Yahoo Debacle Update

Last week I announced a major disaster, and asked for your help in getting the word out about True to help reverse the problem. A good number of you listened, and helped. Thank you. While the threat isn’t gone, this newsletter will be able to continue.


The previous post has the details, but the brief story is Yahoo blocked my newsletters to the vast majority of the 22,000+ True subscribers there, and I later learned they had been blocked for several weeks. That hit me right in the pocketbook, since that means I lost about 15 percent of my subscribers overnight, and thus about 15 percent of my income, when things were already pretty grim for True due to the economy. Ouch.

What did my readers do? Hundreds of you sent personal recommendations to your friends, urging them to subscribe. And hundreds of them have. Dozens of you with blogs wrote about the problem (I linked back to the examples I found, on my Yahoo Alert blog entry.) Hundreds of those blog readers have subscribed too.

At least one of you wrote up the situation for Slashdot, and last Sunday that little article made the front page of that site, bringing thousands of site visitors — and around 1,000 new subscription requests.

Sleepy Giant

There are some non-yahoos at Yahoo!

All of that, plus hundreds of complaints to Yahoo by angry readers, got Yahoo’s attention. One of their top anti-spam gurus wrote me to get information, and then wrote back Tuesday to say they have lifted the block. Thank you, Carlo.

Meanwhile, ironically (and coincidentally), Gmail dropped last Friday’s issue into subscribers’ “spam” folders. Between subscribers clicking the “Not Spam” button and several readers who work at Google who vouched for True, that shouldn’t happen anymore. (Big difference between what happened at Yahoo and Google: Yahoo was blocking it and not putting issues in the “spam” folder, so there was no way to retrieve it. You could still find it if you had Gmail, and mark it “Not Spam”. Please always do that if you ever find True — or any other legit newsletter — in your spam folder.)

There was still one more big step, though, for the 15,000ish subscribers using Yahoo: their subscriptions were “held” by by my Email Service Provider (which does the email distribution of these issues) due to the weeks-long block. For me on their web interface, “unholding” a subscription is a six-click process — per address — with some waiting between some of the clicks. Easy for one, but hardly a reasonable process for 15,000 addresses. The folks at the company, though, have direct access to the data base, and were able to “unhold” everyone with one command. Whew! That was completed today, and I thank them for that great help.

Not Yahoo’s Fault, Exactly

All of this could have been avoided if people simply followed directions — as you all agreed to do when you got your subscription! It might seem smart to “never use the unsubscribe link” on spam, but that’s definitely NOT the case when you’ve asked for the mail! For anyone to use the “This is Spam” button on mail they asked to get is despicable: such people are lying and accusing responsible emailers of a crime.

In extreme cases, like what happened to True, they are depriving others of getting the mail they really do want. They cry and whine about how bad it is to get spam …and then they falsely accuse the good guys of doing it. In my book, falsely accusing someone of spamming is worse than spamming.

Wake the Hell Up

It’s no wonder virtually all of the good email newsletters long ago died off: they were not only not supported by their readers, they were actively interfered with. And what a shame for such good newsletters to have gone away!

You say you want emailers to act responsibly? That’s certainly reasonable — but only as long as you are responsible too. If you ask to get something, follow the directions when you want to stop. It’s not “spam” until you do AND the mailer doesn’t honor your request — and I always do, instantly.

As I said, a lot of you rose to my aid, and I thank you. Some of you even upgraded to Premium subscriptions to show your support.

All Independents Need Your Help!

The bottom line for any newsletter is we do desperately need your support: links, blog recommendations, referrals to friends, upgrades, sponsorships or ad sales, book sales, whatever.

Without such support — without the creators being paid for the huge amount of work that goes into such endeavors (and if the newsletter is good, it does take a lot of work) — the newsletter will stop.

If your favorite newsletter died, that’s probably why. Thank you for not letting True die, but support — for True or any other small operation — isn’t a one-time thing. If you value independent voices, you need to support them. If you don’t, then all you’ll get is corporate droning from the likes of Microsoft, Clear Channel, and News Corp. — and you’ll deserve the resulting boredom.

