Attention Verizon Media: Yahoo Groups Deserves Better
Earlier this month, Verizon Media, the parent to Yahoo, announced that users of Yahoo Groups had until October 28th to continue posting in their groups and until December of this year to archive all of their conversations. After December, 18+ years of conversations will be erased from Verizon Media’s servers and the internet entirely.
Obviously, the community is fighting back. Administrators of these groups, most of whom are unpaid volunteers, are working tirelessly to download their data, collect the email addresses of their community members and, in some cases, move people over to a new platform. As community professionals, we know that a migration like this can take months of planning, research, and communication to our communities. In this case, administrators had two weeks to figure things out.
In this episode, Patrick talks to two avid organizers of Yahoo Groups about the next steps for their communities and what they hope will come out of this situation. In both cases, they want the connections and resources fostered in their Yahoo Groups to be preserved.
Patrick and our guests, Susan Kang and Deane Rimerman, also discuss:
- The new tools that Deane and Susan will use to host their communities and why Nextdoor isn’t one of them
- What it’s really like to download your data from Yahoo Groups
- The importance of communities as archives and spaces for political action
Will legislators step in to protect our data? (11:59): “I find it fascinating that in Europe, they passed legislation to give you the right to be forgotten on the internet and this is almost like the opposite. It’s like what rights do we have? Obviously, we’re all guilty of entrusting our personal data, our community’s data, to a corporation that didn’t make very many good decisions, but at the same time we as a community created this data and it’s going to take legislation, it’s going to take new laws to actually protect this data. Unless there’s a lot of political pressure before December 14th, we’re going lose this data.” –@deanerimerman
The Yahoo Groups shutdown is diluting the impact and purpose of communities (35:24): “I posted something recently asking people to call Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office [in response to ConEdison raising utility rates to subsidize their fracking practices]. … Ordinarily, this would have gotten much more of a response. People are so hung up right now on ‘What’s the future of Yahoo Groups?’ [that] I didn’t get much of a response. … There’s a lot of interesting and important political work that we need to be doing. That’s getting lost in the fray because people are like, ‘Where’s my Google Group invite?'” –@Solidaritybitch
The inevitable loss of members due to this change (44:46): “We’re definitely going to lose quite a lot of people because many of the people who are members of the group, they didn’t even check their emails. They just occasionally log onto the interface and see what’s going on. We’re just going to lose them. I’m really sad about that.” –@Solidaritybitch
On the importance of archiving (47:20): “My biggest concern in terms [of] online data and archiving is that I want people fifty years from now, a hundred years from now, who are researching projects and want to know the origins of great ideas and origins that made the world a better place, I want them to be able to dig through all of this information and find gems and find great stories and find, especially when it comes to the genealogy, remarkable people in their last years started sending emails and started writing some of their thoughts and ideas, and we’ll never know who those people were. There was a chance we could have if we had more protection of our data.” –@deanerimerman
About Deane Rimerman
Deane Rimerman is an archivist and content editor who manages Warrior Poets Society, an eco-poetry group that dates back to 2001. He’s also involved with several other groups.
About Susan Kang
Susan Kang is an associate professor at John Jay College. She is responsible for the Jackson Heights Families Yahoo Group for parents, caretakers, and families living in Jackson Heights, New York who are interested in building a community with other families. It was started in 2004 and has over 4,000 members.
- Susan Kang on Twitter
- Deane Rimerman on Twitter
- Yahoo’s announcement about the coming changes to Yahoo Groups
- Yahoo Groups Is Winding Down and All Content Will Be Permanently Removed via VICE
- Community Signal episode about Photobucket’s changes with Jessamyn West and Jonathan Bailey
- Community Signal episode about IMDB’s message board closure with Timo Tolonen
- Robert D. Putnam on social capital
- Deleting Yahoo Groups will leave a permanent stain on Yahoo’s legacy via Fast Company
- Yahoo users united to right the Yahoo wrongs
- Nextdoor Rolls Out Product Fix It Hopes Will Stem Racial Profiling via Buzzfeed News
- In Jackson Heights
- How New York Politics Has Changed via Jacobin
- Jackson Heights Life bulletin board
- Armed with Visions
- The Armed with Visions blog
[0:00] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[0:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thank you for listening to Community Signal. As a platform, Yahoo Groups hosts countless online communities and serves as a valuable communications tool for many people around the world. Yahoo Groups itself is almost 19 years old, but it’s really even older because Yahoo Groups was formed after Yahoo bought eGroups.com and merged it with Yahoo Clubs.
eGroups.com was launched in 1997. So, Yahoo Groups is really more like 22 years old, but no matter when you start counting, this platform is home to internet history and incredible collection of perspectives, personalities, and information. Yahoo Groups users participate in these communities through a web-based interface that resembles a message board, and via email that for many is more like a mailing list.
The platform is currently owned by Verizon Media, which was created as a result of Verizon’s purchases of AOL and Yahoo in 2017. On October 16th, after those 19 or 22 years, Verizon Media announced that as of October 28th, you would no longer be able to post via the web interface. In addition, all publicly visible groups will be marked as private and require administrator approval to join. You will still be able to post messages to groups via email they say, but who knows for how long.
In other words, if you are a member of a community for as long as let’s say 19 years, Verizon Media has decided to give you 12 days to say goodbye to those people. Imagine something is a part of your life for 22 years, you leave and take your two weeks vacation from your job, you tell the community you’ll see them into weeks and when you come back, it’s gone.
