Open Letter to Verizon: Extend the Deletion Deadline for Yahoo Groups

The OTW Open Doors Committee has sent the following letter to leadership at Verizon to request that they extend the deadline for deletion of existing archives of Yahoo Groups files and messages by at least six months. This request follows Yahoo’s announcement that Yahoo Groups will be permanently closing, and deleting all previously posted material on December 14, 2019. The OTW previously reported on the Yahoo Groups closure in its posts Yahoo Groups Closure – What You Can Do and Yahoo Groups Closure – What You Can Do – Part 2.

Please respectfully contact Verizon’s Executive Team via email or Twitter with a link to this post requesting an extension through May 14, 2020. If you are tweeting, be certain to include news groups that have covered the Yahoo shutdown, such as CNET (@CNET), TechRadar (@TechRadar), Boing Boing (@BoingBoing), or The Telegraph (@Telegraph).

Dear Verizon,

We are writing regarding the impending closure of Yahoo Groups on behalf of the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), a nonprofit organization run by and for fans to provide access to and preserve the history of fanworks and fan cultures.

Due to its unique status as a large nonprofit focused on fandom advocacy, the OTW has a major presence in fandom. The OTW is made up of over 800 volunteers from all over the world, and our best-known project, the Archive of Our Own (AO3), has over five million fanworks, two million registered users, and over 1.4 million unique visitors per month. This year, the AO3 won a Hugo Award for Best Related Work, and, along with Yahoo, was listed by Popular Mechanics as one of the 50 most important websites of all time (https://www.popularmechanics.com/culture/g29575328/most-important-websites/). Other OTW projects include Fanlore, the fandom history wiki, and Open Doors, which rescues fanworks archives that are at risk of disappearing from the Internet.

The OTW’s main concern regarding the effective closure of Yahoo Groups is for its long-term impact on online fandom history and online history as a whole. Yahoo Groups was a fandom hub for more than two decades, and many of the fanworks saved there are not duplicated anywhere else, to say nothing of the conversations and other ephemera. While the OTW is primarily concerned with fandom, there are over 5 million Groups in total with countless messages and files, and hundreds of millions of people who will be affected by the loss of almost 20 years of data and history.

Open Doors and Fanlore, among other projects, are currently working hard to help preserve these works, messages, and other data, but saving everything before the time limit is simply impossible. Open Doors normally receives one or two requests each month from moderators seeking to transfer their archives to the AO3; since the announcement on October 16 that Yahoo Groups was closing, we have received over 40 requests from Yahoo Groups moderators alone.

We are using all of our official channels to inform people about the closure, as well as coordinating with other preservation projects such as YahooGeddon and the Archive Team. We are also fielding requests from members and moderators to help download and save files and messages from their Groups, and discussing the creation of a dark archive to store these downloads until more permanent methods of preservation can be found. Unfortunately, the Archive Team’s automated download program has been blocked by the Yahoo Groups servers, so we are forced to do what we can by hand and are therefore extremely limited in what we can save.

Saving Yahoo Groups is going to require a great deal more time and support from Verizon. Although Verizon promised users they could download their Groups data via the Privacy Dashboard, many users are being told, “Your download request has been completed, but no data of this type is available in your account.” The GetMyData sets are also incomplete, often missing files and photos. Instead, people are having to copy-paste, manually download, or utilize specialized software in order to save their Groups. To make matters worse, because Verizon has chosen to limit downloads to a few weeks, moderator and members, along with the Archive Team and Wayback Machine, are being locked out or blocked and prevented from accessing their data.

Furthermore, many Groups—especially in the EU, South America, and Asia—have not yet been informed of the Yahoo Groups closure. This is in part because Verizon has not made an official, widely posted announcement and in part because the Yahoo Groups mailing lists have been broken since 2013, with mail arriving days or weeks late, or not at all.

Therefore, Verizon needs to extend the deadline to allow time to get the word out to Yahoo Groups owners about the closure, time to fix its download request feature, and time for users to access their data. Based on the number of groups these teams’ combined efforts are trying to save, the rate at which they are being saved, and the fact that many Yahoo Group moderators are still being informed of the closure, we are requesting that six months be added to Verizon’s deadline, so that data from Yahoo Groups will not be deleted until May 14, 2020.

There is a long history of large websites losing information without a trace. One of Open Doors’ first projects was a last-minute scramble to rescue GeoCities sites. MySpace deleting a decade of content is a recent example. This is not uncommon in new media that is not yet considered worthy of preservation, but with your assistance, Yahoo Groups can be saved from being the latest entry on a tragic list of websites that simply disappeared forever. Other tech companies have shown a callous disregard for the value of user’s memories, experiences, and history, but by granting this extension, Verizon can demonstrate that it truly values its users and the important role that Yahoo Groups has played in their online lives.

Sincerely,
The Organization for Transformative Works