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Yahoo Learning Email Innovation Lesson

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Yahoo has learned a lesson Microsoft picked up during the Windows Live Mail/Hotmail beta, that the less experienced users who make up the brunt of their free email services are hard to innovate for. Yahoo announced late last week it was rolling into the new Yahoo Mail some features it had dropped from the old Mail. The most obvious one: the return of checkboxes.

Yahoo had dropped the checkbox normally placed next ot every email message, just like Microsoft did, replacing it with the more desktop-like metaphor of holding down CTRL and clicking to select multiple messages, and CTRL+A to select all. Based on user feedback, they found out that users were confused and unfamiliar with the new system, and just plain didn’t like it.

When you’ve got a userbase that isn’t as technically inclined as many users of longstanding free email services are, you wind up with a resistance to change. Microsoft made a number of changes to Windows Live Hotmail to accomodate these users (too many, you ask me), in order to assure the new mail client would be well-received.

There’s another to consider: Just because Windows has a feature, doesn’t mean people use it. Almost every casual user I’ve ever met has no idea that holding down CTRL lets you select multiple files. And myself? Even though I’d been using CTRL-click forever, when Windows Vista turned out to have a feature adding in checkboxes for files, I turned it on and never looked back.

CTRL-click is annoying! Holding down one stupid key with my left pinky while clicking, knowing that letting go of that key will screw me up, it just isn’t worth it. Checkboxes are the way to go, and the more applications that use them, the better.

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