Yahoo Groups used to be the way people with a common interest kept in touch before Facebook killed every other life form in its ecosystem and became the dominant social media for everyone over thirty.  Having spent a bucket of cash on the system a decade ago, Yahoo finally decided to cut its losses and ditch it, with the result that all the groups are going to go away and may not be accessible any more from mid-December 2014. If you want to download all the discussions on your group, you have until then to do so. Here’s how.

Prepare the Downloader

  1. If you’re not using Google Chrome, this won’t work for you.  So start by installing that, if necessary.
  2. You should have a toolbar under the address bar. If you don’t, click the three-dots menu on the top right and choose Settings.  Scroll down to Appearance and activate Show bookmarks bar.
  3. You should have an Apps button on the toolbar.  If you don’t, right-click the toolbar and choose Show Apps shortcut.
  4. Go to this page and download the ZIP file called YahooMessagesApplication-[version].zip.
  5. When it downloads, extract it to your desktop or somewhere else so you can find it easily.  It will appear as a folder named YahooMessagesApplication.
  6. Click the three-dots menu on the top right, then More Tools, then Extensions.
  7. Click Load unpacked and find the YahooMessagesApplication folder. Open that and click Select Folder.
  8. The Downloader is now installed in you browser and you’re ready to download a group.

Download a Yahoo Group

  1. Go to your Yahoo Group and log in.  You have to be a member of the group for this to work, but you don’t have to be the administrator.  I’m going to assume that your group is called exciting_group.  It will appear at the URL https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/exciting_group/info.  Obviously, you should substitute the real name of your group exactly as it appears in your URL wherever I put “exciting_group” from here on.
  2. Scroll down to Message History and click on the very last message.  It will display a subject, an excerpt, an author, a date and a message number.  For example, it might look like this:

    Gosh, this group is quiet lately

    I notice that not many people are posting in the Exciting Group any more. Could it be that Facebook has taken over? That would be…
    Fred Nurk · Jan 7, 2009 · #12345

  3. Take note of that highest message number. We’ll be using that later.
  4. Click the Apps shortcut on your toolbar, and choose Yahoo Messages Export.
  5. Where it says Group, put in exciting_group (or whatever your group is called).  Don’t put the whole URL — it will fail in an uninformative way.  (Thanks to Rachel for finding this out for me!)
  6. For the Start Num, put 1.
  7. For the End Num, put something low like 20, just so we can test that it works.
  8. Click Download.
  9. The Downloader will now download the first twenty messages. This shouldn’t take long.  It will update as it goes: Retrieving message #1 in group exciting_group, then Retrieving message #2…, and so on up to 20.
  10. If it fails, you’ll get an error message.  Try again. Try a smaller number, perhaps.  Remember, you don’t want to download all umpty-thousand messages at once because just one error will make it fail, and then you have to start over.  Do it in batches; it’s fiddlier, but safer.
  11. If it succeeds, it will say We downloaded 20 messages.  Hit Save.  This will create a text file in MBOX format (more about that below).
  12. Redo steps 6-11 with the next set of numbers — say, 21 to 500, then 501 to 2000, then 2001 to 5000.  As you gain confidence you can download more per batch.  But remember: if you tell it to download everything from 1 to 19,249,430 in one go and it fails on message #19,249,424, then you just wasted your afternoon and you’ll need to try again.  Slow and steady wins the race.  When you get to your top message number as noted in step 3, you’re finished.
  13. When you’re done, you’ll have a bunch of files called exciting_groupmessages.txt, exciting_groupmessages (1).txt,  exciting_groupmessages (2).txt and so on.  Each of these is an MBOX file.

Use the saved files somewhere else

There’s no point having an archive if you can’t do anything with it.  Your options are:

  • Slurp it into a mailman mailing list, if you have such a thing.  (Note for Lochac people reading this: Masonry has the facility to deal with MBOX files. Contact Nicodemus for the next step.  If the preceding two sentences mean nothing to you, ignore them.)
  • View it with a mail program like Thunderbird or Outlook.  These have the ability to import MBOX files.  It’s safe to glue all the files together if you want to, or just import each one separately.
  • Save it as text. MBOX is basically human-readable, give or take some formatting. It’s better than losing everything!

Potential hiccups

  • Be sure to get the Yahoo Messages Export, not the Yahoo Members Export. They look similar, but the latter one doesn’t have the start/end number box, so you can tell it’s not the right one.
  • You will probably notice that out of 1000 messages, maybe 997 or 998 will download and two or three will not.  The Downloader will happily tell you which one(s) it missed, but for the most part there’s loads of redundancy in this system so you don’t need to worry about going back and getting every last one.  The skips are caused by some sort of network issues that is out of our control.
  • If you try doing this as a normal member rather than a moderator/admin of your Yahoo Group, all the email addresses will be obfuscated. If you want the email addresses, get the mod/admin to sign you up as one.  Or just don’t worry about it — the addresses are probably obsolete by now anyway, given how old some of these groups are.  It’s the message content you care about.
  • Yahoo bought the Groups system from eGroups in 2010.  Many of the MBOX-format dates will say 2010 instead of the actual year.  Fortunately, programs that read MBOX format files can handle this weirdness. It will only be an issue when you eyeball the file and wonder why there’s nothing there from before nine years ago.  Don’t panic – it’s just a harmless quirk of how Yahoo did the import.

Any problems? Email me on paul@huoncs.com.au.