Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Mail Machine Stops

It would appear that I may have dangerously tempted the Fates yesterday with that remark about “the recent degradation of Yahoo! Mail.” As I write this, the system has been consistently responding with its generic “Temporary Error 1” message. At the very least this means that the “try again shortly” advice has seriously warped the semantics of “shortly.” From a more drastic point of view, Yahoo! Mail may have gone down the path of E. M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops,” in which those responsible for the maintenance of “the machine” know less and less about how it works until a generation of technicians has evolved that can neither diagnose nor solve any problems. The result is a new society that learns to live with the machine’s errors until finally the machine … well … stops.

Mostly, I have been using Forster as a stick to beat on Apple over the question of whether their current team of development engineers is as good as past teams have been, particularly where OS X, rather than iOS, is concerned. Needless to say, we all know that Yahoo! is in trouble. Furthermore, in our prevailing culture of instant gratification, I have to say that I have been pleased with those opinion pieces I have read arguing that Marissa Meyer is going to need long-range thinking to get Yahoo! out of its current hole. However, today’s incident with Yahoo! Mail (which I am pretty sure will be resolved, even if it is later, rather than sooner) may be a message that Meyer needs to conduct a rather thorough audit of all aspects of the “public face” of Yahoo! operations. On the basis of her work at Google, I would guess that this is part of her game plan. I would further guess that she will be very good at both implementing and interpreting such an audit; but this may be a sign that she had better get cracking before it is too late!

Added 3:45 PM: Since I was covering Noontime Concerts™ today, I could walk away and just see if things were back on the air when I returned. According to the time stamps in my Inbox, mail started coming in around 12:15 PM, about two hours after I filed the original post. I also watched the latest BBC News report on television and learned about the massive power failure in India. Is that where the Yahoo! Mail servers are? Just askin'.

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