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Yahoo Users Anonymous: A Transcript

This is what happened:

Scene: A Silicon Valley church basement. Folding chairs, coffee, cigarettes tucked behind ears. Jon EVANS, a tall man with a shaved head and an Arsenal FC T-shirt, steps forward to the podium. He has a slight Canadian accent.

Jon: Hi, my name’s Jon, and I’m a Yahoo! user.

Room, in unison: Hi, Jon!

Jon: I guess…I mean, this is so embarrassing, obviously…I guess my story’s like a lot of yours. I got into Yahoo! when I was young, because back then it seemed really cool. If only I had known then what I know now. But I went for a six-month trip across Africa and Yahoo was the only web-mail service that could access my Unix shell account via POP. Gmail didn’t exist yet, Hotmail was a joke, and I was sending friends emails from Cameroon and Zimbabwe, they were amazed, they were jealous. So I got hooked. And then…

He falls into grim silence for a moment.

Moderator (a pale, gaunt woman with nails bitten to the quick): Then what?

Jon: Then I guess I went all the way down the rabbit hole. I registered my domain with them. I used them to host my vanity site. I was in so much denial that when they bought Flickr, you’re not going to believe this, but when they bought Flickr I was excited about it. I thought it would be great.

(Hollow laughter echoes through the room.)

Jon: Now, though – I mean, you all know what it’s like to be a Yahoo! user now.

Pained yet sympathetic expressions ripple across the crowd.

Jon: The things that work haven’t changed in like ten years, and the things that have changed don’t work any more. Or they look prettier, like the Flickr redesign, or their new NFL game reports, but then you try to use them and you realize that actually they’re just more broken than ever. I used to be proud that I was a Yahoo! user. Now it’s shameful. I have to hide it from all my friends. (glances at camera in corner of the room) That thing isn’t on, is it?

Moderator: (hastily – too hastily) No.

Jon: Good. (under his breath) I’m totally going to bury this post on a holiday weekend when no one will read it.

Moderator: Excuse me?

Jon: Uh, nothing. Anyway, the thing is, I even know what their problem is. I’m an engineer, and a long-term user, so I can tell Yahoo!’s engineering is just terrible. I mean, maybe their engineers are pretty good and they’re just hamstrung by their process and bureaucrats and what have you, I don’t know about that, but the results are terrible. Paul Graham said it years ago: “Yahoo treated programming as a commodity.” I mean, consider Yahoo! Mail –

(A loud, angry groan erupts around the room.)

Jon: Last year they mixed secure and insecure JavaScript files on my inbox page for months. Months! Can you imagine Google doing that for so much as a day? Or even Microsoft? And just this week I’ve been getting half-a-dozen copies of every email, but the first one arrives hours late half the time, and that’s if the page loads at all! For days! It’s ridiculous!

Moderator: So why have you stuck with them?

Jon: I…I really don’t know. Partly it was because I was uncomfortable about how much of my online information Google has, but now I’ve lost so much faith that I’m backing up all my mail to one of my Gmail accounts anyway, which kind of fundamentally defeats that purpose. Partly because moving would be such a hassle. But the thing is – well –

Moderator: Go on.

Jon: The thing is, I somehow still want Yahoo not to suck. Every time they say things will get better, I want to believe them, even though every time it’s been a lie. Oh, we’ve licked the peanut butter problem, now everything will be fine. Oh, Marissa Mayer’s CEO, now everything will be fine. But the truth is –

Moderator: What?

Jon: The truth is that it’s not going to be fine. Not now, not ever. Because their engineering sucks, so they’re like a sprinter wearing leg irons starting 50 metres behind the competition. And you know what? It’s too late for even Marissa Mayer to fix that.

Moderator: So you’re quitting? Cold turkey?

Jon: I–

(Chairs creak as their occupants lean forward, with bated breath, hanging on his words)

Jon: you know what, I’m going to give them one more chance. I don’t even know why. Just one more. But this time, I swear, this time if it doesn’t work out, I’m done.

(Disappointment is written loudly across every face in the room, including his.)

Moderator: (with deep sadness) OK. We understand. Thanks, Jon.

Jon: I’m sorry.

Image credit: Dave Ward, Flickr.

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