EDIT: A page with further details on the project and methods is now up at the Queer Digital History Project.
I’ll admit, I haven’t though much about Yahoo! Groups in the past ten years or so. Much like other early formats, they’d slipped into what I mentally lumped into the loose category of “legacy” products–still useful and usable, but technologies whose continued use owed more to their early popularity than any specific compelling affordances. But with Yahoo!’s October 16 announcement that Yahoo! Groups are being functionally wound down, with a full content purge on December 14, the historical impact of Groups comes even more to the forefront.
For many LGBTQ groups, particularly regional ones, who’d primarily relied on mailing lists or webrings (remember those inescapable banners filling the bottom of your Geocities or Angelfire homepage?) to coordinate, Yahoo! Clubs (rebranded Groups in 2001) offered the same communication with additional features, like file hosting, all in one place. Quite a few of them switched over to during the late 1990s and early 2000s, and have been using it ever since. My first contact with trans folks who lived in my state came via the now-defunct Alabama Gender Alliance, who communicated primarily via their Yahoo! Group. I now wonder how many other organizations and groups who’d previously resisted the urge now will be forced to move to Facebook—whose Groups offer many of the same functions in a far easier-to-monetize package.
That Facebook is the first, affordable alternative for many groups highlights a problem also made apparent by events like Tumblr’s sale to Verizon (and then re-sale to WordPress): on commercial platforms, user need will always be secondary to monetization, and companies will act accordingly. From Geocitites to Tumblr and now Yahoo Groups, LGBTQ users have found their existence rendered precarious due to monetary concerns: from the threat “erotic” content posted to Tumblr’s ad revenues and ap store status, to Yahoo Groups (presumed) unprofitability. As Oliver Haimson, Elias Capello, Zahari Richter and I argue in our (just published!) article on Tumblr as a trans technology, for a technology to be by and for trans people, it has to not only center user need but also adopt a framework that understands users not solely as users, but contributing members with clear feedback points.
In the meantime, however, preservation is the most immediate concern. Folks within fandom are already working on preserving content, and I’ve begun working with Kevin McCarthy, a producer at Inspired :a production of Interfaith Voices and director of the excellent documentary TransGeek (full disclosure: I consulted on the film) to begin the process of archiving group posts–right now we’re focusing on archiving transgendernews, which will be made available on the Queer Digital History Project. So while I can’t guarantee we’ll be able to save everything, please let us know either via Twitter or email to firstname.lastname@example.org if there’s a group you think should be preserved. While there’s arguments to be made about maintenance and necessary loss in archiving, I’d like to help those communities who’d like to save their history, even if only for in-community consumption, but don’t have any members with the necessary technical skills (or the time to learn them, given the short notice) to have that option.