Is Yahoo's Social Platform Too Little, Too Late?

Yahoo's CTO offers a bold, promising glimpse of the future of the portal as a social network ... just as Microsoft prepares to move in.

SAN FRANCISCO-Yahoo, refusing to wilt under Microsoft's hungry gaze, pitched its value to developers April 24 by unveiling a broad strategy to make the company's network more open.

Chief Technology Officer Ari Balogh introduced YOS (Yahoo Open Strategy), the company's plan to make its portal a social network, during his keynote at Web 2.0 Expo here.

Yahoo plans to let programmers write applications for Yahoo's mail, sports, search, front page and mobile platforms that will jazz up the user experience for the portal's 500 million-plus users.

YOS is Facebook or MySpace without the walled garden, opening its Webmail, instant messaging and content sites to let programmers write apps for them.

"Literally, we'll be able to allow consumers to put applications on their front page developed by developers outside of Yahoo," Balogh said, calling to mind what Google has done with its Gadget widgets for iGoogle personalized home pages.

The underpinnings of Yahoo's effort include development tools, an application platform, a social platform that unifies all profiles throughout Yahoo (again, like Facebook or MySpace, this is a social graph that lets users make connections and view events) and the total rewiring of properties to make all this possible.

Rewiring starts with Search Monkey

Balogh said Yahoo's "rewiring" is starting with search through an effort code-named Search Monkey, which will let developers mash up data with Yahoo search engine results. A beta for Search Monkey is now open for developers, he said.

"You can sign up and start actually building applications that innovate around our search engine results page," he said. Yahoo foreshadowed this recently by announcing it was encouraging semantic Web development to bolster the effort.

In his example onstage, Balogh showed how the search results for a Japanese restaurant, which would be traditionally listed on the Yahoo search engine with a link, will now include a photo, address, ratings, reviews and links to an online reservations site. The idea is to pull information from different data sources on the Web and put it in a tidy package for the user.

Search Monkey, which Balogh said will be available in a few weeks, is Yahoo's iteration of universal search, something rivals Google and Microsoft are also working toward. Making Yahoo more open for developers will follow, and the coup de grace will be the socialization of Yahoo, beyond even the company's OneConnect mobile socialization effort, he said.

The heady plans are smart but, quite likely, come too late. Despite Yahoo's April 22 announcement of decent first-quarter earnings, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has stated that Microsoft is not inclined to raise its $31 per share offer for Yahoo.

If anything, Search Monkey and the other products Yahoo has rushed to announce or deliver since Microsoft made its initial bid Feb. 1 have only painted a better picture of how buying Yahoo would get Microsoft closer to Google.

Microsoft has set an April 26 deadline for Yahoo's board to accept a deal or face a lower bid that it would take directly to Yahoo's shareholders.