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Yahoo Goes on the Offensive

Yahoo Goes on the Offensive

Blitz of product announcements for Mail and home page fills out Yahoo's 'open' social Web strategy.

Almost a full year after outgoing CEO Jerry Yang laid out a vision for a "New Yahoo," the Web giant delivered on a major new look for its venerable home page and popular Yahoo Mail service at a press event here.

"We're creating a better, more relevant user experience," said Ash Patel, executive vice president of Yahoo's audience products division. "And we're opening up Yahoo more for third parties to leverage."

Key elements of today's announcements are a revamped Yahoo Mail and Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) home page. Yahoo Mail has over 275 million users worldwide, according to ComScore.

Mail now features a "Smarter Inbox" that gives higher priority display of e-mail you care most about or receive most regularly -- from friends and colleagues for example. The smarter inbox lets you filter these theoretically more important e-mails right on the welcome page for mail.

This also ties to Yahoo's social initiative. You have to make a connection with anyone you want in your smarter inbox, similar to making a "friend" in Facebook. Essentially it's a two-way street; if you want to make Steve's mail a priority, Steve has to agree that your mail should be a priority, too.

Yahoo said the new mail features will be rolled out on a limited basis over the next several months and refined further. Yahoo is also rolling out a beta or test version of Mail that is more of a destination site with an area for third-party developers to make applications available.

Yahoo is including its popular Flickr photo sharing application from within Yahoo Mail as well as Yahoo Greetings to create and send e-cards right from within the Mail application.

"People are spending a lot of time on the Web, there's a lot of inefficiency," said John Kremer, vice president of Yahoo Mail. Kremer said Yahoo's new offerings are designed to surface the e-mails and applications people want to see and use most directly without switching to a separate application screen.

Forrester analyst Julie Katz is impressed by Yahoo's moves, but thinks it's going to take some time for the new features to gain traction. "Consumers will have to retrain their behavior," she told InternetNews.com. You have to have a registered Yahoo profile to get the filtering features.

In the long run, she said Yahoo is making the right moves to keep its users happy and fend off migration

Katz also notes online marketers might not be too thrilled with Yahoo's new e-mailing filtering since users will spend more time checking e-mail from trusted connections, than random marketing pitches. "Some marketers might see their campaign stats drop off because of this," she said.

A new Yahoo Toolbar will be available later this week as a "sneak preview" as a download. The Yahoo Toolbar provides new e-mail alerts and news feeds from select sources. You can customize the Toolbar to monitor items on eBay and find local movie times. The Toolbar will also offer updates from a user's list of personal connections on the Yahoo network. Yahoo said eventually it plans to link to other Web sites so you could, for example, keep up to date on a friend's activities via a non-Yahoo Web site.

Picture this

Third applications now integrated with Yahoo Mail (with more to follow) include Family Journal for building a family tree, Flixster for sharing movie reviews show times and related info, WordPress for quickly posting photos and links from e-mail into a blog and Xoopit for accessing and sharing photos and links to photo sharing sites in your inbox.

Patel said despite the popularity of photo-sharing sites, e-mail is still the most common way people share photos. "There are more photos in attachments shared in Yahoo Mail in a week, than are updated to Flickr in a year," he said. "It's an activity people use all the time."

Forrester's Katz said Yahoo is adding a lot of utility with Flickr and Xoopit on its e-mail page. "Being able to search through your mail box and get a view of all your photos is incredibly useful,' she said.

Yahoo's bold moves

Altimeter Group founder and analyst Charlene Li, said the big Web portals are battling each other to show who can be more open and these moves put Yahoo in the lead. "If you have an open platform for users and developers, it will attract more casual users and make it more compelling for the active ones," she told InternetNews.com.

"Open is a core part of Yahoo's strategy. You see Google and Microsoft being more open, but Yahoo is really saying "Let's go for it'. This keeps Yahoo cutting edge and relevant."

One thing that was not discussed at today's event was CEO Jerry Yang who has announced he plans to step down from the post as soon as Yahoo can find a replacement. Yang plans to stay on as "Chief Yahoo" and a member of the Board.

But as today's announcements build on strategies Yang laid out months ago and will take a while to play out, the new CEO's main job will likely be to lead the implementation of these new services, particularly as Yang will have a hand in choosing his successor.

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