Blast From the Past

I have worked with Yahoo Groups as an Admin from its inception in 1998.  Prior to its current manifestation it was known as Yahoo Clubs.  Part of that migration involved stripping out functionality more than enhancing it.  When Yahoo acquired eGroups a year later, it began migrating to more of a listserv capacity, retaining its web front end for those who still wanted the "forum" feel.  For instance, Clubs included a chat function and was predominantly a web-based forum.  Initially the chat was cut back to a simpler chat box, then was later etirely dropped.  When the real-time chat function was dropped so was most of the platform's uniqueness and use.  What had been an insular networking point that was personal and provided real-time connection became a flat, 2D BBS.  Groups have never recovered in light of the NOW emphasis on social media.

A Yahoo Group may be public or Private.  Yahoo Groups offers the ability to post messages via email or through the webfront.  Messages are archived and can be indexed by public search engines or set to remain private, for group-only visibility.  Compared to other similar platforms, Yahoo has adhered to high privacy standards in offering the option not to have messages indexed in search engines.  Messages can be removed from the archive, but Admins cannot edit them.

Groups can maintain Photo Albums, File storage, and a list of relevant Links.  A Database tool is included, though is very limited, as is the Calendar.  A list of Members is available to Group members as well as Admins.  For the longest time this list wasn't searchable, resulting in endless scrolling and clicking to find a single name.  In the last few years this enhancement was made, and is the only useful change implemented to Groups in the last five years.  Along with it came tabs listing Banned members, Moderators, Bouncing Members, Pending Membership.  The Poll feature allows members or Admins to create surveys for the Group.  Admins also have the ability to Promote the Group, which means automatically generated HTML buttons and submission boxes can be copied and pasted into other websites, inviting others to join the Group.  Direct Invitations to join the Group can be sent by Admins, as well.

From a strictly administrative point of view, via the Management link, Groups can be controlled on various fronts.  Appearance can be afffected by adding in a Description, a logo, fixing a Category (upon which Yahoo directs searches), and establishing a color scheme for the general webfront.  The ability to manipulate colors and layout is still fairly limited.  Membership can be moderated, adding or deleting members, as well as banning them.  A fairly useless log of email commands generated by or to the Group can be viewed.  Similarly, a log of commands executed (approvals, deletions, submissions) on the webfront can be viewed.

Member permissions for each of the tools associated with the Group (Database, Calendar, etc) can be set.  Controlling members is perhaps where Yahoo has maintained doing things right in Groups.  While group-wide permissions can be set, members can be moderated at an individual level, although doing so involves convoluted drilling down.  With the emphasis being placed on Groups/ email functions rather than the webfront, the ability to trigger groupwide emails at a set interval (first of each month, etc) became available.  As well, files can be sent upon specific actions, such as upon rejected membership Group membership requirements are emailed, when a member first joins a welcome message is sent, etc.

The current iteration of Groups, 2011, features Labs, beta products that apparently remain on the chopping block unless usefulness is proven.  One of those Labs is a Chat, which in its current implementation appears to be more of a glorified chat box, rather than real-time chat.  Another lonely little Lab includes the ability to implement Applications, which for now consist of drawing out common interests (birthdays, reviewing items, FAQ, etc).

It's clear that Yahoo Groups are not being cultivated, but are being maintained; thus, they are barely being supported.  Without significant improvement to its offerings and reinstating that personal feel, Yahoo Groups won't remain relevant amidst other more competitive, comprehensive community builders.

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