Voila, eGroups Lose Their Community Spirit

PARIS (04/12/2000) - Voila, the French-language Internet portal site of telecommunications operator France Télécom SA and U.S. company eGroups Inc. have fallen out. EGroups formerly provided electronic mailing list management services to communities of Voila subscribers on behalf of the French carrier.

The two companies signed a two-year partnership agreement on April 9, 1999, which gave France Télécom's Voila site exclusive rights to distribute eGroups' French-language mailing list management services online, France Télécom said in a statement issued yesterday.

Following eGroups' announcement in November of last year that it planned to merge with rival mailing list management company Onelist.com, the U.S. company gave notice that it intended to terminate its agreement with France Télécom "within a number of months," according to France Télécom spokesperson Olivier Seconda. However, no precise date for ending the agreement was named, he added.

[See "EGroups to Merge With Onelist," Nov. 10, 1999.] The decision was probably taken "because Onelist had ambitions in France," Seconda said.

Then on Friday March 31, eGroups "suddenly cut off the service over a year before the contract was due to end," Anne-Marie Bérengier, a spokesperson for France Télécom's Internet division Wanadoo, said in a phone interview yesterday.

EGroups had previously warned France Télécom that the merging of EGroups and Onelist services would mean the company would not be able to continue its support for the Voila service, EGroups said in a statement.

"The new service architecture could not immediately support the co-branded Voila Club service. eGroups notified France Telecom about four months prior to making this conversion," the statement said.

France Télécom will take legal action against eGroups, Bérengier said, but she did not know what form such action would take.

Voila became aware of the situation the following Monday (April 3), when it began receiving complaints from annoyed users unable to manage their mailing lists through the link on the Voila Web site. The company's engineers took eight days to develop a replacement service following the unexpected service interruption, Bérengier said.

The new system is based on the Sympa list management software package, an open-source Linux-based mailing list manager and Web interface, developed by the French Universities Networking Committee (CRU).

However, visitors to Voila's own Web site found a different explanation of the situation there on Monday, April 3. "Our engineers have been working for several weeks to avoid any interruption to service, and we will be in a position to restart the Voila Club service within a few hours," the company said in a statement on the Voila Web site.

The statement went on to ask Voila users not to accept an offer from eGroups sent by e-mail and offering to run lists from the eGroups Web site. "In accepting, you justify the actions of this company, which is attempting to misappropriate Voila's subscribers in complete disrespect for a contract between the two companies," the statement said. In addition, it warned darkly, "The changes (in service) imposed on you may cause considerable inconvenience in the running of your lists."

Voila promises users that they can transfer their lists back from eGroups to Voila, but in attempting to offer a service that is simple for users, has made a lot of work for itself. "It's quite difficult for us to do," Wanadoo's Bérengier said. "We ask them to give us their log-in and their password, and it allows us to get their history back."

Although eGroups no longer provides the service through Voila's Web site, it is "continuing to provide uninterrupted service with a new improved site" in French of its own, according to the eGroups statement.

This was effectively a competing site in breach of eGroups' contract to provide French-language services exclusively through Voila, said Wanadoo's Bérengier.

France Télécom, based in Paris, can be reached at +33-1-4444-2222 or on the Web at http://www.francetelecom.fr/. EGroups, based in San Francisco, California, can be reached at +1-415-546-2896 or on the Web at http://www.egroups.com/.

Details of the Sympa mailing list manager can be found on the Web at http://listes.cru.fr/sympa/. The Voila portal can be found at http://www.voila.fr/.

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