This is unacceptable, disrespectful and Verizon Media and Yahoo should be ashamed. Communities close, tools end, that happens, but as we’ve talked about on episodes with Jessamyn West, Jonathan Bailey, Timo Tolonen, and others, there is a more respectful way to shut down, a far more respectful way, but it gets even worse. On December 14th, 60 days after their announcement, Verizon Media will delete the archives of every single Yahoo Group from their database.
It is impossible to calculate the loss of knowledge and information that will be taken offline. 19 years, 22 years, however long it is, gone. By a company who can afford to do better and is simply choosing not to. A company that has acquired really historic internet assets, but treats them as if they are a six-month-old startup.
Yahoo Groups aren’t the shiniest new toy, but a lot of people use them to connect around specific interests or even as a key piece of communications infrastructure in their local community. It’s a product with users, a lot of users that Verizon Media apparently has deemed to be of little value, but in the right hands, it could be an asset, and I’m left to wonder why they are so bad at this.
I’m a member of the emint group probably my favorite community of community management people populated by an unmatched collection of veterans of the space with a repository that contains an incredible wealth of knowledge about our field in its archives going back to 2000. Left in the lurch by this move are the many Yahoo Groups administrators and moderators, caretakers of both information and active communities caught off guard and left to figure out what to do next.
I want to talk about it on this episode. I’m joined by two guests today, both of which find themselves in that exact situation. Before I introduce our guests, I wanted to take a moment to thank our Patreon supporters, including Maggie McGary, Serena Snoad, and Marjorie Anderson. Your support allows us to do shows like this. If you’d like to support our show too, visit communitysignal.com/innercircle.
Susan Kang is an associate professor at John Jay College who is responsible for the Jackson Heights Families Yahoo Group, for parents, caretakers, and families living in Jackson Heights, New York who are interested in building a community with other families. It was started in 2004 and has over 4,000 members.
Deane Rimerman, an archivist and content editor who manages Warrior Poets Society an eco-poetry group that dates back to 2001 and has over 100 members. He’s also involved with several other groups. Deane, welcome to the show.
[00:04:45] Deane Rimerman: Hi.
[00:04:46] Patrick O’Keefe: Susan, welcome as well.
[00:04:47] Susan Kang: Thanks for having us on.
[00:04:48] Patrick O’Keefe: My pleasure. Before the show, when I asked you what first came to mind when you heard this news, you both talked about confusion over what was happening. Susan, how did you find out?
[00:05:00] Susan Kang: Somebody on our email group, Jackson Heights Families, actually said, “Oh, I heard that this group is going to be shut down along with all the other Yahoo Groups,” so I just Googled it. Then I didn’t quite understand what’s happening. When I tried to say what was happening someone was like, “No, no, no, it’s going to be this.” It’s possible I got an email from Yahoo but I get so many emails or that I wasn’t told about it directly from anybody at Yahoo, it came from the community that I’m a moderator of.
[00:05:29] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s really interesting. Theoretically, if a member hadn’t noticed, you might not have noticed.
[00:05:35] Susan Kang: Yes. I think it showed in my Google news feed at one point because they do a really good job of sorting that algorithm. I didn’t quite understand just how much of a change it was. I think I underestimated exactly what was happening. I was like, “Oh, yeah, no big deal. We just can’t access our archive, we’ll figure out how to deal with our archive.” I think I just didn’t understand the enormity of the situation I guess.
[00:05:56] Patrick O’Keefe: Deane, how did you find out?
[00:05:57] Deane Rimerman: Well, like a lot of people on Yahoo Groups and on feed readers, I just am constantly learning as much as I can and reading every day. It came up about Yahoo Groups. Specifically, it came up in one of those groups right away, but then from that point, I just realized that this is an archivist I love, basically meaning, I love feeding archives and storing history, but I realized the implications.
This is one of the most common things that happens with acquisitions in the text sector and one of the main reasons, they always tell you to post your own website. People are like, “Oh, no, I’ll just create a Facebook group or a Yahoo group,” and it’s like, “No, host your own website and then promote, send links to those places.” Because then, if something comes along and they shut it down, you have all your data already at hand.
Whereas a situation like this, all of a sudden you’re contemplating logistics of tens of thousands of emails sent over the course of 18 years.
[00:07:01] Patrick O’Keefe: What I think is really interesting here is both your answers are so similar in the sense that you both found out through the group you are in. Deane, you mentioned a group, Susan you have a very active Yahoo group, over 4,000 members, over 6,000 messages this year alone. The fact that you have to learn from a member [chuckles] of the group who says, “Hey, this is happening.” I don’t know, I think it really underscores how poorly this is communicated.
It seems like, I don’t know if this is a hundred percent accurate, that is why I hesitate to say it. It seems like that Yahoo very quietly mentioned this in their help desk documentation. All the news articles I’ve seen about it link to what they call as an announcement, but really it’s just sort of a brief FAQ page that just says what’s happening when.
[00:07:47] Deane Rimerman: Yes, if you happen to log into your Yahoo Group’s website, there’s a little banner at the top, a very fine print notification. Of course it’s an email group so we mostly check our emails and there’s going to be so many people out there, who, when it’s too late they’re going to wonder, and they’re going to go log in and they’re going to see the notice of, it’s after the 28th of this month or it’s after the 14th of December, and it’s going to be shocking.
I’m doing what I can to rescue data. The thing that makes me really sad is this was the original social media, social Internet before Facebook came along, before even MySpace, in a lot of ways. What’s so sad is there are a lot of elderly people who were in groups who did write in and had an email account who have now since passed on and this is their only record we really have online of so many people.
There are so many other examples. There’s adoption agencies whether for pets or for people who keep track of where everyone goes through these archives. There’s a special any type of genealogy workgroup on Yahoo Groups is going to take a huge hit and it’s a huge loss of history and a huge loss of data. It’s like bulldozing a library before they take the books out.
