At an event in San Francisco today, Yahoo! announced a broad expansion of their open strategy. Perhaps most compellingly, their 275 million user strong Yahoo! Mail application has been turned into an open app platform.
Yahoo! today launched today what they’re calling a “smarter inbox,” available for some US users in preview mode at http://beta.mail.yahoo.com/. The new Yahoo! mail leans heavily on the social nature of the inbox. That’s something Yahoo! started talking about over a year ago when then-Senior Vice President of Communications & Communities Brad Garlinghouse told the New York Times that Yahoo! was working on “Inbox 2.0.”
“The inbox you have today is based on what people send you, not what you want to see,” Garlinghouse said a year ago. “We can say, here are the messages from the people you care about most.” But there is a lot more passive information locked up in the inbox that could be exposed.
A lot of the information that makes up the so-called social graph on sites like Facebook and MySpace, already exists in your email account. It’s just not immediately evident. By analyzing who you communicate with most via email, it’s possible to extract a similar social graph. Yahoo! has realized this and is attempting to tap into that dormant social network.
Yahoo!’s new inbox will also launch with six applications, four from third parties and two created in house, which will allow users to do more with the email. The applications come from WordPress, Xoopit, Flickr, Flixster, and two from Yahoo!: Greetings and Family Journal.
Yahoo! is certainly not the first to realize the potential social graph lurking in your email account. In the same New York Times article linked above, Google expresses similar ideas. And small startup company Xobni makes a plugin for Outlook that essentially turns that email program into a social networking utility. In fact, even Bill Gates thinks the email box will be home to the “next generation of social networking.”
In addition to the social email box, Yahoo! also announced changes to their front page, MyYahoo!, Toolbar, and other properties, all in the name of their Open Strategy.
Yahoo! is actually doing something that I suggested they should in an editorial on ReadWriteWeb about a year and a half ago. I wrote then that in order to fix Yahoo! they should do two things: go social and become a platform for third party applications. I suggested that Yahoo! build out their new social experience around their MyYahoo! start page property. In reality, they’re doing me one better by tying their social application platform into every property they own.
As we wrote in September, Yahoo! is starting to understand that the value of the web now lies in the free flow of information and data — the more open, the better. This could definitely be a winning strategy for Yahoo! They may never be the #1 search engine again, but Yahoo! is certainly a player in the race to create the web’s dominant social platform. This is actually a battle with Facebook more than it is one with Google.