare one, and the resolution for the affected accounts was nuanced since different users were impacted in different ways.”

Full service wasn’t restored until Friday — five days after the original outage — creating havoc for those who use Yahoo mail for business.

Bad and Getting Worse

Anger over the outage was inevitable. While it is unlikely Yahoo will ever reveal how many email users it looses over this incident, it is likely to be substantial. Consider what Aleksey Vytautas Ziuras stated in a Washington Post article. She called Yahoo "the new AOL" — and not in a good way.

Yahoo is toast. To know the current and future status of Yahoo, I encourage people to read about the Yahoo in Gulliver's Travels. While our business email is some kind of combo partnership between Microsoft Outlook and Gmail, I have instructed my some 100 employees that their personal accounts can no longer be Yahoo for company notices…”

And there's no end yet in sight. Just today, users were tweeting about continued problems — with one especially angry person calling the Yahoo mail team a "bunch of incompetent 20-year-old video game playing morons."

Yahoo’s Problems

This latest problem comes on top of the unpopular email redesign, which began last December and continued over the year with a major upgrade in October, and which was also mentioned in a number of discussions about the outage.

Even the logo redesign, which was the subject of considerable ire among many uses in the September, was brought up again.

Learning Opportunities

Yahoo can afford differences of opinion over its logo, but  its email services have to get it right. There is too much competition out there, including many service providers who would be more than happy to take even a small percentage of Yahoo’s estimated 100 million email users.

Microsoft is a case in question. Since it shut down Hotmail and replaced it with Outlook.com it has been busily poaching Gmail users by making it easy for them to migrate their email. In fact only recently, it made the move even easier.

Google, for its part, has been targeting Outlook.com. However, under the current circumstances and following the outage, Yahoo looks ripe for picking and the harvest is potentially very, very rich.

This will be one of the stories to watch over the coming year. At the end of the third quarter, when Mayer published the financial results, she stated:

I’m very pleased with our execution, especially as we’ve continued to invest in and strengthen our core business. In Q3, we launched new user experiences across many of our digital daily habits -- Yahoo Screen, My Yahoo, Fantasy Sports, and more. Now with more than 800 million monthly users on Yahoo -- up 20 percent over the past 15 months -- we're achieving meaningful increases in user engagement and traffic.”

One of the key elements, and something that she is clearly working on, is user engagement and building user traffic.

How long these “meaningful increases” can continue in the light of current technical difficulties remains to be seen — Yahoo's imaging site flickr was also offline last Thursday for several hours — and how that will affect its financial figures will only become clear over the course of next year.

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