[00:09:04] Susan Kang: I was relatively new to this Yahoo group. I moved to Jackson Heights in 2013, but I’ve been part of other family Yahoo Groups throughout New York City because you can’t parent in New York without a really dense network. It’s just hard.
[00:09:19] Patrick O’Keefe: [chuckles] Right.
[00:09:20] Susan Kang: If you’re rich enough you can figure out, like, okay how do you pay a nanny, how do you get a nanny, if you’re that sort of social class, but if you’re me, you’re like, tell me about the local daycare. Who can I hire as a babysitter? You can’t do that in New York City without a dense network. People in New York they move in, they move out of neighborhoods and these Yahoo Groups were a way to plug people moving into the neighborhood who wanted to know about schools, about daycares really quickly.
It was really seamless. It sort of created that social capital, that Bob [Robert] Putnam talk about. It was like instant glue that integrated people in the communities in a place that’s quite large and anonymous like New York City. I was part of a couple of these parent groups in Brooklyn, I used to live there and I moved to Jackson Heights in Queens in 2013, and immediately, people were like, “You have to join JH families,” and it really was an amazing community.
I’m not an archivist, but I am academic so I know how important archives are. If you go to the archives with JH families group, you can see like all the early civic organizing trying to get a green space in the neighborhood, trying to encourage organizations to set up preschool like care and that kind of stuff.
All this early organizing and civic engagement, there’s a record of it online in the Yahoo Groups and if someone was like a scholar who wants to write it like a history of the way that Jackson Heights developed from like a really much more immigrant based community into something that’s much more, I guess socially diverse now. There’s more of like a newcomer community, I guess a presence of people transplant community in Jackson Heights how that’s changed the community for better or for worse. That’s all in the Yahoo group archives.
I’m not saying that us individuals are important, but people who might be interested in the way that communities develop might find that to be useful for their research. I’m not an expert on this but luckily there are lots of experts in our Yahoo group who had been in touch with archivists who’ve been doing all this volunteer labor to help archive Yahoo Groups and put them onto archive.org, to make that sort of a public good.
[00:11:21] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, there is this great loss of history and knowledge that Verizon Media will have carried out if they follow through with their plans. Harry McCracken of Fast Company wrote that, “In the brick and mortar world, we don’t let businesses demolish landmarks just because they own them. I don’t expect there to ever be a similar historic preservation law for the internet, but it would be nice if a big profitable outlet like Verizon which can surely come up with the bucks to subsidize Yahoo Groups continue their existence acted like it cared.” Now I think that’s super true.
Communities close, tools end, things end, it’s life but when you can afford to do better and you specifically choose not to, I think that’s a deeply troubling thing.
[00:11:59] Deane Rimerman: I find it fascinating that in Europe, they passed legislation to give you the right to be forgotten on the internet and this is almost like the opposite. It’s like what rights do we have of data? Obviously, we’re all guilty of entrusting our personal data, our community’s data to a corporation that didn’t make very many good decisions, but at the same time we as a community created this data and it’s going to take legislation, it’s going to take new laws to actually protect this data.
Unless there’s a lot of political pressure before December 14th, we’re going lose this data and it’s frustrating because if you really ask what people think about Yahoo Groups, I’ve been spending time reading any comments I can find on any article and the majority of people, I would say actually the vast majority of people are very internet savvy, are a younger demographic because Yahoo Groups has been around for 20 years, we’re talking about potentially an older demographic especially when people who really know the history of the archives and stuff.
We got a lot of problems to work out and I would love for there to be pressure, but I’m not seeing where we’re going to create a significant amount of pressure in order to find a better resolution to the problem.
[00:13:22] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s why we have a podcast about community management so we can focus on our little fringe issues.
[00:13:26] Deane Rimerman: That’s why I’m here too.
[00:13:28] Patrick O’Keefe: Who knows, but I believe that all community platform should allow people to download their data. The fact is like they allow you to download your data here, but frankly, even that effort seems extremely haphazard. I downloaded my archive, which frankly I haven’t been a huge Yahoo group user. There’s one group in particular, I’ve been a member of for I think like 16, 15, 14 years that I really like and I’ve always participated via email so I think that maybe is why my archive is empty, I downloaded it.
There was nothing there and more importantly, it was in JSON files. You talk about an older demographic, I’m pretty web-savvy, I know my way around HTML, I work in community management, but like that’s not an accessible file format. That’s not something that is going to be accessible to the average person who’s just using Yahoo Groups like a text file would be or anything that was a simple document.
There’s just so little consideration here given to– even on the individual level, forget the group, forget the interlock conversations that people have one post by itself does not representative of the whole but I don’t know if you both played around with what they allowed you to download, but what I found in my archive was practically nothing.
[00:14:39] Susan Kang: I didn’t try to download anything I’d posted. I’m the administrator of Jackson Heights Family Yahoo Group, there’s 4,000 plus members. All I was trying to download was the emails and they basically allowed me to download a thousand emails and that was it. I’m not a coder. I wish I was right now. I had to beg my friends like, “Who can scrape the emails off of this webpage?”
If you are an administrator of a Yahoo group, it doesn’t give you all the emails at once. You have to slowly load them individually so you can keep scrolling down. It takes about 25 minutes for me to get all 4,000 plus emails. Then I have to get my friend to write some Python code to then scrape all the emails off there and then he was able to clean it up to me to make it all comma-separated. That took a while and it took a certain amount of web-savvy.
