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Yahoo Mail changes fuel online fury, protests tag new avatar 'alpha version of Gmail'

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Yahoo Mail protests have become online equivalent of a riot. Yahoo Mail protests have become online equivalent of a riot.
SummaryAn upgrade to Yahoo Mail has generated much fury in the online world.

It has become the online equivalent of a riot. Tens of thousands of Yahoo users have taken to online Web forums to complain about the look and functionality of the new Yahoo Mail, one of several new product updates introduced over the last 15 months at the behest of its new chief executive and former Googler, Marissa Mayer.

By mid last week, more than 3,000 people had signed a petition on Change.org to bring back the old Yahoo mail. A Facebook group called “Yahoo’s New Mail Fail” had nearly 500 members. A number of blogs were blasting the changes. And tens of thousands of users had posted to a Yahoo Mail forum to complain about the second update to Yahoo Mail in less than a year.

“The new Yahoo is so bad it’s tragic,” wrote one frustrated user. “If it ain’t broken don’t fix it,” wrote another. “It just feels like Yahoo doesn’t care about users like me: Longtime, loyal, paying customers who were happily using the Yahoo service,” said another.

With an estimated 275 million users, Yahoo used to be the most popular e-mail service in the United States. But it has been surpassed in recent years by Google’s Gmail service and Microsoft’s Hotmail offering. Yahoo users suspect the new Yahoo mail was Yahoo’s unsuccessful attempt to mimic Gmail. “So Yahoo Mail just redesigned to look like Gmail, except with a towering ad on the right?” one user Tweeted.

Like Gmail, Yahoo’s new Mail service now organises e-mail threads by conversation, rather than sorting them through integrated tabs. It also offers users the option to include a background image. As in Gmail, users can search for e-mails by senders, but they can no longer sort their e-mail alphabetically by sender. That has not exactly gone over well.

“Currently the product feels like a alpha version of a Gmail,” one user posted to a Yahoo Mail forum. “I feel personally abused by Yahoo since, as a paying customer I didn’t subscribe to the new release of the product and was migrated without any warning. This is a tool for me, not a toy.”

Users were also angered by a number of features that were removed in the current update. There is no longer an option to print e-mails, for instance, and a “Save Draft” button was swapped out for a less intuitive “X” button, which left many users frustrated and confused. “What a great idea, remove a button and hide it behind the “X” button—how are you supposed to know this—osmosis??” one user posted.

That was a common complaint. Users said the revamp left them guessing which feature did what. Common e-mail functions like forward, reply, close and attach documents are no longer labeled clearly, users say, and they are left to guess where the options are by hovering their cursor over each button.

But special ire has been reserved for the fact that the new upgrade contains a number of bugs. A forum for bug reports now includes nearly 9,000 complaints. Among them: Entire contact lists and in-boxes are disappearing and reappearing, punctuation marks are not translating into outbound mail, some people complain that they experience malfunctions when moving e-mail into folders, keyboard commands no longer work with the new e-mail interface, users find attaching documents to their e-mails takes much longer, and they encounter error messages when trying to do simple e-mail functions such as copying and pasting contact e-mails, forwarding or replying to messages or embedding links.

In a Web cast timed to Yahoo’s third-quarter earnings report last week, Mayer highlighted a number of new updates to its sports and entertainment products, but did not mention the new Yahoo mail product update, saying only, “We continued to focus on creating the absolute best mail product, on desktop and across mobile.”

“As with any significant product change, it is typical to see varied reaction particularly in the beginning and with products that have a large user base,” Yahoo’s senior director of product for Yahoo Mail, Dave McDowell, said in a statement. “The level of response we are seeing is in line with previous releases and we’ve heard from many users that they are enjoying the new experience.”

But elsewhere on the Web, the Yahoo Mail upgrade had already become something of an Internet meme. Ike Barinholtz, the comedian, posted on Twitter:, ”Yes, the approval ratings for Republicans are historically bad but they still aren’t ‘new Yahoo! mail’ bad.”

Nicole Perlroth

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