[Update, the last: They finally fixed it!]
[update: Well, They've done some more. And I'm practically livid.]
[update2: There seems to be some progress on the technical side, although I can't grasp the logic of it]
[update3+4: Some progress. Not done yet, but the filtering problem seems practically solved for now]
[update 5: Back to square one. Everything is as it was before they've started working on the problem, and I can't get anything sensible out of customer support]
There has been some
progress changes regarding the problem I encountered with Yahoo! Mail’s bulk mail filtering and my futile attempts to get help through their official tech support system.
Brad Garlinghouse (VP, Communications Products) from Yahoo! made a post on the Yahoo! Search Blog regarding changes to Yahoo! Mail, and asked for general comments and suggestions.
So, being happy to finally have access to a real person involved with Yahoo! Mail, I talked about the problem, with links to my more detailed posts here.
And, not too surprisingly, some people at Yahoo! read it, and they tried to solve the problem.
I started sending myself test messages to see if there’s any change, and after a short while I noticed a rather big one. When I sent myself a problematical message, I was presented with a CAPTCHA challenge. One of those annoying pictures with distorted letters and numbers, used to make sure I’m a real person sending the message, and not some bot.
It came with an explanation that this is done to prevent outgoing spam out of Yahoo! accounts.
Which is overall fair enough if the message is highly suspected as spam. Only it probably isn’t since if I sent a similar message in from an outside account it would not get to the Bulk folder but to the Inbox one.
This is also not directly related to the fact that even if a message is suspected as spam, it should still get to the Inbox if the sender is in the Address Book.
But the important thing was that after passing the challenge, the message arrived to my inbox.
If I sent the same message to another Yahoo! address, I got the challenge. If I sent it to a non-Yahoo! address, I didn’t get it. It seemed a bit strange if the reason is suspected massive spamming (And never mind why is sending a geocities link in a message have to be considered spam). So I posted another comment on their blog post.
And they fixed the apparent problem. Later on when I sent the message outside of Yahoo I also got the challenge.
Again, sending such a message in from an outside non-Yahoo account always got it to the Inbox, so I’m still not sure the problem is spam detection per-se.
But the problem was officially solved. Even if it’s a case of curing the disease while killing the patient. After all, the reason I was sending myself emails with links is as a short and easy way to place reminders to places I’d like to look at again soon. But passing the CAPTCHA challenge made it long and cumbersome, so the net effect would be to just cause me not to use Yahoo! Mail for these messages but another email service. Which is a pity since overall I really do like Yahoo! Mail.
But the problem was solved, technically. If I did send such a message, it arrived to the inbox. I did suspect that the actual cause was not fixed, and this is just some ugly workaround, but there was no possible way for me to reproduce the problem, so that was it.
Originally, beside having the mail problem, I also had a larger problem with the handling of my report by the support / customer-care team.
As I logged in this morning to check emails, I noticed a message from Clarence in Yahoo! Mail Customer Care. It was a followup to my previous correspondence with them on this problem. And by followup I don’t mean that they started a new thread about it, but that it was a reply to one of my messages to them. Not to the last one, mind you. In fact it was a reply to the exact one where I told them I’m not willing for them to log into my own account to check the problem.
And what did they want this time?
We would like to follow up with you regarding your recent inquiry to Yahoo! Customer Care.
We understand you were receiving messages to your bulk mail folder. We attempted to duplicate the issue by following the steps you outlined below, yet were unable to duplicate it. Are you still experiencing problems of this sort?
If the problem continues, please reply to this email.
For us to look into the problem you have encountered, it will be necessary for Yahoo! staff to enter your account and conduct some tests.
Please reply to this message, giving Yahoo! permission to enter your Yahoo! Mail account and take those steps necessary to pinpoint the cause of this problem and explore possible solutions.
We appreciate your assistance in troubleshooting this issue.
Notice that the "For us to look into…" paragraph is identical to the one they used the last time. This is particularly amusing considering that this is, as I wrote above, in direct reply to my message saying I’m not allowing them, which was in reply to them asking. And it’s all quoted in this message…
But in any case I was glad that I got a response. It means someone may have also noticed a problems in this front, and there may actually be someone there to talk to (Clarence?).
I was not surprised they were not able to reproduce the problem, since there were changes. So I decided I’ll reply stating the changes I know made, and thanking them for following up anyway. But before I sent the reply it seemed prudent to make another check and see if something changed.
I sent the same message to myself, and was not presented with the CAPTCHA challenge. My initial reaction? Great, maybe the finally solved it properly and so removed the challenge that served as temporary work-around. I fired off one more message, and went to the Inbox to see them. The messages were not in the Inbox, they were in the Bulk mail folder.
