Why Monopolies Are Bad

My friend Larry Garfield posted about Yahoo!’s poor customer service recently.

Essentially, someone managed to get access to his Yahoo! account and changed the password. Larry contacted Yahoo! a number of times, and each time he got a scripted response that naturally didn’t help. I personally use a Yahoo! email account, but Larry doesn’t. He does make use of Yahoo! Messenger and Yahoo! Groups and a number of other Yahoo! branded communities. Losing access to all of these, especially as an admin for a number of groups, would be terrible. Larry described how he couldn’t get support because the zip code on file was apparently wrong, and Yahoo! support basically says that “according to their TOS it’s my fault and they’re going to refuse to talk to me anymore.”

This, my friends, is known as a monopoly. This is why monopolies and oligopolies are a very bad thing. If you don’t like that Yahoo Support is impotent, where else are you going to go? Do I get a new account and orphan dozens of mailing lists and put myself at risk of the same lack of support again? Or do I dump Yahoo, the dozens of mailing lists I’m on, the dozens of people I know on Yahoo Messenger, and lock myself out from some very active and often pleasant online communities?

Granted, there are other places to go. Google Groups, IRC channels, etc. But there are problems with going elsewhere, since not everyone you talk to will move as well. What Larry just described is called “vendor lock-in”. When people complain that they are tired of getting burned by security issues in Windows but are too invested to move on to greener pastures, that’s vendor lock-in. When you’re told “do it our way or don’t do it at all”, that’s vendor lock-in.

I personally haven’t felt the need to move to GMail since I was actually happy with Yahoo! Mail. I didn’t care about 1GB of email, since 250MB was pretty huge already and I didn’t see the difference. On the other hand, Google’s probably got much better customer service. After all, point 6 on their philosophy page is “You can make money without doing evil.” For one thing, their login for GMail is secure by default, unlike Yahoo! Mail.

1 comment to Why Monopolies Are Bad

  • GMail is more than just the things you describe. Its main value is that it is good enough to use as a complete replacement for POP access. It does a bunch of fancy javascript latency hiding tricks to make it snappy enough to not be annoying.