If you were part of an older demographic who couldn’t, for example, rely on your social networks to outsource this web data scraping, then you would be stuck clicking and right-clicking, left-clicking for a very long time just to get the emails to continue on that community. It was really frustrating. I spent probably four hours, one day feeling frustrated angrily texting and emailing people, trying to figure out how to do this the best way.
[00:16:01] Patrick O’Keefe: A lot of people are having to hack together solutions right now and find ways and I know Deane you’ve been working on that for your groups.
[00:16:07] Deane Rimerman: Yes, that was the first thing that I did is just tried to get a sense of the landscape and try to figure out what is everybody doing, but probably the most interesting story and the one that it does cost a couple of hundred dollars, but the original person who created Yahoo Groups and started out in the late 1990s with a group called One List, which then merged with eGroups and then Yahoo bought that eGroups and created Yahoo Groups and then he left the company and he created a group called Groups.io and that’s essentially one of the best ways to– it costs money though to scrape all your data for somebody who’s not very internet savvy.
They didn’t get any notice that any of this would happen either. Basically the guy who invented this thing back in the early ’90s then created his own group after he left Yahoo, seven days ago, got slammed and has been going nonstop ever since. They had to double their rates to migrate data just to get enough server space to make the December 14th deadline. The biggest problem that we faced with a group like Yahoo Groups is it’s ancient technology and it’s been broken for a long time and there’s tons of errors.
When you run computer robots to scrape data, they don’t play very well with errors and it creates a lot of havoc. There’s actually a blog that I found called modsandmembersblog.wordpress.com and since 2014 they have been going crazy on Yahoo about upgrading the system so the database wouldn’t get lost. He’s obviously just posted recently and says, “This is the update we’ve been campaigning to try and get some repairs to the system for years and years.” This is- and he says, “We desperately need help to get our voices heard by the world.”
That’s the situation we’re in when you have this really old technology in an environment where it’s all about what the new shiny brand new thing is and forget about the past and there’s so much collective amnesia in our society that is so harmful. That’s why archiving and recording history for future generations is so important to me.
[00:18:33] Patrick O’Keefe: Susan, I want to talk about your use case real quick in the sense that one of the primary uses I’ve seen in Yahoo Groups is with local communities like yours in your case parents, but local groups of people focused in a specific area. One of the things I’ve seen people say a lot right now is Nextdoor, Nextdoor, Nextdoor, Nextdoor exists. Use Nextdoor. It’s not the same is it?
[00:18:55] Susan Kang: No, and I don’t use Nextdoor because I don’t want to sound snotty, but Nextdoor, first of all, they define the boundaries of what they think your community is for you based on a certain geography which may or may not be appropriate for the social boundaries of your community and then it’s also like a lot of crime reporting. I don’t need to hear about things when I’m at work like getting alerts on Nextdoor.
My understanding is that a lot of Nextdoor is people feeling scared when they see a person of color, walking around the neighborhood and then freaking out. That’s not my community. My community is first of all majority are people of color. I don’t want to get these kinds of alerts. I don’t think it’s community building. I think it’s geared towards very scared property owners and that’s not our vibe in Jackson Heights. We are much more community-oriented.
It was much more political in some ways too, engaging with politicians or your local elected officials to bring about the changes we want to see. Putting a green space in our public park, which we had no green spaces at all, public green spaces. Nextdoor is also private. They own it. They define things. There’s some community input, but the nice thing about the Yahoo Group was that we defined it, we created our own community. There was no commercial component and I’m sure that data was sold based off the Yahoo Group interactions, but we defined it. For example, anyone who had any relationship with Jackson Heights families, even if you lived outside Jackson Heights, could have been caregivers, grandparents whose- the kids live in Jackson Heights or people who live just outside Jackson Heights, but wanted to know about things happening in the community.
A lot of elected officials, their staffers were in the Yahoo Groups. It’s a very different vibe and a very different set of, I think functions than Nextdoor. I’m not downloading Nextdoor. My friends who download Nextdoor, they always delete it. They don’t have good things to say about it.
[00:20:37] Deane Rimerman: Yes, me too. [chuckles]
[00:20:39] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s interesting. I live in Hollywood and signed up for it to look at the product a little bit and see how it worked and I do get a lot of notifications for suspect person on the street. I live in Hollywood, so let’s just clarify what suspect is exactly. It’s not the same and I think you make an interesting case there about Yahoo Groups.
Even though you don’t own your data being a tool that allowed you to define the community space and apply your own set of guidelines, principles, boundaries around that space rather than Nextdoor saying, “This is what is and isn’t allowed on our platform. Politicians can pay to access you in this way, will integrate with the police in this way. If you don’t live within this square or this triangle, then you cannot be in this community and it’s a tool that caters to different people for that reason.”
[00:21:27] Deane Rimerman: Nextdoor is probably the most conservative group I’ve ever been involved in. I do a lot of gardening and I spend a lot of time in my life protecting trees. It’s a great opportunity for me to connect with neighbors. As mentioned earlier, they have a huge problem with racial profiling that turned into a legal issue. Now they have to have robots. If people who are racial profiling use certain keywords or don’t use enough descriptions, they’re prevented from posting.
Of course, there’s way too much reliance on robots to solve community problems online. The two biggest problems with Nextdoor, one is you have to have a physical address within the area to be able to participate. With the homeless epidemic going on, you have constant amount of people who are outraged about the homeless people and the homeless people have no way they can communicate their situation. There’s no option at all for them to participate because they don’t have a physical address.
The second problem that’s really extreme with Nextdoor is they have a super extreme and incredibly vague policy for moderation. One of the rules is you can’t argue, there’s no arguing. You aren’t allowed to argue and with Yahoo Groups, you get an email, you don’t like the email, you hit the delete button.
