Yahoo will unwrap on Wednesday a test version of a major upgrade of its Mail service, whose user engagement has been eroding to the detriment of the company's overall usage.
Called simply Yahoo Mail Beta, the new version of the webmail service will feature a revamped interface and navigation scheme, improved functionality for viewing photos and videos, tighter Twitter and Facebook integration and sharper spam detection and filtering.
A lot is riding on this Yahoo Mail upgrade. In May, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz blamed Mail for a drop in user engagement on Yahoo services.
Speaking at an event for Yahoo investors, Bartz said Yahoo Mail's user engagement had been "a bit flat" and that a revamping of the webmail service was in the works. "The big dog of engagement is mail," Bartz said then.
In terms of average minutes per visitor, Yahoo's user engagement fell between January 2009, when users spent an average of 336.4 minutes on Yahoo properties, and April 2010, when that had shrunk to 247.9 minutes, according to comScore.
Now, the 273 million Yahoo Mail users will get a chance to try out the beta upgrade by going to http://features.mail.yahoo.com and clicking on the "Try It Now" link.
The new version has been designed to be faster, especially for people logging in from mobile devices and with slow Internet connections.
Integration with Twitter and Facebook will allow users to view status updates from those social networking services within the Yahoo Mail interface, as well as publish posts.
Yahoo Mail Beta also makes it possible to view photos and video from sites like Yahoo's Flickr and Google's Picasa and YouTube within the webmail service's inbox pane.
The spam detection and the e-mail search functionality have also been improved.