I see a lot of demonstrations in my line of work and it's sometimes tough to stifle a yawn, or keep my eyes from glazing over. Yesterday morning, when I watched the Webcast of Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang's keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show Monday, I thought it would be a vague bluster.
Yang surprised everyone with a demo of what we've been tipped off about by the New York Times as Inbox 2.0. Yahoo is calling the two-pronged mobile/social attack Live!, so for the purpose of this piece, and because it's in early, early stages, I'll call it Live! Mail.
Yang showed an integrated Yahoo Mail box that provided running counts of all the messages he had from e-mail, instant messages, text mails and voice mails. That tells me he was synching not only between his PC but also through his mobile phone, using his e-mail as his primary communications hub.
It got cooler. Clicking on a button called "simplify your inbox," Yang saw a list of his social networks, including Yahoo, MySpace and LinkedIn.
After clicking on the Yahoo account, the Mail application listed his most important connections first, including his wife and top Yahoo officials, based on Yang's frequency of accessing those connections. Upon returning to the Yahoo account page, Yang saw a list of messages ranked according to importance of the person.
This was a one-stop shop, an intersection for communications and the social network. Now we're getting somewhere, but you can't get far unless you can make the data in such an inbox actionable. That is to say, it's great that I can manage my social networks from my Web mail, and have them ordered for me based on importance but it’s still pretty static.
To that end, Yang's next demo shook me. He clicked on an e-mail from Yahoo co-founder David Filo, who suggested Burger Palace in Las Vegas as a place to try for dinner. By dragging and dropping the e-mail message into Yahoo Maps, Yang was able to see where the restaurant was in Vegas, along with a profile of Filo's eating tastes.
Yang also viewed a list of restaurants for a dinner between a handful of Yahoo execs based on their culinary preferences. He showed how to select a restaurant and put it into an Evite icon to invite those execs to dinner.
Net-net, Yang showed a way to mash up communications and collaboration data with social data to enhance the value of the data. You can't get much more valuable than that.
Nothing flashy, but it was really cool and this made so much sense to me that I can see this approach being a template for Web mail in years to come. Yahoo's got over 250 million Mail users. Microsoft has 300 million users of Live Hotmail. Google's Gmail boasts tens of millions of users.
Any one of those users would love such functionality. Imagine mashing up Gmail with Google Maps, plus Flickr photos and MySpace content, or Hotmail with anything that isn't just in the purview of Microsoft.
Web mail from these companies has proven pretty secure. I imagine that they will seriously test it to make sure the social side stays intact.
If Yahoo can productize it and make it fly properly, it will be something special. After the Mobile Developer Platform, an interesting new way for Yahoo to get programmers to build Yahoo widgets that will run on mobile devices, it would be nice for Yahoo to have another hand to play in the Internet poker game.
Live! Mail could be that hand.