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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Alienating Customers in Two Easy Steps

The butterfly effect: when I first got interested in blogging, I was a pretty die-hard Yahoo! user, so I went to see if they had anything. They didn’t, I wasn’t able to find any other blogging services at that moment, so I went on to other things. Some months later, I found Blogger, started TFM, and the rest is history — only later did I learn that Yahoo! had opened Yahoo!360 about a month earlier. If I’d looked at Yahoo again, or they had opened 360 up earlier, Tales from FAR Manor would have been a Yahoo blog. As it was, during that rough patch where Blogger was flaking out a lot, I was getting ready to move the whole shebang over to 360 anyway. But then Google fixed the problems and I’m still here… except that I started a work-related blog, under my real name, at 360.

Like most beta software, 360 has had its share of growing pains. Some less than well-executed moves by Yahoo, however, made things worse — for example, after buying Flickr, Yahoo decided to migrate Yahoo Photos to Flickr. The transition did not go well for many people, and (perhaps reflecting the older crowd on 360) the change was not well-received in any case.

Things came to a head in the last month or so. Whenever the 360 team added a new post to the product blog (might only be visible to 360 members, not sure), people raised the same issues: problems with the photo transition, blog-stalkers, disappearing posts or entire blogs, friends being deleted — over and over, and no recognition from the 360 team that the problems were being worked on or that they were even reading the comments. Then the communications pretty much dried up completely after a post on August 10. Rumors started flying, especially after Jerry Yang included 360 in a list of items that were being de-emphasized during the conference call (following 3rd-quarter financial reports).

Looking for any way to get Yahoo to notice the issues on 360, many users took to posting on Yahoo's Mash feedback forum. (Mash is a new social-networking site, owned by Yahoo and apparently targeted to a much younger demographic than the typical 360 user.) The Mash folks responded, at least, even if they deleted 360-related posts, but the volume must have gotten a bit much because Darrell Jones posted something for the first time in two months: Yahoo! 360ยบ Questions? Let’s Talk (Uhhh, Right Here). The title was taken by some to be rather condescending — after all, there had been no communication for two months and the post content still contained no recognition that they were paying attention to the problems people were having… then over 1600 comments, with no response again, infuriated people even more. Darrell’s new nickname became “UHHH.” Some people found Darrell’s 360 blog, which hadn’t been updated since February, and started leaving “Quick Comments.” After a couple days of that, Darrell simply turned off Quick Comments with no other response.

Finally after nearly a week, Matt Warburton (they at least saw that Darrell was toast with the users) posted The Evolution of Yahoo! 360, which (yet again) was short on specifics, only promising “that Yahoo! 360 will transition to a new universal Yahoo! profile that will be closely tied to other relevant services across Yahoo!, and will include improved blogging capabilities.” Many 360 users took this to mean that Mash (which, like Myspace and Facebook, is profile- rather than blog-oriented) would be the new way forward — of the over 900 comments posted so far, many of them boiled down to “If I wanted Myspace, I’d be on Myspace. Just fix the bugs.”

But it may be too late. In the “Evolution” post comments, many are threatening to leave if 360 becomes Mash'ed up, others have said they’re already leaving. It’s probably true: Bloggers Anonymous has reported falling membership due to people leaving 360. According to the comments in the “Evolution” post, many are leaving for Multiply.

It would be a shame to lose 360. There are several nice features that Blogger simply doesn’t have, or exist only as third-party add-ons. First, the “Blast” lets bloggers put a brief banner message (with an optional link) at the top — it’s like an integrated Twitter. Quick Comments, which I mentioned earlier, is a built-in shout-box. And the “friends” and “groups” lists are something we have to do manually here on Blogger. Of course, there are also things that 360 is missing that Blogger has, like drafts and the ability for non-members to leave messages. It will be interesting to see if Google’s Orkut re-launch (coming next month) will add some social-networking aspects to Blogger. I’m sure a lot of 360 users are wondering about it as well.

So Yahoo has shown us how to alienate customers in two easy steps:

1) Let problems languish for months with no action or response.

2) When forced to respond, be condescending and don’t respond further.

13 comments:

  1. Hiya FAR.

    Geeze you are a busy guy. Just having one blog is more than enough for me.

    This sort of reminds me of the wireless company (can't remember which at the moment) that told the customers that called in complaints too much, to get lost. Mysterious are the ways of big business. Well at least to me anyway.

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  2. My Yahoo blog is about work-related stuff (general, not specific to my employer)... and I haven't been really good about keeping it updated lately. I had some posts that attracted a hit-piece by a more popular blog, and the hit counter went zooming for a few weeks, but then I got too busy at work & home to keep up more than this blog.

    The pity though, is what 360 could have been had Yahoo been more proactive about fixing problems, communicating with users, and promoting it — if they had splashed 360 around on their own site, I probably would have been one of the early members. A lot of the people on 360 are really passionate about it... some see it as Myspace for grown-ups. Like peak oil, some serious changes at the top could mitigate a lot of the pain to come... but I'm not holding my breath for either one.

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  3. What!!! Your real name isn't farfetched?!!

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  4. B2: No, that's just how people who know me describe me. :-D

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  5. LOL b2 ... :)

    I checked out 360 awhile back, and played around w/ the blog but was in w/ blogger at that point too. I've never heard of Multiply. What do you know about that Far?

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  6. Hello Far! I have it on good authority, that blogs like this will become exceedingly expenseive in the months to come, starting this next summer.... Better be thinking of this possibility.

    Thanks, yooper

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  7. Hi Olivia... Multiply is a social networking site, presumably with decent blogging capabilities. A lot of the 360 users who are bolting Yahoo are going there.

    They have a (very brief) tour linked from the front page.

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  8. Yooper: that would suck. Big-time. I wonder if ISPs will offer blogging as a competitive tool....

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  9. Hi FAR, FamilyMan, Olivia, boran & yooper.

    I took a look at that 360 post and even I (who never heard of it before) could see the guy was putting out an evasive post. Sort of like listening to Hillary explaining a position.

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  10. I hope ya'll aren't talking that they would start charging for Blogger. I would hate to loose all that stuff, and start over somewhere else.

    Hiya KB.

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  11. I guess I understand your point about Yahoo and Blogger, but really, what do you want for free? I don't understand how Blogger can afford to keep this site up and running, they have no advertisments that I can see of? Just throwing out my 2¢ :)

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  12. Hey all!

    KB, the vast majority of 360 users saw it the same way (evasive). Over 1000 comments there now, and still no clarification or even a "we got the message."

    FM, anon: I suppose it's a matter of *how much* they would charge. dotMac is like $99/year — I don't see that as good value for the money, and it offers a lot more than Blogger does — unless you throw in all the other Google services, and dotMac still offers network storage/backup.

    Frankly, I'm not sure what Google gets out of the deal… unless the people who enable AdSense are carrying the whole shebang for the rest of us, or the thousands (millions?) of bloggers typing away are producing better search results somehow. But Y!360 has been carrying banner ads all along, with no option to (like Y!Mail) pay to turn them off. Then again, whose stock is north of $500/share at the moment???

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Comments are welcome, and they don't have to be complimentary. I delete spam on sight, but that's pretty much it for moderation. Long off-topic rants or unconstructive flamage are also candidates for deletion but I haven’t seen any of that so far.

I have comment moderation on for posts over a week old, but that’s so I’ll see them.

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