The bottom line for True: some hundreds of subscriptions that couldn’t be recovered, which is a lot better than 15,000-22,000! Meanwhile, about 1,600 new subscribers came in, for a net total as I write this on the afternoon of August 8: down slightly to 108,963 direct subscriptions, which doesn’t count pass-alongs (forwards) or people who read it on the web site (you do know that this page always has the latest issue, in case there’s an email problem, right?)

So I do still need your continuing support. It definitely doesn’t have to be an upgrade or other purchase: the most important way True grows is you telling friends about this free, usually funny (I hope!) yet thought-provoking newsletter from an independent voice. Thanks, again, for helping to save it.

– – –

Yahoo is no longer so well represented on the newsletter distribution: they’ve been replaced by the new 800 lb. gorilla, Gmail, who is now number one by far on my list. And most readers still don’t care about independent voices and have turned their back, and scores more newsletters that the readers have loved are dead.

28 Comments on “Yahoo Debacle Update

  1. Glad to hear things are getting straightened out.

    Still feels a little like closing the barn door just a tad too late. Yes, good for you, I’m truly happy for you, but if this happens (happened already most likely) to others, I seriously doubt the results would be the same.

    You do have a connection to your readers and others who live and breath the internet, and that’s great, but my concern will remain for the lesser known, but still legitimate email/ezine publishers who are probably even now falling silently by the wayside due to these same actions.

    Two outcomes desired here:

    1. Get True cleared and back into the inboxes of those requesting it. –Done!

    2. Get Yahoo! to review how it indiscriminately shuts off legitimate mail and act responsibly as well. Their actions from the start were really no better than the lazy subscribers who just hit that button. Instead of checking, they just let themselves be lead by those same idjits.

    Very irresponsible.

    Let’s see how they approach these matters in the future.

    You are certainly correct — which is why I stressed so much why small, independent voices, not just True, need support, as well as responsible actions on the part of their readers. -rc

  2. One thing that this has taught me is to check my spam folder more often. The first time I did that this week was very ‘painful’ as there were so many to review. But now, when I do it every day or so, it is just a quick scan.

    I found about at least 7 more ‘legit’ emails in Yahoo’s spam folder including one from my bank (a very prominent Internet Bank).

    I’m still amazed what gets into the Inbox. Just today I had countless solicitations for xxx sites and others for a ‘great business oppotunity’ if I work with someone from Africa. I don’t know what their algorithm is for determining spam, but these are so obvious it sees like yahoo is being paid to ignore all the signs of what it is.

    I’m being much more aggressive with these types of emails and marking them as spam. It probably won’t help but it makes me feel better.

  3. I can’t say how much of the problem is due to poor user interface design, but the button on the Yahoo mail message display page doesn’t say “Report Spam” or “This is Spam” it just says “Spam”.

    Some years ago, so long that the details escape me, I was a newbie on a freemail site that might or might not have been Yahoo. I received my very first spam message and, of course, immediately deleted it. The site, of course, then displayed the next message in my inbox. At that point I noticed a button marked “Report Spam.” “That’s for me,” I cried, and clicked it. Instead of a form for me to fill out to report that other message as spam, as I had expected, I received a “thank you for your report” screen. “No! Not this message!” I shouted, to no avail. I think I sent a message to someone on the “contact us” page explaining what I had done, but I don’t remember anything (positive or negative) coming of it.

    My point, and I do have one, is that some of the Spam clicks might possibly have been accidental. Not that it helps any….

    My premium True subscription now goes to my Gmail account, which BTW I got through an invite from Randy. Thanks again!

  4. The Yahoo problem is bad. I am a pilot for Angel Flight SC and we can’t get our daily emails listing missions available to fly patients because Yahoo has blocked us as spam!!!

    In the last month, spam has gotten crazy!

    Keep up the good work!

