Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Kick the Can — Yahoo Mail Is a Consumer Disaster, but Company’s Response Is Even Worse

rustycan

On Friday, November 8, Jeff Bonforte, the well-regarded techie who is now in charge of Yahoo Mail and all its communications products after the Silicon Valley Internet giant bought his startup Xobni, took to the stage at its weekly FYI employee meeting.

As described by dozens of Yahoos, Bonforte explained how things were going with the new Yahoo Mail product, which was enduring loud protests from users for a wide variety of reasons, including the removal of a popular tabs feature.

As has been widely reported, a relentless and vocal group of Yahoo Mail users have been complaining vociferously after Yahoo drastically revamped its popular service in October.

According to those in attendance, he said the metrics of use were flat, although there were signs of minor improvement.

Then Bonforte, who has one of the more colorful and sarcastic personalities at Yahoo (see his epic email about Yahoos not using its mail product here), made a joke that many in attendance did not find funny at all.

While acknowledging customer complaints and dissatisfaction, he added that Yahoo would need to “kick the users hard” in a certain body part to get them to leave Yahoo Mail, according to numerous people there.

Hard indeed, as the initial Yahoo Mail issues have turned into a full-scale disaster, with various outages that seem to be taking place across the network, impacting countless individuals and the many small businesses that rely on the service.

Some reports and downtime sites show multi-day outages over the course of many days, while others show shorter times. The complaints have most certainly been mounting for weeks.

What is consistent are two things: Outages have been occurring regularly and Yahoo has been woefully negligent in informing its users about the problems.

They have also declined to return emails inquiring about the issue and others related to Yahoo Mail from this site for weeks, in perhaps the most astonishing display of PR incompetence I have experienced in a very long time. Heretofore excellent communications staffers I have worked with in the past have seemingly been rendered mute.

To be clear, other Internet sites have done this kind of thing in the past — not responding quickly or in detail to various consumer issues. And, to be fair, sources inside the company said the delay was due to trying to find out exactly what was going wrong before talking about it.

But that was a week ago. Since then, the silence has been deafening.

How many people have been or are currently impacted and for how long? Yahoo will not respond.

Where are the outages taking place? Yahoo will not respond.

What exactly is being done to fix the problem? Yahoo will not respond.

Instead, Yahoo has relied on a series of news-free tweets on the issue, which only began appearing yesterday and today, as well as promises it was fixed when it was not:

But, just now, in the first significant communication about the problem in weeks, Bonforte posted to Yahoo’s Mail blog a short note acknowledging the issues, but with few concrete details:

We are very sorry for recent difficulties with Yahoo Mail.

Some of our users have not been able to access their mail since 10:27 PM PT on Monday night, due to a hardware problem in one of our mail data centers. The issue has been harder to fix than we originally expected.

We have dozens of people working around the clock to bring it to a resolution. We believe our current efforts will restore our users’ access to their inboxes by 3 pm PT today. We’ll post again then on our @YahooMail Twitter handle.

While I am certain Bonforte — for whom I have had great respect for a long time — and his team are trying their best to fix the problem, the contrast to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s insistence on engineering excellence and innovation and the inability of the company to provide a cogent explanation about what is happening to one of its most important daily interfaces with its customers could not be any more stark.

In other words: What could be bigger than a Fail Whale? This.


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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google