Yahoo! Groups' closure and a tale of Oftel: Die-hard users 'informally' included telcos

Ofcom: Ahem. Just check our website

The tossing away of user-generated content on Yahoo!'s long-running Groups site on Wednesday was not just bad news for all the hardcore users who are about to lose all their precious things stored there. Many were quick to point at telcos, who were using Yahoo! Groups to manage phone number assignments.

From 28 October, the notice posted earlier this week read, users will no longer be able to post new content to the site, and on December 14 it will permanently delete all previously posted content.

"We are tailoring Groups' features to match the preferences of our Groups members. Most of our members connect and share content primarily over email, so we believe this change will streamline and improve the Groups experience," one user was told by Yahoo! Customer Care.

The site was launched in 2001 and acts as a platform for mailing lists and forums. That was, of course, in the days before other sharing platforms hit the scene – such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Reddit etc.

However, it also seems that the function was being used by British telcos. Along with a large chunk of pre-social media internet history, the Oftel Yahoo! Group, used for managing UK phone number assignments, will also be consigned to the digital dustbin of history.

Oftel (the Office of Telecommunications) was the predecessor of Ofcom, which came into regulatory being in 2003. It created the Yahoo! Groups on behalf of telcos so they could keep abreast of phone allocations back in 2002.

Once the group has gone, telcos will no longer be able to alert each other about changes to their numbers via Yahoo!. Instead they will have to check the Ofcom database, which only gets updated on a weekly basis.

One such telco responded (PDF) to Ofcom's 2016 strategic review of digital communications consultation specifically to gripe about the issue, opining at the time that it didn't think it was "befitting for the world's sixth largest economy to manage critical national infrastructure via a Yahoo! group."

However, Ofcom has pointed out that the same functionality is available via its website, saying the Yahoo! group hosted an "informal" way for telcos to chat among themselves. We've asked some of these telcos for comment and will update if we hear back.

When asked what impact the closure of Groups will have, an Ofcom spokesman said: "Ofcom manages UK telephone numbers through our official database – not online groups. This particular group is simply one informal way phone companies can let each other know when they have been allocated blocks of numbers by Ofcom. This information remains available to phone companies through our website."

Of course, if that doesn't work, there's always blockchain. Last year, Ofcom received £700,000 from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to explore how blockchain technology could improve how UK landline telephone numbers are managed.

It's enough to make you pine for the days of Yahoo! Groups. ®

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