From email and search giant to the butt of many jokes, Yahoo arguably had more downs than ups. Now that the company is experiencing something of a renaissance, is it time to Yahoo again?
When I first started using the Internet in school, Yahoo was the web portal and search engine of choice. We’d chat for hours on their chat service, and only Hotmail’s integration with MSN Messenger trumped a Yahoo email address. Of late the company has been dusting off its repertoire, polishing old favourites and acquiring new blood – so maybe it’s time for the now-sans-serif Yahoo to shine again.
Flickr’s Big Update
Arguably the most successful Yahoo service to date, Flickr was launched in 2004 by a company called Ludicorp. In 2005 both Ludicorp and the Flickr brand were acquired by Yahoo, and it’s been a Yahoo entity ever since. Users of the service will remember that the layout, like many of Yahoo’s services, remained unchanged for years until May 2013 when the redesigned Flickr was rolled out.
Not only did Yahoo polish Flickr’s appearance, they increased the total storage to 1TB for all users regardless of subscription status. That’s not a number to scoff at – while photographers shooting in RAW might fill up a couple of terabyte hard drives in record time, the average user will still have space to upload their photos to Flickr for years to come. In addition to the lick of paint, Flickr also received social media-inspired cover photos, a seamless photostream and some spanking new mobile apps.
It’s not all roses and butterflies, however. Flickr’s Creative Commons search option is still buried in an advanced search option I’ve yet to find. If, like me, you use two Chrome windows snapped to either side of the screen (using either Windows Aero snap or free Mac app BetterTouchTool) then the page doesn’t render properly, resulting in a cut-off photo and lots of white space. The new mobile apps use filters, which is fine but ugh, do we really need more filters?
It also depends on whether you’re a fan of the redesign. Personally I find it fiddly, accidentally launching a slideshow is way too easy when you’re in a hurry which automatically full-screens my browser (as someone who relies on Creative Commons images for many articles, this happens way too often). But this is subjective, so I won’t moan (too much).
Flickr promises to launch a new photo experience by the end of this year. You can try it out by clicking on the Try our new Photo experience button on any photo.
I’ve been an avid user of Yahoo Groups for years, but only out of necessity. I’m often found using Freecycle to find and shift unwanted goods, and it just so happens that Freecycle loves Yahoo Groups (at least my local chapter does). Users of Yahoo Groups will remember the ill-fated remodel of 2010, in which a major change was denounced by the vast majority of users before being rolled back and abandoned completely. In 2013, another remodel surfaced called “Neo”.
While the interface is a lot more modern, making better use of larger screens and arguably being more touch-friendly for tablet users, the complaints came thick and fast. Despite valid concerns about blind and disabled users being locked out of their groups, group settings being changed, members being reverted to “default group policy” rather than moderated or unmoderated (to help prevent spam) and a whole other heap of problems; Yahoo went ahead and rolled out the “Neo” update to everyone.
As of writingthis article, the top result for the “Defects or Bugs” category, as well as the top result for “Hot” feedback is still a thread titled “Return Groups format to prior format that WORKS!” with more than 50,000 votes from unhappy users. It may look better, but it seems Yahoo dropped the ball for the second time in a row, except this time instead of abandoning they ploughed ahead anyway. People will often moan about updates such as this, but this time there do seem to be some serious concerns behind the backlash.
Despite the old interface being dated, ugly and pretty “web 1.0” – it worked tremendously given the popularity of Yahoo Groups, which according to some sources had over 500 million users by 2005. If only Yahoo had realised the potential and thought-out the updates, they may have been sitting on the success that Facebook et al managed to realise many years later.
Recycled Usernames & Yahoo Mail
Because Yahoo probably has a lot of dormant accounts lying unused, the company decided to enact a username recycling scheme where for $1.99 users could choose five usernames to nominate. When these became available, the company will contact you to “get the Yahoo username you’ve always wanted” – complete with @yahoo.com email address.
The recycling scheme is already underway, with users having already received their desired usernames. If you’re looking for a good reason to give Yahoo another chance, this is pretty compelling. The fact that they’ve always given Yahoo Mail some care and attention also holds strong, with the latest incarnation looking great across all devices. In fact, it looks and acts a lot like Gmail, complete with themes to boot.
That’s not going to make me ditch Gmail though, with all my filters and connected accounts already set up. If ever there was a compelling reason to leave Gmail it would be Microsoft’s redesigned Outlook.com, but even that is unlikely. That said, it’s not a bad choice if you’re not already settled into your mail provider’s current offerings.
My Yahoo & Weather
Yahoo have made some great progress in other areas, and in those instances they aren’t necessarily too late to the party either. As Google continues to decide the fate of services with the toss of a coin, iGoogle’s death throes draw ever nearer. Yahoo is doing the complete opposite and instead bolstering its My Yahoo service in a bid to try and mop up iGoogle refugees. We featured a list of competent iGoogle alternatives last year, and My Yahoo has come on leaps and bounds ever since.
If you’re looking for an iGoogle replacement, My Yahoo might not be perfect but it’s a handy tool for checking news, weather and stocks at a glance; as well as offering social media integration and a competent home page (for those of you who still have one). It also integrates with Yahoo’s rather spectacular weather offering.
Yahoo Weather, available both in the mobile app form and through the main portal, is a pretty damn good looking way to find out whether the weather is on your side. The iPhone app pulls in images from Flickr according to the local weather, displays a full 10-day forecast with icons for sun position, moon phase, and precipitation counts. It’s slick, won a 2013 Apple Design Award, and is pretty accurate to boot.
The Bottom Line
Yahoo is providing a few compelling reasons to give them another shot, but for products like Yahoo Mail it might be a little too late for many. Flickr is more than accommodating for the most snap-happy of photographers, but suffers from many of the same interface quirks that have irked certain users (myself included) for a while. If you liked the old Flickr, you’ll love the revamp, but I’m not taken to it myself.
Yahoo’s efforts in other departments shouldn’t go unnoticed. Their developers are working their way through the many facets of a once-huge Internet dinosaur, and you shouldn’t be too quick to write Yahoo off just yet.
Do you use Yahoo? Why? Why not? I’d love to know what you think, so add a comment and let me know.