Tuesday, October 15, 2013


To my son Tommy,

I don't usually have much call to do what they call an op-ed with regards to my profession.  A four year old rarely needs to learn about the goings on in a tech world.  By the time you read these letters when you turn 18 or so, all the tech concerns of my generation will be archaic.  As ancient as our tech problems will seem, they might show some insight into our times much like me reading about party phone lines from the days of yore gave me insight to my grandparents time.  At the minimum it could be good for a laugh.

Anyways, in our day there are a couple major competitors in the Internet.  Google, Amazon, and Facebook all come to mind.  I am not talking so much about operating systems or hardware but more about services and destinations that live in the cloud.  There are a couple "has beens" in this category as well and a couple "still around but perhaps not for long if things don't change" which the latter is what I would categorize one of my favorite services, Yahoo.

I set up my Yahoo accounts in the heyday when Google was still a research product.  I stuck with Yahoo through thick and thin and through smart decision and dumb.  I saw roll outs come and go and tried most everyone of them.  I had a Geocities blog and a Yahoo 360 blog and such.  But year after year they kept changing or closing down my services.  It felt like the end and it made sense to switch most of my services to Google who had established themselves as a premier player.  I needed someone who wasn't going to throw out everything as soon as I invested the time to learn it or work with it.  That is part of the reason why your letters are written on Blogspot.

Yahoo had also been going through a bunch of CEO's and shake ups during its down slide.  In the past five years probably five new ones and three of those in the past year or two.  Recently they landed on the current CEO Marissa Mayer.  She came from a strong background with Google, and her credentials are impressive, but could she right an upside down ship?

There were two services that I maintained with Yahoo and even paid for throughout the years.  I maintained a paid Flickr account for my pictures and a paid Yahoo Mail Plus account for my main personal mail.  Perhaps I kept the Flickr account up because I was too lazy to switch everything to Picassa, but being able to upload pictures of any size was nice and I was already set up to back up all my precious moments online to Flickr (when I remembered to) and if I went down to the free version I wouldn't have enough room for everything.  The Yahoo mail I kept going because it was nice to have pop access and higher attachment limits but the number one thing was the disposable email addresses.

Disposable email addresses are a godsend when it comes to security and spam and such.  When I sign up for a new account on some new website I no longer use my main email address.  Instead I create a brand new one using the tool from Yahoo Mail Plus.  It still all comes to the same account but you can filter it to sub folders if you like.  If you were to do this by setting up new email accounts using other services, it would take for ever and you would have to jump through hoops to get it to one account and you would just never do it.  But with this tool from yahoo it was quick and easy so I used it.  If a bunch of spam stats going to this new email address,  I can just delete that account and sever ties with the website or company I signed up with and my main email is safe once again.  It has saved me on more than one occasion.

I remember signing up for Lumosity with a disposable account and when I started receiving spam to that email address I called them to tell them something was up.  The chances of a spam company randomly guessing a 19 plus character email address (which doesn't include the @yahoo.com in the character count) is pretty far fetched.  I called their company to tell them they were either hacked or they sold my email address to a third party and they told me I was full of it.  Perhaps if it was a four or five character email address or perhaps if I had used it in multiple sites and multiple places, I would have given them the benefit of the doubt.  But the size of the email address and the fact that it was only ever used on one site for one account, there is no way.  After ranting at them for not knowing their business, and instead of arguing long, I just deleted my account with them and deleted that email address and life went on.  So I suggested for just about everyone and everything that people use disposable email addresses instead of their real one, but until recently, to do it easily cost 20 bucks a year.

So the new Yahoo CEO was being fairly quiet and I figured she was doing what the others did, biding her time and collecting a paycheck till the next CEO.  Then I get an email about my Flickr.  I dreaded opening it because I thought Yahoo was going to lose yet another service.  Instead, she expanded the free service!  It was going to allow the free users to upload pictures of any size and resolution and gave them a whole terabyte of space free.  A terabyte!  I could keep my paid service if I wanted but the reasons to keep the paid service were gone.  Yes the paid service would still be ad-free but so what.  I knew what she was doing.  She could get more money for showing me the ads than she could ever get from the paid subscription.  But hey I didn't mind.  She was on the right track of attracting users to her product and figuring out how to make others (specifically advertisers) pay for it.

The next news article was interesting but didn't effect me as much.  Yahoo acquired Tumblr.  I was too invested in Blogger by this point plus I had been burned by Yahoo before.  So I decided to stay with Blogger but recall thinking highly of that acquisition by Yahoo.

Yesterday though Yahoo did one of the smartest moves I saw as I received this email with regards to my Yahoo Plus.
All Yahoo Mail users will now be offered offline access with POP, mail forwarding, disposable address and extra filters for free.
Brilliant.  Now all those people I give free advice to on how to keep from being hacked can sign up for yahoo mail and start using the disposable address tool.  This is in addition to increasing the email storage amount to a terabyte as well.  Once again I can keep my paid subscription to remain ad-free for the grandfathered-in price, but most of the reasons to keep a paid subscription have disappeared.  It isn't like the days of yore where advertising tried to be so intrusive on your web experience.  Nowadays they are much more subtle and off to the side.  Ads are almost subliminal and, except for the big data corporate tracking features that makes the NSA look like amateurs and you really can't seem to avoid these days, innocuous.

With the new strategy, Yahoo will probably show less revenues especially from subscriptions but pretty soon their profits will be rising.  If the bean counters don't go too myopic on her, Ms. Mayer might just turn that company around completely.  It is a brilliant little strategy that is well worth learning.  Don't squeeze the money out of your common user who really can't afford it anyhow.  Squeeze the money out of the big companies who want to advertise to that common user and let them be the bad guys and try to squeeze the money out of the lowly user.  To do that you have to give each side what they want.  One side wants all the bells and whistles and a good tool they can use free of charge and they will become one of your users.  The other side wants access to many many users and they have money and are willing to pay handsomely if you have a lot of users they can reach. Basing your companies profitability on your ability to pull money from your low end common user is like squeezing a rock for juice.  Figuring out how to get money from those large corporations that have the big money is the smart way to go.  Everybody seems to win.  Yahoo comes back to life and gets to be a good guy, the end user gets better tools to use free of charge, and the advertisers have someone to advertise to, and the other big Internet companies have another competitor again which keeps everyone in check.  Simple, brilliant, and I hope it works for her.  I will have no problem recommending Yahoo products from here on out.  My father is looking for something to replace his iGoogle home page so I am off to see if the MyYahoo home page is still decent.  Now if only someone (hint hint Yahoo) could come up with a comprehensive and intuitive contact manager that re-thinks how contacts are done across the board, that would be great.

Sincerely with love from your geek of a dad,

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