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Summary:

Yahoo wants to aggregate its users’ activities from around the web, something it’s laying the groundwork for with its pre-announced Facebook Connect integration, a key feature called Yahoo Updates, and the unification of all its applications onto a platform layer.

When Yahoo announced in early December that it would integrate with Facebook Connect, many considered it an admission of the long-reigning portal’s defeat in the battle to be the hub for people’s online identities. Om read the deal as a signal of Yahoo’s “technological irrelevan[ce],” and by extension, the “ultimate validation” of Facebook.

Cody Simms and Chris Yeh of Yahoo

Yahoo certainly made itself a target by pre-announcing a non-monetary integration set to “begin in the first half of 2010″ but offering little to no information as to what, exactly, that meant. However when it comes to the social web, the company does have a master plan, said Yahoo’s Cody Simms and Chris Yeh in a visit to GigaOM this week. (This follows previous posts I’ve written about Facebook and Google‘s master plans for the social web in 2010.)

What Yahoo wants to do is aggregate its users’ activities from around the web. The Facebook Connect integration is the first in a string of coming deals with other social sites, said Simms, who is director of product management for the Yahoo application platform. It is also supposed to be a deeper form of content and user sharing than that available to those sites that simply integrate Facebook Connect on their own (but again, there’s nary a mockup to give some actual shape to the deal).

2009 was a behind-the-scenes building year for Yahoo’s social aggregation strategy, said Simms and Yeh, who’s head of the Yahoo developer network. The company has finally created a common platform layer for its many, many products — with more than 80 of them integrated since last April. It’s also allowed outside applications to come onto its platform, for instance Mint on My Yahoo, through OpenSocial.

And now, at the center of Yahoo’s new open social strategy, is a product called Yahoo Updates, which consists of activity streams shown in Yahoo Mail, on its front page, in Yahoo Messenger clients and on its toolbars. They are already functional; users receive a feed of updates from their contacts’ participation on Yahoo media properties when they comment or rate a story, for example. So when a normal user goes about their business chatting with their friends or reading their email, they’ll also see a stream of their friends’ social activities and updates taking place on Yahoo or elsewhere.

Yahoo users’ primary mode is consumption, said Simms, so that sort of activity will remain the core of Updates. But what the Facebook integration will do is enable that feed to be interactive — so a user could see a post from Facebook and comment back on it, for example. And a user’s Yahoo activity could show up in their Facebook stream. The concept and execution is quite similar to AOL’s Socialthing/Lifestream efforts.

What about integrating with Yahoo’s own services? This will happen in a number of ways:

* In the next couple of months Yahoo plans to start allowing comments on its incredibly popular News, Finance and Sports sites. While that will undoubtedly set off unfathomable floods of comments on the story pages, you’ll get the ones from your contacts brought right to you.

* Right now the people you see in your Updates are those with whom you have explicit Yahoo Connections. Next the company will add in your Mail and Messenger contacts. (Google is also planning to make use of existing social ties in its communications products.)

* Yahoo will also try to make helpful content connections itself. So if an update says “Just saw ‘Avatar,’” Yahoo might drop in the appropriate movie trailer.

The beauty of the Yahoo Updates product is that it isn’t really a product. And there won’t be any “big bang release,” said Simms. Unlike similar efforts like FriendFeed or Cliqset, which are great at aggregating social activity, Updates doesn’t require users to do anything but go to their friendly and familiar Yahoo sites — something millions of people do every day. And Yahoo should be able to attract developers to build interesting things because it can offer them an tremendous amount of traffic.

But Yahoo will need to be really smart about integrating services in order to ensure that the combined user experience is better than going to all of them individually. And that’s going to be hard, because often someone else owns the social graph, users syndicate their updates all over the place, commenting and rating systems differ — in other words, the whole thing could end up an uninformative, repetitive muddle.

Photo courtesy of Yahoo Anecdotal via Flickr.

  1. This is absolutely the right strategy for Yahoo!. If they can create a product/site that is a one stop shop for the users of social media then they WIN.

    Here is how they can achieve this:

    If they can incorporate some of the ideas and tools being used by several new companies into their concept I can see this being a highly successful strategy. What they NEED is to allow their early adapters a chance to monetize their Yahoo page for the followers they bring to Yahoo! Imagine a social media platform that pays its users for recommending the movies, books, music, services and products via an affiliate platform. When one of your followers purchases a book you recommended from your page they pay you a commission. If Yahoo! set up a Social Media platform like this think about how viral this would be; especially with the Yahoo! brand behind it! People String has a model similar to what I explain here, but it works slightly different. http://bit.ly/77Oyw1

    Yahoo! should also take a look at tools such as HootSuite. This is an amazing tool that helps you manage your social media platforms. I have several ideas of how Yahoo! can use this in their platform, but I digress. Yahoo! needs to create a Social Media platform that is totally out of the box; a Purple Cow.

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  2. What users actually want “social aggregation”? Assuming it’s even worth building, why is it taking Yahoo years to get there?

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  3. Sounds like an incredible mess to me, or they need an incredible smart system.

