Yahoo! groups is shutting down. That is not exactly unexpected, in fact I have feared that this day was inevitable for a number of years now, but that doesn’t mean that this development does not represent a sad day for me. Yes, with a couple of exceptions my groups have fallen completely silent, but there are those exceptions, not to mention that to me the groups are a lot more than that.
To the many who have never even heard of this particular service, let me explain: back in the very old days, long before social media as we now know it came along, there were mailing lists through which people who shared a common interest could find each other, and exchange information about that particular subject. These groups were managed by one or more group admins –usually the group’s founders, though it was not uncommon for that role to change hands every now and then– and they had among their features a searchable message archive, a members’ list, a file storage section, the ability to run polls, a photo album, and a calendar. They even had a very primitive –by today’s standards– chat feature. It was, in other words, social media before there was such a thing as social media. So how old are we talking about? The service as we are about to bury it came into being back in 2000, though that incarnation itself only came into being after the acquisition of a different company that had been in business for a number of years already, so by the internet’s standards we are talking ridiculously ancient… and in a way that is what makes the demise of this particular service so sad.
We are not talking about a promising idea that never quite took off, we are talking of one that took off, and then got left behind.
Granted, the system was a relic from a different era, and I do realize that from headquarter’s the notion of keeping them around made no financial sense, but at the same time I suspect that the resources that were devoted to keeping these groups available were basically nil, and yes, the activity of most groups had long since dwindled down to zero, but it was a reminder of an older, gentler internet, one that was controlled by the users, and is becoming an increasingly distant memory. It is also where I forged a number of lasting connections, connections that I am not sure I will be able to maintain (my one group that is still truly active is migrating to facebook, and I’m not a facebook user, so it’s curtains for me on that one). Oh, it is true that the fact that we are talking about mailing lists means that I have the addresses of all the members that were active participants in those groups, that I can still contact them if I really want to, but one of the things those groups had was the ability to brainstorm, and that one is not going to make it.
To me one of the most important uses was in fandom, where I was active… mostly back when we had to tiptoe around because the earth hadn’t quite cooled down yet (that would be primarily the early 2000’s, for you young’uns). Some of my favorite groups were those of the story finders variety, where members of a particular fandom could ask the collective to help them track down a story based on the vaguest of descriptions (such as a half remembered sentence), with usually amazing accuracy. Another set were the support groups that were there for me during some pretty dark times, such as the one that helped me get over the loss of my cat almost eight years ago. To be able to share my thoughts with a bunch of people who were not secretly –or not so secretly– dismissing my grief because it was ‘just a cat’ was such a relief. On the other hand I have to say that that was a group that, while still officially active, I didn’t even think to turn to a few months ago in the aftermath of Terri’s passing, so that too is telling. In fact it was only after the announcement that Yahoo! groups was shutting down that I realized that I hadn’t even thought to turn to them, that is how far they had drifted from my mind. As for the one group I used to manage, that one was a private family affair, one that enabled us to reconnect after the family was scattered across a number of continents for a variety of reasons. Because of its more intimate and private nature, however, that one had long since migrated to whatsapp, and I don’t think anyone but me will even notice its passing… but I will.
For decades (and yes, I joined before the service was even acquired by Yahoo!), the groups have been an integral part of my life. I am going to miss them, along with my list siblings, because that is what the lists could become at the best of times, a surrogate family that had your back. It is a family I hadn’t really thought of lately, but also one that is now being officially disbanded.
It is the end of an era, we had a good run, but we must now say goodbye.
The internet that gave rise to the groups is long gone. Today we are burying it.