by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©1999 Adirondack WYSIWYG -- all rights reserved
The recent furor over the new terms of service (TOS), the agreement each website makes with the company providing computer storage space and internet access, that Yahoo!Geocities (Y!G) published recently reminds me of the "New Coke" fiasco for Coca Cola Inc. Coke decided to revise its hundred year old formula for its best-selling product only to have the public object vociferously (and decline to purchase "New Coke" in droves). By publishing a TOS that effectively gave Y!G all rights for perpetuity, they created  a huge amount of bad press,  the enmity of just about every single net user who has put a creative product on the net, and  a the potential for a significant amount of site movement from those who, rightfully to my way of thinking, felt the new TOS was unacceptable. The good news is that Y!G got blasted from so many directions they had to respond and change their TOS. The bad news is that it is still not clear from the wording of the new TOS that it is significantly better.
It's anyone's bet whether there is some attorney looking for a new job after approving the wording of the TOS or whether this is yet another brilliant strategy by the geniuses who manage Yahoo. As the dust finally begins to settle, I have the feeling that the yahoos from Yahoo have lost very little, if anything, and may have actually gained.
The first rule of advertising is that any public exposure, excluding that weird guy by the lamp post with a raincoat on this bright sunny day, is good. The second rule is that the less it costs, the better -- and free is really good. I think it's safe to say Y!G did well with rules one and two.
The third rule is make your users like and use your product. Y!G might have lost here, but I'm not so sure of that. For all the uproar, it's not clear how many users fled Y!G. My guess is, not that many, or the revised new TOS would much more clearly assure users that the great goblin Y!G is not going to steal their hard work. Lucky for Y!G, very few users read dry, boring things like TOSs, but even if a sizable minority leave, I would bet it would not put a significant damper on Y!G's bottom line. It might even help them free up their servers so they run a bit faster and encourage new users to sign on.
The obvious questions here, two thirds through this column, are two. The first is, how does all this discussion of Y!G and TOSs affect people who are interested in transformation-related material? Y!G has the largest collection of sites related to TF, TG, and transformations in general, in the world, that's how.
The second question is what is the impact for me if I have a site on Y!G or am considering putting a site on Y!G? Personally, I suspect the bottom line will rule and, given the small percentage of people interested in transfurry or transgender material compared to the average Y!G user, the likelihood of any TF or TG site being ripped off by Y!G is pretty slim, but then, I don't use Y!G and I am not at risk of being ripped off by them. As a result of the generous efforts of Test long name, we can offer those who are concerned, a link to an excellent site that provides an analysis of the Y!G TOS.
Jeffrey M. Mahr
July 21, 1999