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Summary:

Yahoo, I’ve learned, is planning to launch a new program that essentially turns its email offering into a platform on which to run applications — much in the same way Facebook does. Users’ address books would act as a social graph, essentially turning Yahoo Mail into the basis of a whole new social networking experience. Leveraging email infrastructure, as I’ve noted before, is the best hope a company like Yahoo has to challenge the social networking incumbents.

1Yahoo, the beleaguered web giant, is planning to launch a new program that essentially turns its email offering into a platform on which to run applications, much in the same way Facebook does, according to some of my sources. Yahoo is keeping a tight lid on its plans, but I’ve managed to gather some interesting details.

The program is expected to launch in beta relatively soon with half a dozen small applications running in a sidebar inside the Yahoo mail client (Evite is one of the services that is said to be building a nano-app for this new Yahoo Mail-as-a-platform). Users’ address books would act as a social graph, essentially turning Yahoo Mail into the basis of a whole new social networking experience.

Last fall, I pointed out that the only way for Yahoo or Google to challenge the social networking incumbents like Facebook was to leverage their email infrastructure. Using email to build social experiences was first figured out by startups such as Xobni and my personal favorite, Xoopit. With relationship buckets pre-defined by the address book, which contains everything from web-based addresses to geo-local data (physical address) to mobile numbers, email clients are already rich with the very data set that Facebook is so desperately trying to build — and hoard.

In November 2007, a senior executive at Yahoo told The New York Times about the company’s plans to use email as the starting point of a social experience, dubbing it “Inbox 2.0.” “There will be some sort of profile system attached to Inbox 2.0,” said Brad Garlinghouse, who was at the time running Yahoo’s communications business. He went on to add, “The profile page is where you can expose what you want people to know about you.”

Garlinghouse, well known for writing the so-called “Peanut Butter Manifesto,” has since left the company, but Yahoo has been building on the Inbox 2.0 idea, most recently launching such a profile effort as part of its Yahoo Open strategy. The launch of the Mail-as-a-platform would help the company fully realize its Inbox 2.0 vision.

With its more than 200 million email subscribers, Yahoo has an unique opportunity with this platform. In particular, it plays to Yahoo’s strength in making complex technologies simple for a mass market audience, a trick Google is still struggling to master.

Of course, its success will depends on a number of things, such as developers feeling comfortable enough with Yahoo’s migraine-inducing policies and inspired enough to come up with applications that are useful — and don’t involve vampire bites and throwing virtual snowballs.

Yahoo also has to overcome its own culture of consensus (or confusion). If it does, this could be the start of a long climb back for a company that is currently viewed as a laggard.

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  1. It seems like they’re a step behind Google on this one…granted Google has only released such features in Gmail Labs so far, but with the calendar and ability to add any gadget into the sidebar, it’s only a matter of time before Gmail resembles iGoogle. Google’s been adjusting how they handle contact autodiscovery too, so I’m sure that they’ve got the same idea when it comes to making mail more social.

    All that said, I’m interested to know how many people will go for the idea. It’s nice being able to chat (and even video chat) while in Gmail, but planning events and doing more complicated social interactions like activity feeds?

  2. They are failing as a company because they are always several steps behind Google.

  3. Yahoo Mail Might Be the Next Great App Platform Monday, December 8, 2008

    [...] some new information has emerged from Om Malik, who suggests that the company is soon to launch an application platform for Yahoo Mail. According to Malik, “the program is expected to launch in beta relatively soon with half a dozen [...]

  4. Jacob Varghese Monday, December 8, 2008

    They are failing not because of a lack of features in their applications, but because Google has dominated search and therefore search advertising. Most people will not dare to use any other search engines.

    Yahoo products are much more user friendly and well-integrated.

  5. The email integration was unveiled and available to developers back at their Hack Day in September, there was a good amount of excitement.

    What Yahoo! is planning is pretty cool and will start out with some limitations for developers, mostly around attachments, but evolve over time.

    As far as being “behind Google”.., I would not fully agree with that. They were the first to release a fully functional dev API into their mail system about two years ago at the last Open Hack Day in Sunnyvale.

    As much as Google is the dominant search engine when it comes to volume and revenue they are also the dominant PR engine as well, lets not confuse hype with actual value to developers.

  6. Between the Lines mobile edition Monday, December 8, 2008

    [...] stock portfolios, alerts and other services under Yahoo’s “portal” umbrella. Now, according to an entry on GigaOm, Yahoo is gearing up to use the popular mail service as the platform that would host other tools [...]

  7. Niall Kennedy Monday, December 8, 2008

    It’s not a secret plan requiring inside sources. Yahoo! announced OpenMail as part of its Y!OS strategy last April at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. They then followed-up with specs on the new developer platform at Yahoo! Open Hack Day in September including a developer competition for the best OpenMail app.

    Web 2.0 presentation video by Air Balogh of Yahoo! is available over on O’Reilly’s Blip.tv account. Mail apps with early mockups are shown approximately 7 minutes and again at 10 minutes in.

    OpenMail app target is also mentioned on Cody Simms’ public slides from Open Hack Day on slide 28. Look for the panda logo.

    Like all things Y!OS the app targets will receive a gradual roll-out with testing in small batches before hitting “beta” or later.

  8. @Niall Kennedy,

    The difference between what you are saying and what I wrote, is that I am trying to talk about the pending launch of the Yahoo Mail as a Platform relatively soon. Perhaps later this month. Thanks for the links anyway.

  9. Yahoo Email Application Platform « Changing Way Monday, December 8, 2008

    [...] late, given what Facebook, Google, and others have been up to. But better late than never, and Om reports that Y seem to be taking the better course. The program is expected to launch in beta relatively [...]

  10. Correo Yahoo podría ser la próxima gran plataforma de aplicaciones | Mashable Monday, December 8, 2008

    [...] nueva información de parte de Om Malik, que sugiere que la compañía pronto estará lanzando una plataforma de aplicaciones para Correo Yahoo. Según Malik, “el lanzamiento del programa en versión beta se hará relativamente pronto, [...]

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