Yahoo! Open throws down the gauntlet for the open social graph
by Charlene Li
Yahoo! unveiled Yahoo! Open at O'Reilly's Web 2.0 Expo today. In a nutshell, Yahoo! is doing the following:
1. Rewiring Yahoo!. They are making it possible to create applications that can be shown throughout all of Yahoo!. That means search, mail, front page -- everything.
2. Open Yahoo! to developers like never before. Third party developers will be able to write applications that appear throughout Yahoo!. That's right -- you can write a mashup that integrates Yelp reviews into search results that appear anywhere -- on search results or even the home page.
3. Making Yahoo! more social. Yahoo! has over 10 billion connections lodged inside its various services -- think about all of the relationships expressed in address books, Messenger buddy lists, and most importantly, Yahoo! Mail flow. You'll be able to have your social graph appear throughout Yahoo! as a results (more on what this will look like below).
For me, this is a significant step forward in the next phase of social networks and the social Web. I wrote about this last month in a post about the future of social networks, where social networks will be like air. It makes no sense that your social connections be locked up in a social network -- when I receive a message within Facebook, there's no way to forward to it my work colleagues, friends, and family who are not on Facebook. And that significantly reduces the effectiveness and value of Facebook to me.
Yahoo! is clear that they are NOT creating another social network. Yahoo! CTO Ari Balogh said in his Web 2.0 Expo speech, "This is about making Yahoo! social in every dimension. Social is not a destination -- it's a dimension and it will infuse all aspects of a consumer's experience on the Web."
I couldn't agree more. Yahoo! is the foundation for hundreds of millions of users every month (Ari said that 500 million people worldwide use Yahoo! each month). But the real potential of this is that the social experiences that a person has on Yahoo! will be ported to other sites. In March, Yahoo! announced that it would support OpenSocial, meaning that applications developed for and on Yahoo! will be portable to other OpenSocial sites like Google and MySpace.
The potential here is that what will become portable is more than just the applications, but also the social graph of each Yahoo! member. There are still plenty of details to be worked out, in particular, control over each person's social graph. But in my discussions with Yahoo!, I'm confident that they will take the appropriate measures to ensure that each person has full control over how their activities and relationships are mapped, expressed, and revealed.
Ari didn't discuss specific timing, but I suspect that we'll see parts of Yahoo! Open rolling out over the next few months. I'm especially interested in seeing how Mail integration rolls out, especially the prospect of being able to implicitly map out my relationships. That's because I don't use Yahoo! Mail -- I use Gmail. Will Yahoo! enable me to reach into Gmail with its APIs and map out the relationships? I believe that they will -- after all, it behooves Yahoo! to bring me back into the Yahoo! network, even if I still keep my feet firmly planted in Gmail.
The question inevitably arises -- is this a "Hail Mary pass" on the part of Yahoo! to fend off Microsoft? I think not. To Yahoo!'s credit, they have been focused -- as much as a company can be under the circumstances -- on executing on a strategy initiative that started last year. Regardless of how the Microsoft/Yahoo! dance turns out, Yahoo! will be setting a precedent for other portals and social networks to follow.
So it will be interesting to see how quickly the other players -- like Google, Microsoft, MySpace, and Facebook -- answer the challenge that Yahoo! has set down. I don't think it's a matter of if, but rather, a question of when.
I'd like to hear your thoughts about what a completely open, "social-ized" Yahoo! means to you. What experiences would you want? What concerns do you have?