Yahoo Inbox Gets Social, Opens Up to Third-Party Apps

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Yahoo announced a new set of social media features for its e-mail service yesterday that will incorporate a set of friends (Yahoo calls them "connections"), third-party applications and e-mail filtering. The new services are part of Yahoo's Open Strategy that aims to open all Yahoo sites and services (not just e-mail) to third-party developers, and give you a "social profile" type dashboard with the goal of unifying and managing your Yahoo and other non-Yahoo services.

If you've already created a Yahoo profile you will find a new welcome p age waiting for you on your Yahoo Mail inbox (see image left). It will contain some connections suggestions w ith other users who have also created profiles. To create connections with other friends, you can send invitations from your Yahoo Mail address book. In an instructional video, Yahoo (see below) says that anybody from any email service can connect to your Yahoo inbox, but the rub is that they must have a Yahoo profile as well.

After you're set up and "connected," Yahoo will prioritize your e-mail and will place e-mail from your connections on your personalized webpage. In addition, the new page will include what your friends have been up to on various sites across the Web. This includes uploading pictures to competitor sites like Picasa, marking a YouTube video as a favorite and using Yahoo's Digg-like service, Buzz.

Built into the inbox will also be a selection of third-party applications. At the moment, this service is limited to a very small, U.S.-based beta test group, but Yahoo says they will open the apps to a wider audience soon. Test applications include Flickr, Flickster, Wordpress, Xoopit (a program that lets you view all the photos in your inbox on one page), Family Journal (family tree application) and Yahoo! Greetings with American Greetings.

Open Social Fatigue

Yahoo's new service sounds interesting and may be very helpful to incorporate cross-platform online activities. It sounds nice, but will it take off? Another profile for yet another social media service to add to a growing list that already includes Delicious, Digg, Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn and on and on. Added to that is a growing list of cross-platform IDs. There's Facebook Connect, Google Friend Connect, MySpace's Data Availability, AOL's Beebo and now Yahoo. Of course let's not forget OpenID, the granddaddy of them all that was supposed to save us from this mess. And bear in mind that some of these services actually have partnerships with each other.

It seems that not only do social media mavens want you to connect to others across the Web; they want you to connect on their terms, using their site. Sure they might say, "No, no we want you to go away from our site and find things that you like."

Right, and then report actions back to a centralized location like a Facebook, MySpace or Yahoo profile. Enough already. Users don't need more social media; they need social media that brings it all together without the need to create another profile.

What social networking really needs is a good old-fashioned format war. Then again, maybe that's what we're seeing right now. Problem is it looks less like the Blu-ray vs HD-DVD battle, and more like the Cold War-and you know how long that dragged on.

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