  5. I just deleted some spam this afternoon, and noticed something odd.

    I had well over a hundred messages (I don’t check my Yahoo email often, and haven’t subscribed to anything using that address.) They all wanted to sell me drugs from Canada or get my help liberating money from Nigeria. I clicked “Check all” and then “Spam,” thinking that all the messages on the first screen would be deleted and I’d have the next screen of spam to wade through.

    And my inbox was empty.

    I have no idea what was on that second screen. I’m assuming there should have been more messages–perhaps they all fit on one screen, but it didn’t seem like more than 100.

    There are probably some folks who decided they didn’t want True anymore and just hit “Spam” instead of unsubscribing, but I’ll bet that plenty of messages were marked as spam accidentally.

  6. It seems the problem still exists – my mail server dropped the current issue into my deleted items folder as soon as it came through to my computer. I have Windows Live Mail, and have never clicked to identify the newsletters as spam. I’m wondering if some other ‘news’ websites are falsely reporting other newsletters as spam to try and get them taken down, due to jealousy of their popularity?

    Windows Live Mail, is that the new label for Hotmail?

    This only has to do with Yahoo, and by coincidence a little bit of Gmail. My advice in general stands: search your spam folder for the Good Stuff they threw away, mark it “not spam” if you find it, and complain that they’re not accurate enough with their filtering. And if it doesn’t work the way you want it — if they don’t help you get the mail you want, and avoid the mail you don’t — then vote with your feet. Gmail seems best, and even my respect for Yahoo is now up quite a bit. -rc

  7. It’s now Windows Live Hotmail, ahem. (Thanks M$.) Windows Live Mail replaces (and is “better” than) Outlook Express, so in all likelihood the poster has Windows Live Mail set up to receive their Yahoo! and/or Gmail emails. I believe you can even set it up for (the paid-for) Hotmail.

    Thanks. As you can tell, I haven’t been paying attention to what they’re doing. I’ve always been pretty unimpressed with Hotmail…. -rc

  8. Now if I could only figure out a way to get AT&T/Yahoo to stop blocking

    CareerBuilder can’t get them to.

    Any good “conspiracy theorys” out there?

  9. I thought ALL the messages labeled by Yahoo as Spam went to the spambox. I want to know what ELSE I have been missing.

  10. “For anyone to use the “This is Spam” button on mail they asked to get is despicable”

    In most cases I would agree with you. But sometimes I sign up for a list, decide I don’t like it, and then CAN NOT get them to remove me. Either their unsubscribe doesn’t work, they don’t provide one, or they make it so difficult to unsubscribe that I will not go through the process.

    I may have initially signed up for those lists, but by making it impossible to get myself removed from them, they have made themselves into spam.

    True, of course, does not fall into this category!

    I did cover that: “It’s not ‘spam’ until you do AND the mailer doesn’t honor your request.” So yes, I agree: it is totally reasonable to mark things as spam if you can’t get them to stop — even if you did ask them to start. -rc

  11. I did cover that: “It’s not ‘spam’ until you do AND the mailer doesn’t honor your request.” So yes, I agree: it is totally reasonable to mark thing as spam if you can’t get them to stop — even if you did ask them to start. -rc

    I know of circumstances where someone can sign up, and receive up to 15 emails or more per day … and they aren’t told that at sign-up. Is that spam? how about if they do that, but also hand over your email address to ‘3rd parties’ who also slam you with email. Is that spam? Of course it is!

    In any event, I’m told the TiT email wasn’t blocked, but rather ‘deferred’ which is quite a different matter, and involves slowing down the delivery rates. This may have had something to do with True email, or due to a capacity situation at Yahoo!

    All told, glad it worked out!

    Passing your address to a third party (so you get mail you didn’t ask for) is definitely spam. But I wouldn’t necessarily agree that getting more mail than you expected is; perhaps you simply weren’t paying attention to what you were subscribing to. As long as there is an unsubscribe link that works, I wouldn’t call it spam.