In Nextdoor, you see somebody who posts something that you object to, people hit the report button. All of a sudden, a week later you go to log in to Nextdoor and you can’t log in and there’s no explanation. There’s no anything that says your account’s been suspended but if you do enough work, you find the info. You send an email and then they write back and say your account was temporarily suspended because you broke the guidelines.
This problem in Santa Cruz County with the homeless, there’s a giant recall petition on city council members who are supporting homeless people and there are so many anti-homeless people on Nextdoor that whenever somebody posts something supportive for the city council members and against the recall position, they get reported and kicked off the website.
There’s this mob mentality, I understand Nextdoor is trying to handle the logistics of millions of people and there’s only so much they can do, but at the same time when it comes to building community, there are certain concepts that are incredibly valuable that is not understood by technology executives who are trying to boost profits.
[00:24:00] Patrick O’Keefe: For sure. So Nextdoor is certainly a fun subject, I could talk about all day, but I want to talk a little bit more about your groups specifically how they responded. The way I found you Susan was that I was searching on Twitter for Yahoo Groups, which is how I also found Deane, but I was searching on Twitter for Yahoo Groups and there was a member of your group who mentioned that there was a panic in the group and so I was like, “Can you introduce me to that person? I want to talk to them.” What’s been the sentiment, the feeling within members of your group?
[00:24:27] Susan Kang: Like Deane said, not all but a sizable minority of people who are part of our Yahoo group are part of the older community. Jackson Heights is a great place if you’re a senior. It’s very walkable, a lot of discounts and activities for seniors and they stayed involved civically through this neighborhood group and so they’re very baffled because they don’t understand how to transfer over.
For example, do you have to get a Google login if I am going to be part of a Google group because we’re trying to migrate over to Google Group. Google, this is a whole another discussion, but Google throttles how quickly you can add members to a Google Group. There’s been a lot of upset like, “I haven’t gotten my invitation yet.” If they’re at work and they’re logged in to their work Google account, it may not be a Google address. Then they’re like, “I can’t get in. They’re telling me that I don’t have the correct email.” I have to tell them, “You might be logged in to your work computer, it’s different.”
I’ve been helping a lot of people who aren’t super tech-savvy. Again, I’m a professor of political science so I’m not the techiest of person. I’m 39 so I’m like on the cusp of being a millennial. Like I’m almost there just by demographics. I can help people who are a bit older than me to navigate some of these questions, but there’s been a lot of frustration.
There was a big discussion about the Groups.io that Deane mentioned. As soon as I found that it would cost money to migrate things and considering just how big our archive is, it would be quite expensive because they charge by the amount of data storage you need. I wasn’t going to take that cost on. The nice thing about Google is that it didn’t cost anything.
I made an executive decision based on the discussion in our Yahoo Group that Google Groups seemed like the most logical response but people had been having troubles. It’s not exactly a panic but there’s a lot of confusion. People are just reading the messages out of order so I’m constantly responding to the same question over and over again.
Like many of us who administer these online groups, this is just a volunteer gig I do on top of countless other volunteer things I do in addition to being a mother of really two small kids and I have a full-time job. I live in New York City so it’s like I can only do so much in a given day. It’s taken up a lot of my limited hours to deal with this, but I feel like it’s such an important community tool that it’s worth all the time for me seeing just how effective it was.
I don’t want that to go away, I just think it’s too important. It’s worth it to me and my friends who have been helping me with this transition. There’s a lot of confusion about what exactly the end of Yahoo Groups means. Except from where we could still use it as an email group, but that seemed also unclear. Just how much could we use it? How could it be accessed? Do you require a Yahoo login? There’s been a lot of confusion.
[00:27:17] Patrick O’Keefe: I think what they’ve said is that you can continue to use it via email but at this point why would you trust? Why would you not take this as a warning that in the future something else will happen, especially when it’s so difficult to get the email addresses as you mentioned, it takes that amount of time. I don’t know why you trust them at this stage.
[00:27:35] Susan Kang: This is very New York-centric and you seem to be on the West Coast by all the natural light I see.
[00:27:40] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes.
[00:27:42] Susan Kang: I apologize. To make a long story short, New York is as democratic as California in terms of the population but has historically had not very good laws because it was like a gentleman’s agreement that the Republicans would own the Senate and the Democrats own the Assembly. Then we realized right after Trump got elected, that our State Senator Jose Peralta had joined with this caucus of Senate Democrats that worked with Senate Republicans to effectively deny the Democrats from having control of the Senate.
Basically, stopping them from being a democratic trifecta in New York, which meant that the Republican-controlled Senate would stop anything from happening like a Dream Act for example. When we found this out, this listserv, I didn’t know what it was, which is embarrassing as a political science professor but I study human rights. We all educated ourselves about all this stuff happening in Albany.
It was literally the day of the Muslim ban. We have a huge Bangladeshi population in our community. We were really fired up. People were using the Yahoo Groups already to talk about here are ways to organize against Trump after he got elected. Our community is famous for being the most diverse community in the country. Probably, 160 languages are spoken here, whatever.There was a movie, there’s a documentary made about us by Frederick Wiseman about Jackson Heights. We were pretty incensed and then we used this Listserv to get people to call their state senator to say, “We demand a town hall.” Basically, we were able to support a challenger to this state senator who’s effectively able to beat the sitting state senator in a primary election a couple of years later, which doesn’t happen that often in New York politics, doesn’t happen that often.
It was during a banner year 2018 where people were taking electoral politics very seriously. It really just started because of people asking each other on this Yahoo list like, “What is going on? What’s happening with our state senator? I was able to meet hundreds of people in our community that I never would have met because of this Listserv, because of this political work like this low-level sending emails, asking people to call people, asking people to talk to people about this.