    For example. If one wants to build a system which learns to pay attention to things which might become important. No fixed rules the system has to adjust by itself. One of the things which stand out first, one has to simulate what is commonly known as subconsciousness. Which can be done by speed of transfer and invocation of massive parallel data sets. That’s basically before rationalization inhibits what is commonly known as crap.

    If for example you try to write an email about Soccer and ones US friends discuss Football in another stream. Your brain would have to throw a lot of resources (see above) against it to stay on task, which it finds rather annoying. Just ask the WAVE people.

    Or as Om put it, these systems are not for the faint of heart. On the other hand Yahoo users seem to have a high level of tolerance for clutter.

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  4. Yahoo enjoys a rare window of opportunity to make money from OMB federation. I wish there was some way to let them know.

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  5. With social web, it is often easy to conclude that it is a mess – just point to the fable of a million monkeys on a million keyboards. Extrapolating from here, aggregating islands of mess will only make it a bigger one. Right?

    Could we be more wrong and more right at the same time ?

    Social web is not an encyclopedia of human knowledge. It is not meant to be. It is the collective noise of the human race, each saying “hello, am doing good. how are you” and a zillion variants of this same message. To expect order in this is futile. To claim that this is cluttering our otherwise prim-and-propah lives is akin to calling the Tajmahal a white building.

    But, as we all know, there are golden nuggets hidden in this humongous data mine. Just because it is so big or so difficult, should we give up looking? Should we not try to decipher patterns here, infer who are potential friends, what they are up to, what they have in common, or how our relations can be strengthened ? Should we not seek to better our lives by exploiting technological possibilities?

    I think Yahoo is doing the right thing. The purpose of aggregation is not to seek nirvana (neither intellectual nor commercial), but enable easier social contact over the web. The nirvanas mentioned may arrive (ref: http://www.cluetrain.com/) but even if they don’t, the purpose of social networking would have benefited.

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    1. “To expect order in this is futile”
      Hmm.
      Let’s see:
      If we look at all thoughts of any human at any given time, is there order?
      Let’s take a look at a brain.

      If we step back from the actions of single neurons, my thoughts which order the symbols as I type are pretty much synchronized in a finely tuned order. Now if we look at single neurons with its many-to-many connection, chemical inputs, stochastic behavior, it looks pretty chaotic again.

      So there is a “sweet” spot where chaotic behavior results in synchronization. Some people try to work there way up from the chaotic behavior of single neurons, some people like it simple and say let’s step back and create a system which synchronizes and creates order from chaos and then check back if neurons can do that (they can).

      Now I’m one of the later and expect my systems to support this “sweet” spot while I do something, since to ME there is order.

      But this is not only a Yahoo issue, if Google simple ranks a text which is copied and machine translated to another language and then machine translated back. In the process it becomes total clutter except for a few key words. Then it’s usefulness is more than questionable. My guess is one can recognize such text with a “Kill a Watt” just by how much more energy a system consumes, compared to text which is written to keep in the flow (synchronized/resonance based system with the first text before it got copied and machine translated).

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  6. ho-hum. this is just the latest incarnation of yahoo’s ever-changing attempts to stay relevant…but “YOS” is three years on now…and in those three years, yahoo hasn’t done much but trim the deadwood, while facebook has gone parabolic.

    what simms and yeh still can’t tell me (or anyone else) is why i need to log in to yahoo. well forget logging in (who even actively uses their y! accounts anymore??)…why do i even need to visit yahoo? i can read the news and get stock quotes without a login, for anything else, facebook has completely unseated yahoo.

    “social aggrgation” is a nonstarter, because it isn’t “aggregation” at all. its just facebook. more people might still be on ymail if they just left it as a great mail client (i.e. mail classic) instead of heaping news, social networking, and all of this other crap on top of it. no wonder gmail is clobbering them. what do i see when i log into gmail? MAIL. go figure.

    by trying to load up ymail with all of this crap, you aren’t “socializing” yahoo…you’re just killing ymail!

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    1. I use my yahoo account everyday, but I agree with you on mail. Yahoo mail has gotten way to bloated and complicated (plus there’s two platforms).

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  7. Yahoo is finished

    they gave up on technology

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  8. Most of us already on facebook or twitter, mail are not priority application in social media era, yes if we are in web 2.0. Too late for Yahoo to response to social media, maybe it still able to gain some existing user connect to it. But the interface needs a lot of re-invented.

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  9. agree with McManus, i’m not sure any mainstream users know they “need social aggregation”. and to the extent they do, aren’t they already getting that on Facebook itself?

    probably 3-5 years ago, Yahoo should have done one of the following :
    a) bought another big social media or social network property (Facebook, MySpace, SixApart, WordPress, Bebo, etc)
    b) developed its own mail & chat properties into a real social network
    c) sold itself (or selected assets) to Microsoft or Google

    while some recent moves are interesting & there are still smart people / interesting properties at Yahoo, we continue to watch the long, slow, gradual decline of a once-great tech company. it will take many years before Yahoo is irrelevant, but i’d be hard-pressed to see another likely outcome.

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    1. Yahoo! please get back on offense and concentrate on 2 things -> non-”me too” content, and using your relationships with advertisers to enable internet users to easily monetize their lives and daily activities.

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  10. this is their big plan? wow.

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