10 Unanswered Questions About the New Yahoo Mail

Recently, I got an email from Yahoo saying that I would be required to upgrade to the new Yahoo Mail in about a month.

This led me to a series of questions, which, alas, are not answered on the Overview or Mail Help pages I was directed to.

1. Why do I have to agree to the upgrade? If Yahoo can upgrade its mail to be better, why not just do it without requiring me to do anything? Wouldn’t that be better?

OK, so that’s three questions. And actually, there is an answer here. It says, “Due to the new and exciting features within Yahoo! Mail”. But…which features? As I’ll be mentioning below, many of the “features” you talk about are actually just improvements to the service, not features per se, which you shouldn’t need my permission to roll out. So: why? And will I get a straight answer to this question anywhere on your website?

2. Why does your Overview page prominently feature useless Flash videos that don’t tell me anything? Aren’t you trying a little too hard here?

3. Under the “Awesome Features” tab of the Overview page, you mention faster email, better spam protection, and unlimited storage. All for the good, but why did I have to wait until now for these improvements? And as part of this mysterious “upgrade”? I’ve had an email account with you for 10 years, for crying out loud. Is this the first time you’ve made any of these things better? Or are you really just throwing those in to sweeten the “upgrade” I haven’t agreed to yet?

4. Why does the new web email interface, which you tout heavily on the Overview page, look almost as ugly as the current interface? (Now with more purple!) Why do your video tutorials take great pains to crop out the areas of the interface where ads normally reside? Even if the new interface were bee-yootiful, if it had the vast number of ugly ads that festoon the old interface, it would be an unpleasant experience regardless.

5. If these new web abilities of your email are so great, why can’t you get the HTML of your own Overview page right? Here’s how it acts in Safari 5.0.5 if you make the window too narrow:

Space below selected 'Faster Email' tab has purple background and promotional contents.
Space below selected 'Faster Email' tab is just blank and gray, with just the edge of a purple box all the way to the right.

And here’s a bit more tomfoolery I found:
White promotional text on top of other white promotional text, a big mess, on a purple background. The only clear text is at the end, which says, 'Everybody's happy.'

6. You mention a new Mobile interface, but never quite get around to mentioning on the Overview page that this is a web interface, not a native interface. What’s going to happen with the native iOS Yahoo mail? Anything? If not, can’t I just keep using that rather than agreeing to this “upgrade”? You mention waaaaay at the bottom of your “Emailing: The Basics” help page that, “If you upgrade to Yahoo Mail Beta, your experience using Yahoo Mail on your mobile device will not be affected”. But (a) that doesn’t answer my question, and (b) why the heck is a question like that on a “The Basics” page which is mostly about the nuts and bolts of using the email interface? Are you maybe trying to hide it?

7. Why does your help page say, “If you aren’t ready to try it out, no problem!” but the email I received say that I only have a month before I have to upgrade?

8. When I was clicking around trying to find information about iOS, I found your page about what operating systems you support, last updated in October 2010. You know what it says? “Mac OSX “Tiger” and “Leopard” (10.4 & 10.5)”. For a service called “New Yahoo Mail”, wouldn’t you have expected someone to go through all the support pages and update them with the most up-to-date information? Doesn’t this say something about your attention to detail? And even if nobody did that, wasn’t Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” actually released a year earlier than the last time this page was updated? Or are you actually saying you don’t officially support Snow Leopard? (Let alone Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion”!)

9. Hey, what’s all this in your Mail Beta FAQ about “relevant ads”? Well, OK, you do answer that question in the FAQ itself; it sounds like one of the major things about the new Yahoo Mail is that it scans your email content, like Google, in order to show you ads that are, yes, relevant. That’s really one of the “features”, isn’t it? Part of the “new and exciting features” you mention above? But somehow can only think to mention at all, let alone in any detail, in your text-only, sans-exciting-videos-or-graphics FAQ? That you probably hope will be tl;dr for most people? Hey, at least for now, you let people opt out of it. That’s something.

10. Why do I still use Yahoo Mail?


In John Siracusa’s and Dan Benjamin’s now-old podcast episode “The Bridges of Siracusa County”, Siracusa talks about how Perl has been an incubator of language innovation, not despite being a backwater, but because of it. Since it wasn’t straightjacketed by the requirements of an important platform, its users could experiment freely.

Let me tell you a bit about what I saw at Apple.

There were at least three places I knew of—in areas you might not expect—where being a relative backwater in the grand scheme of Apple’s priorities helped make a project both better and more enjoyable for the engineers involved.

Let’s tackle the first one: because the projects weren’t anyone’s priority, they didn’t have to be flashy or aligned with unrelated interests or subject to political whims. The engineers could, y’know, just do what they saw fit. Now, I’ve drunk enough Apple Kool-Aid to believe the engineers shouldn’t solely be in charge of a project. There still need to be real designers involved, among others. But the engineers who work day in and day out on a project are often the ones with the best insight on the important bugs, the little annoyances, the things that the actual users want. And given their freedom, they can fix and provide those things.

(The lower-tier engineers are generally not the ones to go to for sweeping, breathtaking new directions. And since Apple’s management skews towards that, you can see why they don’t listen to those engineers very much.)

And the second: because the engineers were allowed to exercise a little judgment and do their own thing, they had more fun. Important Apple projects can be extended death marches, where you both work insanely hard and really aren’t given much creative freedom. Maybe that’s the only way to get the kind of quality Apple provides consistently.

But, y’know, what fun is that?