Yahoo began delivering on its promise of creating a smarter in-box experience for its 275 million Yahoo Mail users, turning on a service Dec. 15 that will let the Web mail application integrate with social networks and other Web services.
The new Yahoo Mail, which former Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang promised at the Consumer Electronics Show Jan. 7, is rolling out to users on a limited basis over the next few months.
Yahoo says the move is part of the most challenging leg in the Yahoo Open Strategy to open the company's service to interoperate with various Web services.
Yahoo's belief is that it can make Yahoo Mail, "where millions of people start their day, prioritize their daily activities, and continually check in to stay connected with and informed about what matters most to them," the central Web services aggregator for consumers.
The idea is as bold as it is risky, coming in the wake of a failed merger with Microsoft, the exodus and dismissal of thousands of employees, and the failure to strike a search ad deal with Google to bolster its ailing search ad business, all of which will be remembered in association with Yang's nearly 18-month tenure at the top.
Yet Yahoo believes opening up its traditionally closed, siloed networks to outside development will be the key to succeeding in keeping its massive core audience as it seeks to compete with Google and Microsoft.
In this video demo, the so-called "smarter in-box" surfaces messages, information and activity updates from people users care about most, as well as an updated in-box and folder view that filters messages from those personal connections.
The new Yahoo Mail in-box also gives users immediate access to third-party applications, such as Family Journal, Flickr, Flixster, WordPress and Xoopit, which can leverage the user's e-mail content, calendar and contacts.
TechCrunch's Mark Hendrickson chronicled a demo of the new Yahoo Mail at a press event in San Francisco today, Dec. 15:
"The "Welcome" dashboard shows messages, invitations, and "updates" from the people that matter to users most. The dashboard also displays "invitations to connect" (evidently, once connected with someone, their actions will begin showing up on your dashboard because they will have deemed important to you). When you view your inbox, you can choose to view messages from just your "connections," letting you filter out all of the e-mail that ostensibly means less to you. Contacts (which includes everyone in your address book) are different than connections, which are suggested by Yahoo's algorithm and explicitly identified by users. Invitations to connect are either generated by Yahoo's algorithm or sent manually by your contacts."
"It's not just about notifying your friends about what you're doing on other sites, but actually bringing those services into your e-mail. For example, you can open your Flickr account within Yahoo Mail and copy photos into an e-mail; you can also drag text from an e-mail into a WordPress blog post."
Moreover, Yahoo said the new Updates feature will include user activity related to new connections, the Yahoo profile, Yahoo Buzz, and Yahoo properties such as TV, Music and Travel. As part of the YOS philosophy, developers will be able to integrate their services right into Yahoo Mail.
Today, some Yahoo Mail users in the United States and Australia will see the smarter in-box, including the new Welcome Page, in-box and folder-view enhancements, and connections and Updates functionality. A more limited group of U.S. users will begin beta testing the open applications today.
Yahoo plans to bring together the social and open features in Yahoo Mail in the first half of 2009.