It made a national press because it was a big deal. It gave me a little bit of a media profile. It really changed the politics in New York, but it was this Listserv that really made it possible. I don’t want to make it seem that other people didn’t do a lot of great work but it really mobilized the community.
[00:30:05] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, and I think what’s unfortunate is that when things like this happen, like the Yahoo Groups announcing this change, your group becomes about the change for a while, and not so much about the community or what’s happening in the community or progress you’re making. It sounds like your group is filling up with people right now who are unsure of what is going to happen to the group because of Yahoo Groups change. It’s almost like an inward view of self-preservation. Deane, what has the response been like in the groups that you’re a part of?
[00:30:35] Deane Rimerman: When I first found out, I pretty much stopped everything I was doing for the day and focused on it. I sent out an email message to my local environmental group that I’ve been on for 17, 18 years. I said, “I’m going to update every day. I’m totally focused on this.” I just went down the rabbit hole and went off into a whirlwind and at the same time trying to keep my bills paid, trying to get my work done, trying to just deal with how fast-paced life is nowhere near the people in New York City. I totally admire how much they can get it done in a day. I’ll tell you that much.
Mostly my phone calls have been talking to people who run the Yahoo Groups websites, and just trying to give them as much information so they can make decisions. I’m a lifelong environmentalist, all the spotted owl stuff, all the forest protection stuff that you read about in the ’90s is really my wheelhouse and what I’ve been focused on whether it’s litigation or community organizing.
In the 1990s, the mid-90s, when people first started getting online, we didn’t have high-speed internet. We couldn’t just go get on the web and watch a video or look at pictures. The only communication tool we had was emails. Emails was the primary organizing tool that we created huge national and international campaigns and rally together hundreds and in some cases in the Redwoods, thousands of people to come together all because we were sharing emails.
Yahoo Groups came along and made that system. It was a new and improved. It was much more efficient. It worked really well. Here we are all these years later, we used to make these beautiful flyers for an event and now people just post an announcement on Facebook. Man, if anybody’s tried to go through the archives of Facebook to try and find historical information, it’s very difficult.
Facebook, just like Yahoo Groups at any point, they can turn stuff off. I feel like almost I’m grieving for somebody who’s on their deathbed, and that I’m so busy trying to handle the loss. I barely had enough time to notify people. That’s my next step because I’m trying to get as much information about all the possible options and everything that people can do to help in one email. Then I’m going to get online and I’m going to send that to every single Yahoo Groups I’m in.
I have one friend that was crazy about in Northern California in the Redwoods. He’s set up over 75 Yahoo Groups over the years for every type of activism that he was doing. I’ve spent time with him on the phone and had a conversation and I put some money out of my own pocket and we saved his most important group through Groups.io. It’s getting transferred, as well as my environmental poetry, one, which is who I’m representing myself with today in terms of my background information in this podcast.
It’s really frustrating because as an environmentalist, we were common sense type informative people in the 1990s. As time has gone by, we’ve become the root of all evil. We have this incredible history of doing all these really beautiful, inspiring things. Every single person I’ve talked to in the environmental community, myself included, we got involved because we saw examples of people doing really courageous, meaningful, beautiful things that were successful. We said, “I want to save that tree, or I want to save that piece of land or protect the ocean. I want to get more involved.”
Every single day of that work of the past 18 years is in email form in those archives in Yahoo Groups. It’s not in Facebook. It’s not in MySpace. It’s not on Twitter. Small amounts are but the bulk of that data exists on Yahoo Groups.
[00:34:33] Susan Kang: If I can speak a little bit to your question, I’m also involved in the Democratic Socialists of America. I’m actually part of the Leadership Committee here in New York City. We helped get Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez elected. We pushed…
[00:34:46] Deane Rimerman: [applause]
[00:34:47] Susan Kang: Oh, yes, thanks.
[00:34:48] Patrick O’Keefe: I got the right two people together.
[00:34:51] Patrick O’Keefe: Boy, I think I made some friendships here.
[00:34:54] Susan Kang: It’s not a coincidence. I think they were both activists. We pushed her out through the Listserv during that really difficult primary election which she won handily. Anyway, so the Democratic Socialist of America and eco-socialist campaign we’re trying to push for publicly-owned power utilities. The Green New Deal is really hot right now. A lot of people, a lot of yuppies, who probably wouldn’t care about these sort of issues, maybe 15 years ago, really see that climate change is on the brink of hurting their children’s future.
I posted something recently asking people to call Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office, asking her to sign on to our public power platform and to also decry, ConEd is the name of our power company. They increased our energy rates up $20 a month on average for households, so that way they can engage in more fracking. We should be doing the opposite, having more renewables, but because ConEd is just like a typical company, they care about their short term gains. They were doing this and then passing the cost of this infrastructural, this fracking investment on to consumers.
There’s not a lot of stuff being said so I sent an email out. Ordinarily, it would have gotten much more of a response. People are so hung up right now, are like, “What’s the future of Yahoo Groups?” I didn’t get much of a response. I think I need to wait and ask people do it again. Or maybe we touch people individually, but in the past, an email like this would have gotten a big discussion. People would have been asking, “Well, how do we know about this? Or what’s going on? Or what else can we do to get involved? Should we contact local level people, not just our Congresswoman?”
That’s a real loss for me right now. There’s a lot of interesting and important political work that we need to be doing. That’s getting lost in the fray because people are like, “Where’s my Google Group invite?”
[00:36:39] Patrick O’Keefe: I may be out here in Hollywood, but I like to say that I take crosswalks like a New Yorker.