    You can quibble about terminology of what happened to TRUE, but when they actively refuse (bounce) requested mail week after week after week, it sure sounds like a “block” to me. -rc

  12. You can quibble about terminology of what happened to TRUE, but when they refuse requested mail week after week after week, it sure sounds like a “block” to me. -rc

    Ah, but the terminology leads us to the underlying cause of the issue. A deferral is something your ESP Lyris can control, in terms of the rate of delivery and number of connections they open when they send mail to Yahoo!, and is entirely unrelated to the use of the This Is Spam button. It is speaking to their capacity or willingness to accept mail from a source or sources, for any number of reasons, like it being a spam source, or less than trusted sender, or, on the Yahoo! end, because they are being swamped with email.

    Use, and ‘misuse’ of the TiS button can lead to blocks, or dropped deliveries, completely blackholed, or sent to the spam folder. An entirely different thing.

    I would certainly think Lyris, being a pretty big ESP, would be working with the big ISPs to know their preferences and such. But Lyris abuse folks are about as secretive is Yahoo abuse folks, so I don’t really know the answer. I do certainly know that it’s possible to throttle Lyris delivery rates by domain, though; that capability has been there for years. And it wouldn’t be, if they weren’t aware that it was needed…. -rc

  13. There are many issues with Yahoo related to spam. They sent a lot of spam, perhaps because I suspect that their advertisers pay based on the amount of email, so yahoo would get more money by sending the spam than by stopping it.
    Yahoo also defers messages, which is really annoying and delays email for their users.

    There is supposed to be a way to get on a whitelist, but that list is basically just for spammers and businesses, not places like schools where students forward their email.

    It is impossible to get anyone to listen at yahoo. I have sent spam reports to them and often they reply that it did not come through their system, which is false since the server logs the last connection, which was a yahoo system. Add to that they contract with ISPs, like Verizon, so with those messages they claim no responsibility and refuse to do anything other than to tell you to contact the source.

    AOL used to have a bad reputation and years ago was threatened with having the backbone sites refuse to transmit their email, but they now take spam seriously and you can actually call and talk to a person and get a good response. They have a feedback loop to prevent problems too. I wish that everyone would refuse to carry yahoo email until they cleanup their act.

  14. the spam filters at JUNO.COM have a nasty habit of pulling similar antics.

    i am signed up with several YAHOO groups. JUNO’s spam filters will randomly block YAHOO groups and i have to go through a whole bunch of hoops just to get legit email back from YAHOO groups.

  15. Sadly enough, in every accumulation of people that gets large enough, like True, you get your share of less enlightened individuals, who can’t read the instructions or who even misbehave on purpose.

    On one side, having a common spam clue database for all users of a mail service might be quite neat, it can boost the recognition rate dramatically, on the other hand, a few misbehaving individuals can easily poison the data for everyone.

  16. Yes, I’ve had issues with Yahoo. EVERY single time that I can think of when I wanted to get email from a particular company, group, etc. (including changing my password, etc), it got blocked. Can all of those companies really be spammers? I’m sure they’re not, considering that when I manage to get my email changed to another address, I have no problems with them. (I’m trying to make sure not to use my Yahoo account as my official email anymore, but every couple of months I’m in a hurry and forget.)

    This even happened once when I sent MYSELF an email with information about a phone card company I wanted to be able to find again (although that fortunately was only sent to the Spam folder so I could get it back). Meanwhile, my yahoo mailbox is filled up with amazingly obvious spam. Sigh.

    One other reason that some people may have marked This is True (and other similar emails) as spam… I know I’ve gotten several fake emails that were supposedly from some company I do frequent (say, Amazon). After reading them carefully I could tell they were spam, and so blocked them; however, if I got enough in a short time period I might continue blocking all of them just because I was getting tired of rereading the same message. Had Amazon (or whatever company/newsletter/etc) tried to write to me during that time I could conceivably have blocked them by accident. I try to be careful, but I know of at least once when I marked a real email as spam (although once I realized it I went back and marked it as non-spam… it could have happened on other occasions without me realizing it, however).

