The "invitation-only" beta test for the new service, called Yahoo 360, is scheduled to start March 29, said Paul Brody, senior director of community products at Yahoo Inc., based in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Yahoo 360, which combines blogging tools with social networking, is being designed "as a place where people can go on and publish and share content and keep up with the people that they know," Brody said. It will provide access from one-page services that are now separate on Yahoo, such as photo albums, instant messaging, Launchcast music, special-interest groups and local services.
At this stage in the development of the Internet, people are "less interested about getting online and meeting new people," Brody said. These days, people "really want to do a better job of keeping up with the relationships that they already have," he said.
At the core of Yahoo 360 is the blogging service, which will be the first that Yahoo has offered in the United States, although it already has offered it in some overseas markets, Yahoo officials confirmed.
"People are somewhat fearful about some of the products out there, the blogging services or photo-sharing services" he said, because they are concerned about personal information "being exposed on the open Internet."
Yahoo wanted to provide a blogging service that was easy to set up and use, gave users access to the key content-sharing services they were familiar with on Yahoo, and allowed users to tightly control who had access to their content, Brody said.
The service is designed to let users quickly create blogs and update them with photos and text downloaded on the fly from mobile devices. Users would be able to view friends blogs by logging into Yahoo 360, My Yahoo or the Yahoo Mobile Internet Service, or by using any RSS reader.
The blogs also have a "blast" headline feature that lets users lead off with a highlighted caption to share news, seek or offer a recommendation for a restaurant or movie, or provide a link to an interesting Web site.
This was a key finding of Yahoo customer research, Brody said. Everybody can search the Web for restaurant reviews or advice on some product or service. But "it is far more powerful to tap into the knowledge of the people who they already know and trust," he said.
Yahoo 360 also provides a "My Friends" page that allows users to keep up with the latest news and content posted by their friends. It provides a centralized contact-management area that includes a consolidated contact list from Yahoo Groups, Yahoo Messenger and the address book.
This lets users launch an instant messaging session from within their "My Friends" page whenever a friend signs on. If users want to expand their friend network, they can search Yahoo groups or Yahoo 360 for kindred spirits.
Yahoo 360 doesnt limit users to linking only to Yahoo content, Brody said. "We are entirely agnostic when it comes to content" in that users can link to news feeds, Web sites or photo albums that arent stored in the Yahoo environment, he said.