[00:36:44] Susan Kang: [crosstalk]
[00:36:47] Deane Rimerman: In the same way that we know that there’s a certain savvy that requires getting across a busy street, so too there’s a certain savvy and you got to have the wits about you about how the online world works. We all know about spammers, and we all know about all kinds of trouble that you can run into. One of the most frustrating things is when it comes to lost data, and letting people you don’t know control that data.
When I was in grad school, I studied international forest governance. I created a database with 15,000 articles over the course of several years, of all of the forest issues in every single country in the world. I found this really cool website and it was called Posterous. All you had to do is send an email to Posterous, just like Yahoo Groups back in the day. You could attach all the pictures you wanted and it would format all those pictures and automatically upload them to your WordPress site.
Well, when I got out of grad school, each one of those 15,000 articles had five or six photos to it. I still have all those photos and folders, but Twitter bought Posterous because they thought Posterous did a great job at what they wanted to do with Twitter. As soon as Twitter bought Posterous, we got an email that says, “We’re shutting down, you have a year to get all of your images.”
At first, I thought they were formatting the images and uploading to my website. I had no idea they were storing those images on their own server. The logistics of tens of thousands of photos for my grad school work after I was already out of grad school, there was just no way I would have the time to sort all that out. There was no way at that time that I had the technical skills to crawl all of that data and then reimage it onto the website.
All of my grad school work is missing all of the photos. The words are still there, but it’s the same scenario. Same problem is when you’re on the internet, you’re dependent on everybody else. There’s a sense of community and you can control your data as best as you can. Logistically, when it comes to social media, you have to have some laws and some regulations that basically make Verizon think the cost of us shutting this down and wiping all this data out is way more than us just maintaining it and upgrading it and proving it.
That’s the kind of pressure we don’t have. Politically, that’s why we need to lean a little bit harder to the left towards the people who do want to create those types of protections.
[00:39:27] Patrick O’Keefe: You both had to think quickly here. This is, I think, one of the most just utterly ridiculous parts of this is just the timeline that Verizon Media put out there. 12 days for people to post, as I said at the top of the show, you know, you mentioned how there’s a precursor to eGroups, but if you go back to eGroups, and what that was, that’s 22 years old. Yahoo bought that and merged with Yahoo clubs to make groups.
Even if you just take that time minus 19 years old, someone could theoretically be in a community on Yahoo Groups for 19 years. Take their two weeks paid vacation, come back and the community’s gone and they can’t say goodbye. It’s just ridiculous. You had this super quick timeline, you had to quickly acclimate yourself to the problem, the solution because Yahoo simply wasn’t being helpful and make quick choices in order to preserve at least some of this interaction or the content.
You both hinted at what you’ve gone with. Susan, with Google Groups for the Jackson Heights Families Group and Deane for one of the groups you’re putting your own money forward, which I think is not something a lot of people can be expected to do, but it’s very generous on your part. That just speaks to how much that content means to you and going with Groups.io for that one group while still working with the others as best as you can. I would just like to talk about that briefly, especially on Susan’s end because you really need to talk about Google Groups and why you chose them. What’s the reason that you decided to go with Google Groups?
[00:40:45] Susan Kang: A lot of people were very keen on Groups.io, but once you figured out about the cost, we’re a community-supported group we don’t have any resources, nobody supports us, then I wasn’t going to try to apply for grants in that short period of time. I don’t feel like I could quite justify the cost because it’s yearly too. I mean if I could do it for one year, I don’t know how we would do the rest of it.
I guess I could’ve crowdsourced it, but it just seemed like at that moment Google Groups was going to be the better bet for our needs, which was a free community service. I spoke to my friends who work at Google and I said, what’s the likelihood that Google is going to phase out Google Groups anytime soon? I used to also use Google Plus, which they also phased out.
[00:41:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, I had Google Plus and I know Posterous. I know you’re pointing a lot of graveyard names here, everybody.
[00:41:31] Susan Kang: Companies phase out products that people create relationships and depend on. As long as you recognize that the motive, the profit motives that corporations operate under mean that our actual experiences don’t matter very much compared to their broader corporate strategies. That’s always there. My friends at Google were like, no, no, it’s part of G suites. It’s something that we sell to businesses, to organizations. It’s a very fundamental business operations. It’s not likely to go away anytime soon.
I was like, “All right fine, we’ll stick with Google Groups because it’s cheap.” Then we ran up against this problem, which is that people are logged into their Google accounts without realizing it. Then when they got their non-Google email invites they couldn’t access the invitation. Now I’ll have to double invite people who had a non-Google email or Yahoo email and to organize all that too because I’m getting it through independent like one-on-one emails through my Gmail and then I’m asking people to fill out a Google form.
Some people are filling out the Google form, some people are not. I’m trying to do my best to make it easy for me. I think it’s going to be about a month or two of me still dealing with people saying, “Oh, but I still can’t access it through my work computer. What am I doing wrong?”
Then a lot was sort of me calling my techier friends, asking them for a little bit of assistance, but that’s what we decided, but some people said they weren’t interested in joining a new group. They said they were going to go to Nextdoor. We also have, I don’t know who owns it, but we have our own bulletin, like, we have like a bulletin board, I guess discussion board that’s like a traditional, like someone posts and then there’s posts below it, but it’s stored on a server. It’s called Jackson Heights Life. People like that as well.
People post about like, “Oh, I saw this new restaurant opening up or do you know still what’s going on with this business?” People definitely post about politics there in the past and I’ve posted on politics in the past there, but it’s a little bit like you have to log in to that webpage to comment. You don’t have to log in to read, but it’s not like you get it in your inbox, so it’s a little bit less convenient, a little less accessible. You can’t easily look at it on your phone.
