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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Is Yahoo Crushing the Oldest For-Profit E-mail Publication With Poor Filtering?

I don't make a habit of promoting anything on my blog. But, when something I really enjoy for free is on the brink of becoming a paid service, I tend to cringe. Randy Cassingham has been putting out his "This is True" newsletter since the early days of the web. He is also the founder of the annual "Stella Awards" given for the most outrageous and ridiculous lawsuits.

Cassingham collects and reserches real stories about stupid people and unbelievable series of events. Beyond just regurgitating what is available in feeds around the web, Cassingham injects his own dry wit and priceless sarcasm into the story.

I remember subscribing to "This is True" from my Web TV system (yes, I am a magnet for products that seem like a good idea but just suck and disappear. I also owned a 3DO game system) back in the mid 90's. I was an AOL subscriber then. When I became a real computer user (bought a PC) I switched to Yahoo, Hotmail and now Google. The "This is True" newsletter has followed me with every change and has been delivered every week for free.

Looking back, Cassingham could be considered a web pioneer of sorts. He has managed to turn his newsletter and website into a living by providing quality, verified content. His site has survived through many tech changes over the years. It would seem that this whole scenario (described below) is a huge black-eye for Yahoo. One of the things consumers count on from companies like Yahoo is that they will filter out most of the junk and help us get only the information that we want. Anyone who knows much about content filtering would also know that whitelist/blacklist filtering is the most basic and least effective form of filtering. It would seem that there would be an algorythm that could sort this mess out before it ever happened. A huge company as old as Yahoo should have been on top of this problem.

Read on to get the details in Randy Cassingham's own words:

YAHOO ALERT: I've given up trying to work with Yahoo, which represents the largest domain subscribed to TRUE. There are more than 20,000 addresses within simple Yahoo.com domain on TRUE's distribution (plus a couple thousand more on variants such as yahoo.co.uk, yahoo.ca, etc.) But MOST of them are not getting TRUE anymore: Yahoo has blocked us. Why?

Because of idiots (dare I call them "yahoos"?) who ASK to be put on this distribution, then CONFIRM that request, and ...then click the "This is Spam" button when they don't recognize the mailing or simply don't want it anymore. Yes, those yahoos have screwed thousands upon thousands of others who really DO want this newsletter. Too bad: Yahoo is listening to the yahoos instead: they're blocking it. To them, we're "spammers" and no protestations from "spammers" count. As far as I can tell, there's only one group of people with Yahoo addresses who are still getting their issues: those who have at one time found TRUE in the "spam folder" and clicked the "Not Spam" button. But for the rest it's too late: we're now blocked, and you will NOT find issues there so you can hit that button.
As of now, about 70 percent of the Yahoo addresses are blocked. That's more than 15,000 folks. That's MORE than 10 percent of my entire distribution. And that's catastrophic: it has the potential to kill this newsletter. Nearly 15 percent of my audience, as of this week, which means 15 percent of my revenue, including 15 percent of my ad revenue, has suddenly stopped. It's the biggest crisis in TRUE's more than 14 years online. And it's (sigh) right in the middle of a worldwide economic slowdown. What lovely timing.

Yahoo is over-represented in my distribution because TRUE is so old: We've been publishing since 1994, when Yahoo was a little collection of links. They didn't get their millionth page view until late 1994 (according to Wikipedia), well after I had over 100,000 online readers every week, some of whom had to go through a lot of effort to get their issues (through BBS gateways, UUCP bang addresses, and other now- archaic means). Yahoo mail opened to the public in 1997 (when it acquired Rocketmail). That was AFTER I first editorialized on what a problem spam could become -- what's now http://www.spamprimer.com/ .

I take no solace in the fact that I was right about spam; it has grown so much that the world's first for-profit e-mail publication is having massive delivery problems because its shiny little jewel can't stand out among the garbage. Yeah, I'm mad: it's MY OWN READERS who have done this. Addled idiots can't click "unsubscribe" after they asked to get these issues, lumping the white hat guy who warned them about spam in with the criminals who send spam. But they're gone now: they don't see the carnage they caused, even if they liked, even loved, TRUE. It's like shooting a gun into a crowd of people, then walking away before seeing what happened.

I've had occasional problems with other big mail sites too, like AOL, Hotmail/MSN, and more, usually because of those same false "this is spam" complaints. Currently, I *think* all those other problems are cleared up, but I'm already seeing a revenue slide. It will likely get worse over time. Can I reverse it and keep TRUE going? I'm not sure. It's possible TRUE will become Premium-ONLY (plus the few newspapers who carry it), which would certify you all as victims of the spam war.
CAN YOU HELP? Yes. Complain to your provider EVERY TIME you miss an issue. Tell them you ASKED to get TRUE *and* responded to a verification request, and that no one can get on the distribution without BOTH of those steps. Spammers don't do that: they add you whether you want their mail or not. (And when was the last time you WANTED spam?!) If you complain, maybe they'll get the message that their customers really want TRUE and other legitimate e-mail publications. But if they don't listen, give your business to someone else!

I encourage you to check out Cassingham's newsletter and choose a paid or free subscription and pass it along for your friends to enjoy. The stories will put a smile on your face and give you some interesting topics for conversation....

Thanks for indulging me on this...now back to our irregularly scheduled programming.
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