Back to square one. Several changes along the way, and now the problem is just like it was before…
Which leaves me the possibility that the Customer Care people will be relevant and professional this time. Maybe Yahoo did something on that front, at least.
I sent them a message explaining the changes, and that maybe they need to try again now in order to reproduce the problem. (In a perfect world they should also be in synch with the development team, but…).
I also stated again that I don’t want them in my account. In case they will have a problem again, I did offer to create a new dummy account, verify that the problem occurs there as well (Shouldn’t be any different, it happens in several real accounts of friends), and give them full access to that one.
And I explained again how to reproduce the problem, in small and easy steps.
If any reader here wants to try, it goes about like this:
- Add yourself to your own address book. (This is to illustrate that the message goes to the Bulk folder even for AB contacts)
- Send yourself a plain text message with:
(Can be pretty much anything as far as I noticed, but this one is verified)
- Body: http://www.geocities.com/whatever
(You can as far as I noticed replace the "whatever" word with anything you want, as long as something is there, erasing it won’t work. adding further sub-directories, and a final page, will still cause the problem.)
Then just sit back and watch it get delivered to your Bulk folder. Despite it being a message from you to yourself, and despite the sender address being in the address book.
Now I wait. I’ll keep updating this post if there are changes to the actual problem, or if there is some progress (or an active lack of of one) from the Customer Care people.
Instant messengers are wonderful. Especially those that come with email providers like Yahoo. Because when you get a new message, the IM let’s you know.
For example: When people from Yahoo! Customer Support log into my account DESPITE BEING SPECIFICALLY TOLD NOT TO, and start sending test messages, I get to bloody see it. Amazing, isn’t it?
Even if the messages are deleted immediately afterward, I know they were there.
Better still, I refreshed the Inbox page fast, and actually saw a message labeled as being sent from me, only from the wrong timezone and IP addresses. A message which was not subsequently deleted and is currently still there, I assume because I opened and read it (since the previous ones, that I didn’t see on the webmail interface, are not there now).
Where they told not to clear enough? Let’s see…
This is from the message I sent them, as specified above. Everything quoted here is quoted in the message body by the replies. I stripped irrelevant lines, but everything here is in the message, no additions. Notice that as this is an email, the oldest bits are in the bottom, and the newest at the top.
Let me start again by saying that I do NOT want you
logging into my account.
If you can’t see anything on your accounts, I’m
perfectly willing to open a new dummy account, make
sure the problem occurs there as well, and give that
to you. Is that acceptable?
Let me know whether you manage to reproduce it now or
not, and if you want me to create and hand over a demo
— Yahoo! Mail <email@example.com> wrote:
> If the problem continues, please reply to this
> For us to look into the problem you have
> encountered, it will be
> necessary for Yahoo! staff to enter your account and
> conduct some tests.
> Please reply to this message, giving Yahoo!
> permission to enter your
> Yahoo! Mail account and take those steps necessary
> to pinpoint the cause
> of this problem and explore possible solutions.
> > Original Message Follows:
> > ————————-
> > NO. The problem is general, and NOT just with my
> > account, so there is NO justification for you to
> > any of my mail or enter my account.
> > To make it clear: You do not have my permission to
> > enter my account.
> > — Yahoo! Mail <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> > > For us to look into the problem you have
> > > encountered, it will be
> > > necessary for Yahoo! staff to enter your account
> > and
> > > conduct some tests.
> > > Please reply to this message, giving Yahoo!
> > > permission to enter your
> > > Yahoo! Mail account and take those steps
> > > to pinpoint the cause
> > > of this problem and explore possible solutions.
Did the fact that I said "I do NOT want you logging into my account" mislead them? Could anyone possibly understand this phrase to mean that I don’t particularly want it, but won’t mind if they do?!
True, one shouldn’t keep anything unencrypted that one doesn’t want the whole world to have access to, but there is still a fake feeling of privacy for things which can become public but shouldn’t. And knowing that support people are running around my mail and contacts is not a particularly nice feeling.
Even if I trust that they are professional enough not to touch anything not needed for the solution of the problem.
Do I trust that they are professional enough, with this past record? Not quite…
Heck, this one message that I did catch, that got into the Inbox? It had "test" in the subject, and "test" in the body. Not the URIs which cause the actual problem. Despite repeated explanations.
No wonder they were not capable of reproducing the problem. They either ignored the explanations, or are bloody morons (And yes, I can use mildly foul language when I’m in the mood I’m currently at).
I ran some more tests myself. The first one got to the Inbox and not the bulk folder. But for some reason it was not marked with the Rolodex icon (meaning that despite being sent from the same address, it’s not recognized as from someone in the address book). The two reached the Bulk folder as before. The following one took about 10-15 minutes to arrive, but arrived at the Bulk folder as well.