There are alternatives for people who don’t want to join the Google Groups. I was hoping that Jackson Heights gets a lot of people moving in every year. I was hoping that new people, especially young parents would easily want to join the Google Groups. I’ve invited over 2,000 people so far and some of the 2,000 have…We have a few hundred people who’ve accepted so far. There’s definitely been a drop-off.
[00:43:50] Deane Rimerman: That’s that crucial part of that you talk about is the ease of use. How convenient is it for you? It’s like everybody’s got an email account and some point they signed up for Yahoo Groups. They don’t have to do anything after that. Now all of a sudden we got to shift gears and you got to ask all these people to do stuff on their computer that they haven’t done before and everybody procrastinates on stuff that they have to do on their computer that they don’t want to deal with, because it gets frustrating. The ease of use and the convenience is what makes community organizing online possible.
[00:44:29] Patrick O’Keefe: Susan, as I mentioned earlier, your group is quite active, more than 6,000 messages this year alone, more than 4,000 members. From talking to you, I suspect that your biggest concern was doing whatever you could to maintain those connections and not lose people. How confident do you feel that you’ll be able to do that?
[00:44:46] Susan Kang: We’re definitely going to lose quite a lot of people because many of the people who are members of the group, they didn’t even check their emails. They just occasionally log onto the interface and see what’s going on. Those folks we’re just going to lose them. I’m really sad about that. Then we have some people who are just going to find it, like Deane said, like a couple of steps too complicated and they’re not going to make the effort to reach out to me say, “Oh hey, can you add this other email?”
That’s a reality. I’m really disappointed about that. I can continue to check who we’ve got versus the master list of the 4,000 original members and just maybe a month or so send out another request and see what happens I think Google Groups keeps those emails I haven’t responded yet. It keeps it in there so it won’t be too far for me.
Other than that, I’m going to hope that word of mouth will suffice maybe the local coffee shop or businesses will let me post like “Here if you want to sign up for our Google group join here”, because we are very like- we’re super dense. It’s maybe like 20 blocks or four avenues, that’s Jackson Heights. It’s like a village.
I can’t walk anywhere without me getting to meet five people that I know casually, which is both fun and annoying [chuckles] and as a result, we’re aware. I’m really hoping that, like I said, the word of mouth gets out. I found my child’s babysitter through this Listserv and she’s just amazing. I don’t know what I would do without her.
She picks him up every day after school at 2:30. She’s just like a family member at this point. I found her because I posted saying, “Oh, I need to after school caregiver.” I went through these paid subscription sites like care.com and Sitter City and I did not find anybody that suited my needs, but I found a local woman who lives across the street from my child’s school. Whose name little serve. It’s just like, it’s just a resource that paid sites just can’t reproduce.
[00:46:37] Patrick O’Keefe: Deane, I know you can’t afford groups that I offer every group you care about. What’s going to happen to those groups that you can’t, the other groups, what’s going to happen to them?
[00:46:46] Deane Rimerman: Well, a lot of the groups aren’t that active anymore. The service that the groups provided granted Yahoo Groups in my case has run its lifespan. There are some groups like the local environmental group with lots of elderly people, retired people who are like diehard environmentalists. They don’t really understand any other way. We’re going to work together and we’re going to find a solution, but I don’t really know where we go from here.
I think probably my biggest concern in my life in terms about online data and archiving is that I want people 50 years from now, a hundred years from now, who are researching projects and want to know the origins of great ideas and origins that made the world a better place. I want them to be able to dig through all of this information and find gems and find great stories and find especially when it comes to the genealogy remarkable people in their last years started sending emails and started writing some of their thoughts and ideas and we’ll never know who those people were. There was a chance we could have if we had more protection of our data.
Right now, I’m pretty much not sleeping very well, kind of sleep-deprived right now. Just surfing this wave of crisis and trying to do the best I can in this situation. I appreciate your interest in the podcast because just sitting here for an hour calms me down and realizes that we do have voices and we can speak out.
Maybe if we get enough information out there we’ll build some momentum and now are a lot of examples on the internet where stuff was threatened to be shut down and then somebody came along and tried to help out. Some big money came along and bailed out the process and things got better. At the same time, it doesn’t look so good because Yahoo Groups is so archaic and so ancient compared to what most people consider online. We didn’t have cell phones and apps when Yahoo Groups first started.
[00:48:56] Patrick O’Keefe: I was going to ask you as my final question and last topic here is the fact that I’ve noticed a lot of people, right? I mean the Internet’s a snarky place, but a lot of people are seeing this news and making comments about how they’re surprised Yahoo Group still exists. It’s no longer relevant. Why would you use it? It doesn’t matter. I was going to ask you, what would you say to those people? But I actually think that you both already answered that question pretty succinctly in the amount of value that’s been created through these groups through political activism, through finding someone who impacts your life in some way. Like a babysitter that becomes a member of your family through environmental work, knowledge sharing, and just sharing passion around things. I really appreciate you taking the time. I appreciate you being so candid with us and I hope you were able to minimize the damage here.
[00:49:46] Susan Kang: Thanks for having us on the show
[00:49:48] Deane Rimerman: Yes, thank you very much. It was a really rewarding to sit down and put it all in perspective and listen to what other people are going through, too. I really appreciate your effort to put this together.
[00:50:00] Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve been talking with Susan Kang of Jackson Heights Families Yahoo Group and Deane Rimerman of the Warrior Poets Society Yahoo Group. To connect with Deane, visit armedwithvisions.com and his blog, blog.armedwithvisions.com.
For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead.
If you close your community please be thoughtful. Until next time.
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