  17. I’ve had a couple of occasions where I have had to mark what should have been a legit email as spam (not yours!) when I tried to unsubscribe from the sites’ “newsletters” and that didn’t work. The “you are unsubscribed” message came up, but the email still kept coming day after day. So I looked for contact info on the sites in question, and I got no response after writing to them directly asking them to remove me from their lists. The sites’ email was marked spam after waiting a week for a response of some kind. Their email still keeps on coming a year later, but now goes into the spam bin. With this kind of attitude on the part of some of these companies it’s no wonder people get fed up and mark email spam even from companies that DO respect their wishes. Unfortunately their rude behavior affects even the best of email newsletters.

  18. For those of you who have addresses, I think you’ll find a decent amount of legit stuff gets stopped at the server. I was trying to get into my online banking and wasn’t getting the confirmation code and couldn’t figure out why. I requested it three separate times before I figured out that I needed to be looking on the server via webmail, not in my pop download. And, lo and behold, there it was. All three times. And I bank with Chase – apparently, is considered a spam address by AT&T. Best as I can tell, AT&T’s spam filter is just as messed up as Yahoo’s – which makes sense, since the one bought out the other. Now I check the server on ALL of my accounts at least once a month to make sure I don’t miss anything.

    Also, watch out for Hotpop. I had an account with them and they suddenly locked me out for ‘inactivity’. Since when is pulling your mail every day considered inactivity? And now, due to the amount of mail I receive, I have no idea what I’m missing. Sigh. I’ll figure it out eventually, but what a pain! I have to agree with Randy – Gmail wins hands down as the best email service, better than some of the pay ones.

  19. Although I understand your frustration and anger, I would disagree that people which click on the spam link are “lying”. I suspect that in most cases it was done by mistake. They still shouldn’t do it, but any system that can’t handle a few hundred mistakes among 100s of thousands of people is inherently brittle. Any email/spam system that can’t handle mistakes isn’t designed for humans, and needs to be redesigned.

    Just so. I’m well aware that mistakes can happen, and that it’s part of the problem. But if more than a handful of the clicks are errors, I’d expect to get emails asking “Why aren’t I getting TRUE anymore?” — and “Why is the system not letting me subscribe again?” (because indeed, when someone reports TRUE as spam, they’re not allowed to subscribe again.) In fact, such questions to me are extremely rare. That tells me that most of the clicks on the button are not mistakes, but rather being used in lieu of the proper unsubscribe process. And, yes, that makes me angry, because it not only affects me, it ruins things for thousands of people who do want the issues. -rc

  20. The irony for all of this to me is that the VAST majority of the real spam email I get comes from spoofed email addresses. It has gotten so severe lately, that I am actually considering blocking all email with a sender address.

  21. I don’t use the SPAM button because the spammer setup an address, blast out a bunch of SPAM, then move on to a new address. I do have to use the NOT-SPAM button a lot to keep getting the newsletters I want.

    The “This is Spam” button is indeed poor for identifying a particular spammer. Where it’s valuable is to help your ISP figure out what spam “looks like” so they can develop filters to get similar stuff in the future. The “Not Spam” button helps them realize the mistakes made in that process. -rc

  22. As much as I hate to suggest it, one thing that may help this issue is moving the unsubscribe notice to the top of the email, putting it in the preview pane where a user has a better chance of seeing it.

    Sure there will still be users who don’t bother to read (the REALLY lazy/careless ones), but it may help those who are slightly less lazy and may read the first line or two of the email.

    In addition, the UNSUBSCRIBE link at the bottom is not separated by white space, and starts in the middle of the line; even though I know it’s there, my eyes don’t lock onto it right away.

    It may be a small price to pay to help avert a similar catastrophe in the future. I’m sure one concern is Free subscribers not reading and clicking the link, but the question becomes is that worse than the problem? And even more to the point, will it prevent enough people from hitting the “SPAM” button?

    There is already an unsubscribe link at the top — in the headers. Different mailers may or may not show it, but it’s there, both top and bottom. I’ll consider replacing the upper one with a more explicit link. -rc

  23. I’m surprised that no one mentioned that the “This is Spam” clicks might have been intentional and spiteful.

    I know whenever you have a particularly “controversial” entry, that you’ll get a lot of angry un-subscribes from people who were offended. I think it is possible/likely, that some of those would click on the “This is Spam” button out of spite (maybe not even realizing that it would have negative repercussions, or maybe because they do) because they now feel that your “obvious anti-Christian/Liberal/Conservative/whatever else” is so horrible now that they “realize your agenda”.

