Treatment of users hard to understand

Mackline had gone into semi-retirement after finding that developments to interest the writer had become fewer than before.

So Mackline pledged to become an occasional column, but the return this week is because the writer is annoyed. Yes, annoyed at his long-time favourite company, Yahoo.

Last week, on our Queen's Birthday holiday, while others were searching columns to see who had received gongs, Yahoo discontinued its Classic Mail, forcing everyone to switch to a new version and accept a privacy policy update that lets it scan emails to ''deliver product features, relevant advertising, and abuse protection''. You can opt out of the advertisements, but if you do not wish to be scanned, you have to quit Yahoo Mail.

Xtra customers will be familiar with some of the problems the New Zealand-owned email service has had with Yahoo, particularly around passwords, hacking and just downright systems failures over the past few months.

Xtra customers, who pay, have access to Yahoo Premium Plus Mail accounts and that is used by people to access their email around the country and the world, in fact.

TechCrunch writer Josh Constine said that to be fair, Yahoo did announce in April it was discontinuing the Classic Mail but it did not mention anything about the new terms of service and privacy policy until it just began sending Classic users an email about having to switch.

On one older notebook, I cannot access the new mail because the notebook is just too old. However, I can access Gmail and Hotmail, although it is no longer called Hotmail but Outlook. And what a mess that has become.

But Yahoo bluntly tells users who refuse its new policies they should either download their mail to another IMAP client or close their account. Premium Mail Plus users who want to cancel their accounts can get a pro-rata refund.

Some people labelled the switch an aggressive invasion of privacy. An anonymous Jottitt user writes: ''Yahoo can now openly troll through email for personal information that it can share and hold on to indefinitely. Gay and haven't come out yet? Yahoo knows . . .''

Other commentators note that Gmail has long scanned email to show you related ads. Even if you use a system like SmartMail, that does not scan your messages, the system your conversation partners use might not be so hands-off.

And as many warn, anything you send in an email could end up in public, so keep the naughty stuff off the web.

Ironically, one question Yahoo may have to address now it has bought Tumblr, is Tumblr's reputation as a home for pornographic blogs. At one point in 2009, about 80% of Tumblr's top sites had something to do with adult content. Today that number is closer to 5%, according to Quantcast data, but the old image lingers.

Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer, on a conference call, brushed off concerns that Tumblr had content that might not appeal to advertisers, saying the ability to reach more people was ''really exciting''.

She said Yahoo's targeting tools would allow advertisers to zero in on specific demographics and content.

One area where Yahoo plans to ramp up advertising: Tumblr's dashboard, the main landing point, akin to a newsfeed.

This is behind the appeal of sites such as Tumblr, where millions have created signature blogs; or Reddit, the news aggregator, which is encouraging users to make and upload video content to share; or video sites like YouTube.

Also, Vine, a Twitter app that allows people to easily make and post six-second videos, has been wildly popular since its debut in January.

Snapchat, the messaging application, which lets people add text or draw cartoons on top of photos and videos, is processing upward of 150 million images each day.

Instagram, which Facebook acquired last year, has attracted more than 100 million users in its short lifespan, lets people add vintage effects and other filters to their photos.

NYTimes online writer Jenna Wortham says those newer sites had not yet proved they were money makers which made Yahoo's Tumblr move a big bet.

And as much as Tumblr's sale can be seen as a success story for the small company, it also hints at the darker struggles of a social media service that is rich in users and nothing else. Why Yahoo wants to alienate email users when it needs them to use Tumblr is beyond Mackline.