Problem not solved.
I sent some more test messages to see where they’ll get to. Got some peculiar results, although overall I think it’s an improvement. Three different URIs in the message body caused three different results:
- http://wwww.geocities.com/testing/abc.htm -> Message arrived to the Inbox as it should.
- http://www.geocities.com/whatever -> Message arrived to the Inbox, but there is no Rolodex icon next to it. Meaning that the Yahoo! Mail interface decided the sender is not in the Address Book. The sender of course is identical to the one in case 1, where the Rolodex icon does appear, and is in the address book. In this case there is no "View Contact Details" link next to the sender when reading the message. There is one in case 1. The address itself is displayed properly.
- http://www.geocities.com/bli -> Arrives at the Bulk folder. So the problem is not yet solved.
I sent several messages with each link, the results where exactly the same for each link. Separating case 1 from the other two seems straightforward (wwww instead of www), but I can see no conceptual difference between the 2 and 3 URIs. Trying to keep the same structure as case 2 and 3, replacing the work "whatever" and "bli" with other words, the messages arrived to the Bulk folder like in case 3.
Does it mean the word "whatever" got a special case ?! Or is there a rule that I just can’t see?
… After writing this I tried again with another word, and got the CAPTCHA test again… So either the handling is even more complex and obscure, or I just caught them smack down in the middle of work, which can account for odd behaviour.
So I’ll stop checking for now, and check again in after several hours.
The current CAPTCHA test is very barbaric, though… I apparently failed the first attempt (They didn’t bother getting rid of letters that look the same in both lowercase and uppercase), and instead of getting to try again I was told that I need to pass the test in order to send messages, so the message was not sent and was not saved. No options to go back.
Shortly after the previous post the system seemed to revert to the original state, just as it was at the beginning, with the mail delivery problem.
Nothing much seemed to happen for a few days, I didn’t hear anything more from the Customer Care team, and sporadic test emails behaved in the same fashion.
Today I emailed another message to Yahoo Mail’s Customer Care, asking what is being done regarding the problem and if there’s any progress (There was a bit more there, like a complaint that they logged into my account, and asking if they need more explanations, but that’s the gist).
I don’t know if it’s related to my prompting, or just a coincidence of timing, but right now I sent some test messages of the same problematical patters, and they arrived into my inbox. Well, two out of three did, the third is in transit. I assume it would as well, if not I’ll update here again (Update4: Arrived into the inbox, same as the rest).
So why am I saying that the problem isn’t entirely solved? Since those messages (from me to me, with a geocities link in the body) are showing in my Inbox without the rolodex image (the one indicating that the sender is in the Address Book). But messages from me to me without a geocities link show in the Inbox with the rolodex image, as they should.
This means that whatever was done to solve the problem, was not geared toward correcting it, but toward making it appear as though it’s not there. The crucial symptom is gone, my messages do not get into the Bulk folder. But something is still wrong in the logic that classifies them differently than other messages.
For the last several days the messages are back to being received into the Bulk folder. Everything seems to behave just like at the beginning, before anyone at Yahoo! started to deal with the problem.
Obviously they know something is there, or they wouldn’t have made the repeated changes I saw, but they can’t seem to actually solve it.
Personally, whatever else goes behind the scenes over there, I’d expect that a simple match against the Address Book should be enough, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
As for their Customer Care, I got a response to my message, but it only address the CAPTCHA challenge. A certain Jane explains that the challenge is meant to prevent automated spam tools (Yes, I’m certainly an automated spam tool, sending a single-digit number of messages per day at all, and a smaller single-digit number of messages to myself). She also informs me that they use "a variety of techniques" in order to decide when to present the challenge. And concludes by explaining to me how to pass the challenge (‘Cause obviously I can’t get by myself the idea of writing back the word I’m seeing).
Since the challenge is no longer presented to me on every sent messages, this is moot anyway.
I sent another reply explaining that the problem is not the challenge, but rather the messages getting to the Bulk folder, and that she should read further back in the message if it wasn’t clear. This is why you should let one person deal with a problem start-to-finish, and not pass each reply/iteration to a different person who doesn’t know what it’s about.
At this point I think I’ll give up on them.
The technical problem is obviously too complicated for Yahoo! to solve (Can’t match the sender with the AB entry, or match the sender with the recipient, or realize what’s the problem with geocities).
And the Customer Support ability to grasp simple English, or follow a conversation thread, have obviously not improved any.
It’s a pity that overall Yahoo! Mail is still much better than the competition. But apart from this problem, and as long as I don’t need anything from their support, it’s really good. I don’t quite get how they can deploy a generally very good service while using seemingly incompetent people, but they do.
More updates will come only if there’s something serious to report.