    I’ve know people that I could see clicking on something calling it spam for a jerky reason like that.

  24. Yesterday I realized that i had not received This is True for quite a while. I did not have your email addresses on hand, so I tried to search using the Yahoo search engine. I used Yahoo before Google existed. Yahoo seemed to have a closer fit to responses than Google so I never changed.

    Interestingly enough when I searched Yahoo for ‘This is True’ I found many dating services and so much other stuff it was ridiculous, but no Randy Cassingham’s This is True. Did your complaints upset them? Looks like I will have to find another search engine to get comfortable with. So far I am not comfortable with Google and now I am unsatisfied with Yahoo. Any suggestions?

  25. I am pissed with Yahoo. I have been a This is True subscriber (non-premium one sad to say) for probably around 10 years. I have subscribed under a number of different accounts because occasionally one of the weekly notes would somehow be lost in transit. I’m also subscribed to several other daily or weekly lists for comics or other newsletters. I have used Yahoo as my primary non-work email for years because I didn’t have to worry about losing it if I moved or changed my ISP/Broadband provider. I depended upon Yahoo as being the provider that I could trust – having used Yahoo for over 10 years now.

    Yet More and more frequently, I have noticed my Yahoo account as the one where the email is missing from. I hate to have to subscribe yet again via another email account to ensure I get delivery of my daily/weekly fix of humor, but I probably will have to. I just hope it does not come to pass that I have to give up Yahoo altogether because of their problems.

  26. I have a Gmail address, an “org” domain, a “com” domain and a “net” domain. The org, net, and gmail accounts are often filtered by servers as spam, particularly Microsoft Exchange servers.

    I’ve been very vocal about over-zealous anti-spam filters; you almost always screw up when depending on software rather than people.

    In your case, reason prevailed; that isn’t always true. And if people keep clicking the “This is spam” link, the next new guy on the server will ban you again.

    So, I’m linking True to my several pages and will be forwarding the free issue to my groups. I hope others who read this will, too.

  27. I USED to subscribe to TRUE on yahoo, but gave up on yahoo a long time ago due to being flooded with spam in both my inbox and spam filter. I realized soon what makes one subject to spam. Spam bots construct common names and words and add a common host (@yahoo, @hotmail) and spam everyone with an english-word constructed addy. My address at hotmail is in french. I get less than 1 or 2 spam emails a week, and the ones I get in the to field include addresses very similar to mine. I got lucky creating a foreign phrase for an email (that and my boyfriend or ex’s will never remember it and spy on my emails..)

    I use hotmail and though for the most part I am satisfied with their spam filter, it seems to be almost entirely key-word based. I frequently sell items on craig’s list and if they spell anything wrong or put a curse word or a possibly “obscene” word in their message, it goes to spam, despite being a reply to an ad I posted. As for “this is true”, I long set up a filter to send each newsletter to its own folder, “This is True” so I can find them easily when I have time and go back and read old ones when I see fit.

    Hotmail has a handy message I’m sure most people ignore at the top: “You’re subscribed to this mailing list. Unsubscribe” — Unsubscribe being a link. It is, however, very small text, and easy to miss since many emails come with a similar message above them.

    The spammer technique you describe is called a “dictionary attack”, and has been quite common (and included in my Spam Primer for years. They don’t just do it on popular sites like Hotmail; they’ll do it at any domain they find. That’s one of the reasons people with domains with “catch-all” addresses ( get so much spam. -rc

  28. Why do people still even use Yahoo? Go to GoDaddy (or most any other registrar) and buy your own domain for $9.00; then set up the free email account that comes with it. Then, you not only have your own private email, but (barring anything really outrageous) it can’t blocked, cancelled, or interfered with.

    It’s good advice, though GoDaddy absolutely does block some incoming mail, including on occasion TRUE. -rc


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